Tactical voting is as much a part of democracy as lying to polite conservation. Many do it, some recommend it, and yet it has a bad reputation. In the end, democracy lives on the fact that voters reveal their convictions.
But how is it in countries that are not democracies, where elections take place under unfree conditions? Does tactical voting make sense there, too? That is a question that is currently being discussed in Moscow.
Regional elections will be held this Sunday in Russia. In 16 of the 85 regions, citizens elect a new leader, in 13 a new regional parliament. But unlike in Germany, their choices are strictly limited. As in former times in the GDR, there are also several parties in Russia, but no real alternative. Because all officially registered parties are ultimately controlled by the Kremlin. Anyone who speaks openly against President Vladimir Putin (and not only against the government), does not even come on the ballot.
Nawalny's strategy has been successful. Or not?
Also in the capital Moscow, a regional parliament is elected. There the exclusion of independent candidates led to mass protests, but without effect. Only candidates who are in fact supported by either the Kremlin party "United Russia" or by the toothless "systemic opposition" (although the Kremlin party does not show its support because it is so unpopular) can be chosen.
In this situation, opposition politician Alexei Navalny declared tactical voting the weapon of choice. "Smart dialing" he calls it. The aim of the campaign is to redistribute the protest votes of the malcontents so as to maximize the damage to the Kremlin party. Of course, that strengthens the opposition, which in the end is Kremlin loyal, but even that would be a defeat for the Kremlin.
Alexei Nawalny: Tactical Voting
Now there are only direct mandates and only one ballot in the Moscow parliamentary elections. So protest voters have no chance to support the strongest opponents from the first ballot in the runoff election. This problem is resolved on the website of "Smart Dialing" (vote2019.appspot.com): There, each voter can enter his address and find out who has the best chances in his constituency.
As a precautionary measure, Nawalny announced the names of the candidates he supports only shortly before the election - so that those candidates would not be removed from the ballot.
The project has created an amazing amount of excitement even before election day, both in the authorities and in the opposition. How seriously the leadership takes the "smart dialing" is shown by the fact that on Thursday it cleared out Nawalny's TV studio, in which he recorded his election calls for Youtube. There were hacker attacks against the website of "Smart Dialing".
The ex-oligarch finds the "immoral"
But even the "extrasystemic" opposition is in turmoil, the uncompromising Kremlin opponents, for whom there is no place in the logic of the Kremlin. They argue about the tactics. Namely, in 35 out of 45 Moscow constituencies Nawalny supports candidates of the communists; we can not vote for that, say liberal Putin opponents, including Stalin supporters.
Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a political emigrant in London, even calls tactical voting "immoral". The time for strategic games is over. "To vote morally" means for him: To vote for those few candidates who openly speak out against the recent repression and for the arrested, or write his indignation over the repression directly on the ballot.
Mikhail Khodorkovsky: Moral Choose
Others ask: how will you measure the effect of "smart voting"? And has not tactical voting failed in 2011? At that time, Nawalny had issued the slogan "For all parties except 'United Russia" before the Duma elections. At that time, most of the protest votes went to the retort party 'Just Russia' - which in parliament for four years bravely represented the Kremlin. Nawalny's critics consider this a deterrent. Nawalny disagrees: The additional protest votes against the Kremlin party would have led to even more massive forgeries, which in turn would have triggered new mass protests. That was also a success.
That is the problem of simulated democracy, as it emerged under President Boris Yeltsin and raised under Vladimir Putin system: The voter has little room for maneuver. Nawalny's advice is: You have no chance, use them! The alternative is to stay at home - and then nothing will change. In the last elections to the Moscow City Parliament, the stake was just 21 percent.