Don’t count on “administrative resources” this Russian presidential election

Public sector workers usually vote how they’re told in Russia’s highly-managed elections. A message from the northern Komi republic hints at changes under the radar.

Elena Solovyova
25 January 2018
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The office on Ukhta's Bushueva Street where the city's teachers "voluntarily" gave their signatures in support of Vladimir Putin's candidacy. Source: VK.Imagine Russia’s election procedure as a human body: even back in 2012, it looked like a corpse, one that was animated, briefly, by pulses of electricity. We witnessed spasms of movement here and there, before the true extent of decay became gruesomely apparent. Today, when the decomposition is nearly complete, neither the media-savvy presidential campaign of Ksenia Sobchak, nor the heroic image of state farm director Pavel Grudinin can save it. But this corpse still has a few scraps of skin left, and now we’ll see the skeleton dance. Russia’s public sector workers, better known by the term “administrative resources”, are one of the last remaining mechanisms that can make the corpse move.

Recently, an anonymous message appeared in a local VKontakte group in Ukhta, a town in Russia’s northern Komi republic:

“Yesterday, an announcement was posted in our school: it requested all teachers visit an address [...] and sign some papers there. People who couldn’t for whatever reason sign the papers yesterday were threatened with having their bonuses removed. Today, the director of the school personally went into all the offices in the building to remind everyone of their obligation to visit that specific address with their passport. Today, I visited the above-mentioned address. I found a rather large queue: the teachers of all schools and pre-school institutions had been forced to sign documents there.”

The author of this message believes that the teachers were forced to collect signatures in support of Vladimir Putin’s candidacy. Another resident of Ukhta visited the address to confirm this.

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The original message. Source: VK. What’s interesting here isn’t so much the fact of forcing Russian public sector workers into doing something en masse (it’s far, far from the first time), but the reaction online. We’re not dealing with Facebook here, but a VKontakte group that publishes weather forecasts, reports missing cats and dogs, discusses the best nightclub to meet other people, recommends places to hire fancy dress costumes for children, get your hair done and so on.

This group pinned the anonymous message about how local teachers were being forced into signing their names in support of Putin. The message was viewed around 100,000 times, received more than 3,000 likes and caused an intense discussion in the comments. It’s telling that only a few users accused the group’s administrators of posting the message with the intention of whipping people’s opinions up. And if you check out these users’ profiles, you’ll find out they’ve been created recently, and only have a few friends.

The rest of the commentators debate whether the teachers have sold out, whether they have spines, ask each other not to vote for Putin, recommend sending a complaint to the Prosecutor’s Office and post life-hacks on how to fake a tick for Putin on your ballot paper on polling day. The users don’t even discuss the fact that public sector workers are forced to present photos of their ballot papers to their bosses — apparently everyone already knows this. Among the almost 500 comments on this message, there’s practically no comments in support of Putin.

This message on VKontakte should make us think about just how effective administrative resources will be this March. Sure, the authorities have managed to organise the necessary amount of signatures for advancing Putin as a candidate for the presidency. But will they manage to do the same on election day?


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