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Once again, the Russian domestic election monitoring organization GOLOS is facing prosecution for the crime of trying to ensure free and fair elections in Russia (read about it here). As the only national domestic monitoring organization, GOLOS has played a critical role in highlighting fraud in Russian elections. Their powerful and independent reports have put them squarely in the sights of Kremlin leaders who fear an honest and transparent approach to elections.


The irony is that GOLOS has been no lapdog for the opposition or for any election outcome.  In fact, they have provided credible observation reports that confirmed the victory of Putin’s United Russia party in local elections. (For example, see their report on the election for Mayor of Omsk here.) Of course, neither Putin nor his cronies in the Kremlin care about the Mayor of Omsk; they only care about their power and any threats to it.


Some in Russia have argued that the law on “foreign agents,” the judicial tool being used to prosecute GOLOS, is a means of providing greater transparency, merely identifying those organizations that receive foreign funds. But this argument is easily dismissed (see the Russian Legal Information Agency analysis posted by GOLOS here).  Considering billions of dollars are shifted between foreign banks and Russia every day, it seems remarkable that only those small entities like GOLOS or Transparency International have been targeted for prosecution. In addition, GOLOS stopped accepting foreign funds when the law went into effect, making the prosecution that much more transparent.


Whether any elected Russian leader at the highest levels has electoral legitimacy is an open question. If the Kremlin is successful and GOLOS is forced to shut down, no future Russian leader can be confident that he or she actually won an election. The current leadership doesn’t care about public legitimacy—other than that brand of rotten legitimacy provided by money, patronage and fear. Perhaps somewhere in the ruling apparatuses there are people who would one day like the honor of being elected freely and fairly by their fellow citizens. That possibility becomes ever more remote, as the vestiges of Russia’s democratic system are crushed.


Kent Patton is the editor for the Freedom Collection blog.