Russian Elections Snapshot: Using Doppelgangers To Confuse Voters
By RFE/RL September 06, 2021
There are three Boris Vishnevskys running for seats on the St. Petersburg municipal legislature, called the Legislative Assembly. One is lawmaker Boris Vishnevsky, leader of the Yabloko party's local branch and an assembly member since 2016. The other two are an official tied to the ruling United Russia party and a salesman for a car-repair company, both of whom changed their names ahead of the September 17-19 vote.
The two new Vishnevskys are widely seen as imposters inserted into the race to siphon votes from their better-known namesake.
Bizarre? Actually, it's not a new tactic in Russian elections, but the tale took a new twist when the city released its election posters over the weekend. Now, the three men not only share a name -- they also have similar beards and facial features.
"They grew beards and moustaches and, I think, their photos were edited," the Boris Vishnevsky who was born with that name wrote in a post on Twitter that included a snapshot of the poster. "Just look how they appear on the poster that will hang at polling stations."
One of the two, identified by the newspaper Novaya Gazeta as Viktor Bykov, a St. Petersburg local councilor from the ruling United Russia party, looks completely different from his photo on the website of municipal council No. 78. On that site, he is identified as a senior aide to Legislative Assembly Deputy Chairman Sergei Solovyov, of United Russia.
When RFE/RL's Russian Service tried to contact the former Bykov, he said: "How did you get this number? Don't you know it is unethical to telephone here without the permission of the boss?" And then he hung up.
The tactic of presenting an "imposter" candidate was used in St. Petersburg in 2016 against Yekaterina Lebedeva, who was running for the Legislative Assembly. A political unknown who looked a lot like Lebedeva and was named Yevgenia Lebedeva ran against her.
"I lost that election," Lebedeva told RFE/RL. "That Yevgenia took about 30 percent of my votes. She appeared one line above me on the ballot, and my voters just made a mistake."
"This trick is very old -- from the 1990s," said political analyst Konstantin Kalachyov. "It's been 27 years now, but it still works."
Commenting on the situation with the three Vishnevskys on Kommersant radio on September 6, Central Election Commission head Ella Pamfilova called it "shameful" and blamed what she called Russia's "very liberal" election law. She added that "after the election," she would seek amendments to the law that would prevent the use of such tactics.
Written by RFE/RL senior correspondent Robert Coalson
Copyright (c) 2021. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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