[home page][map of the server][news of the server][forums][publications][Yabloko's Views]

The Moscow Times, March 5, 2004

Getting Out the Vote With Ads, Food, SMS

By Anatoly Medetsky and Oksana Yablokova

Posters plastered in the metro and along Moscow streets invite Muscovites to catch a glimpse of "Bomba Goda," or "The Bomb of the Year."

The choice of name may seem in bad taste for a city still on edge after a spate of suicide bombings. But the ad has nothing to do with terrorism. Instead, it's a promotion for an annual pop concert hosted by Radio Dinamit FM -- and the only way to attend is to vote in the presidential election March 14.

Concert tickets, groceries, SMS messages and even threats to turn down medical assistance and dismiss government employees are among the tactics being used by officials in an attempt to boost voter turnout on election day.

The effort to get out the vote reflects Kremlin concerns that widespread voter apathy could lead to a poor turnout -- and an embarrassment to President Vladimir Putin, who is expected to win an easy re-election.

It is drawing criticism from challengers. Left-leaning candidate Sergei Glazyev on Thursday accused the Kremlin of putting "cynical" pressure on local officials to make sure that 70 percent of voters show up at the polls and 70 percent of them vote for Putin.

"Under the administration's pressure, thousands of people are being drawn into the crime of rigging the vote results," Glazyev said on Ekho Moskvy radio. "Regional leaders are being warned that they will lose their jobs if they fail to ensure the required result."

Liberal candidate Irina Khakamada has filed a complaint with the Central Elections Commission over a television commercial sponsored by the pro-Putin United Russia party that urges Russians to vote but at the same time, she said, makes a plug for Putin.

More than 50 percent of all eligible voters must participate for the election to be declared valid. Only 56 percent showed up in December's State Duma vote. Some 69 percent took part when Putin was elected four years ago, the same proportion as in 1996, when Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov forced then-President Boris Yeltsin into a second-round vote.

In the western exclave of Kaliningrad, election officials are courting young voters with a contest to come up with the best slogan calling on residents to vote. The day before the election, the winning entry will be sent by SMS to cellphones across the exclave, Vasily Zyubanov, head of the Kaliningrad elections committee, said by telephone.

At polling stations, first-time voters will receive a certificate and a ticket to a concert that evening, Zyubanov said.

In an attempt to reach out to older voters, food stalls will be set up at polling stations selling groceries at a 10 percent discount, Zyubanov said.

Only 46 percent of registered voters showed up for the Duma elections, and now "the target is more than 50 percent," he said.

The city of Kaliningrad has told the directors of local museums, theaters and music halls to make sure that their 6,000 employees vote "because it's their civil duty," said a senior City Hall official, Svetlana Sikoza. Asked how the employees reacted, she said, "They are disciplined and responsible. They will do everything properly."

At the other side of the country, in the Far East region of Khabarovsk, several hospitals posted notices last week that they would no longer admit patients who had not filled out absentee voter ballots. Human rights ombudsman Vladimir Lukin said Wednesday that the notices were ordered by Khabarovsk health officials and that local prosecutors repealed the order at his request.

Khabarovsk authorities also have ordered two local cellphone operators, Dalnevostochniye Sotoviye Sistemy and Dal Telekom, to send SMS messages to their clients reminding them to vote, Kommersant reported.

In Vladivostok, the region's largest education institute, the Far Eastern Fisheries University, nearly decided to hold classes on March 14, a Sunday, in order to encourage students to vote. "We seriously considered it as an option but then decided against it," university rector Georgy Kim said. "Students are such a liberal-minded crowd, and they could have taken to the streets with posters."

Kim would not say whether he had been ordered to ensure a high turnout.

Voter turnout was the only issue on the agenda of a closed-door meeting of the Nizhny Novgorod regional administration on Monday. Governor Gennady Khodyrev ordered his team to ensure that turnout reached at least 70 percent.

The region saw an average turnout of under 40 percent in the Duma elections, and it was unclear Thursday what officials could do in less than two weeks to convince voters to go to polling stations.

Bashkir officials are less worried about turnout, in part because it has always been more 60 percent, local elections spokesman Maxim Belyayev said.

Pamphlets encouraging voters to show up have been stuffed in mailboxes and handed out at public events, he said.

Other than the occasional TV commercial urging voters to take part, Chechnya is nearly devoid of information about the election. Some say officials aren't worried because they plan to stuff the ballot boxes as they allegedly did in the Duma vote, in which Chechnya reported 86 percent turnout. "The high turnout was ensured by members of district elections committees who stuffed ballots into ballot boxes," said Fatima Kovrayeva, who worked part-time with the Chechen elections committee in three votes in Chechnya last year.

Members of Chechnya's district elections committees are largely drafted from United Russia, and "everyone knows that if turnout is high, election committee members will get a bonus from United Russia," said Luisa Isayeva, a district election official.

Tatyana Rudakova, a Krasnodar-based activist with the liberal Yabloko party, said regional authorities have long boosted turnout and influence the vote by giving gifts to impoverished residents.

"An election committee official travels to a remote village and gives all the local babushkas plastic bags with butter and groceries and shows them where to sign," Rudakova said.

In Moscow, Radio Dinamit FM, the host of "The Bomb of the Year," refused to say who was financing the concert. The March 29 event is only open to voters between the ages of 18 to 35, and no tickets will be offered for sale, said radio spokeswoman Valeria Chumbantayeva.

A Central Elections Commission spokesman denied that the commission had anything to do with the concert.

Chumbantayeva said last year's concert sold 25,000 tickets for an average price of 500 rubles each.


See also:

the original at

Presidential elections 2004

The Moscow Times, March 5, 2004

[home page][map of the server][news of the server][forums][publications][Yabloko's Views]

Project Director: Vyacheslav Erohin e-mail: admin@yabloko.ru Director: Olga Radayeva, e-mail: english@yabloko.ru
Administrator: Vlad Smirnov, e-mail: vladislav.smirnov@yabloko.ru