Opposition PARNAS party cancels primaries over massive leak of voters’ personal data

© Michael Mordasov
The Russian Party of People’s Freedom, PARNAS, has had to suspend its internet primaries after a file with personal details of all participants was placed on the party’s website. Top party officials blame unidentified hackers for the privacy breach.

PARNAS was holding primaries in order to finalize its list of candidates for the September parliamentary elections. Ninety-six candidates and about 24,000 voters registered for the procedure, but the number of those who actually voted was much lower.

The file containing logins and passwords of everyone who had taken part in the primaries was posted on the PARNAS website on Sunday afternoon. The data was real and allowed anyone to see full details of any voter – including name, emails and phone numbers, as well as the people they voted for. Site administrators had to shut down the internet voting earlier than planned and recommended that their supporters urgently change all their passwords.

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PARNAS leaders blamed the leak on unidentified hackers. Chairman Mikhail Kasyanov publicly apologized for the incident and said that the party’s elections commission had decided to stop the online voting and annul the results because it was impossible to continue the procedure without compromising the voters’ personal data again. However, he added that the commission together with observers from allied parties and movements and PARNAS’ central political council were yet to decide on whether the votes cast before the leak should be counted and considered in the making of the electoral lists.

The session of the central political council has been preliminary scheduled for June 17 and 18.

PARNAS officials have not voiced any charges or suspicions as to who could be behind the leak, with the exception of the party’s Deputy Chairman Konstantin Merzlikin, who said in press comments that the hackers must have had physical access to servers used in internet voting.

One of PARNAS’s former allies, prominent anti-corruption activist and the head of the Party of Progress Aleksey Navalny has said that the leak was “a disgrace, discrediting and sabotage,” and suggested that executive officials in PARNAS must all quit over the scandal. Leonid Volkov of the Party of Progress has said that in his view the problem originated in extremely careless attitude of PARNAS’s own specialists who kept the data on servers in non-encrypted format.

PARNAS initially existed as a non-system opposition movement headed by several people who held major government posts during the Boris Yeltsin era, including ex-PM Mikhail Kasyanov. It held its first foundation congress in 2010, but was denied registration for technical reasons and eventually merged with the Republican Party of Russia led by veteran politician and parliamentarian Vladimir Ryzhkov.

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The move gave the opposition a political platform, but shortly after the merger Ryzhkov and several of his long-term allies left the joint party and accused PARNAS leaders of hijacking his project.

In April 2015, PARNAS formed a strategic union with Navalny’s Party of Progress – they formed joint lists of candidates both for the municipal and regional elections that were held in September 2015, and the federal parliamentary elections due in 2016. However, the alliance failed to secure any seats in September. In April this year, Navalny and his allies accused Kasyanov of poorly running and underfinancing the primaries’ project and announced their exit from the coalition.