Communists seek ban on ‘doppelgangers’ at Russian elections

Distribution of leaflets in support of Moscow mayoral candidate Ivan Melnikov, first deputy chairman of the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party. © Mikhail Voskresenskiy
Russian Communists have prepared a bill that would ban election candidates from changing their names shortly before the polls, claiming the move would prevent the use of so-called ‘doppelgangers’ and the deceit of millions of voters.

State Duma MP Vadim Solovyov has told Izvestia daily that the initiative had been prompted by Communist Party opponents’ use of the old ‘doppelganger’ trick in the current parliamentary campaign. In particular, one person running as an independent in Central Russia’s Nizhny Novgorod Region has the same first and last name as popular Communist candidate Denis Voronenkov. Even a brief check can prove that this man changed his name after the start of election campaign, and before that he worked as a watchman in a company affiliated with one of the other candidates. The incident is not unique: Solovyov said that in Nizhny Novgorod Region alone the Communist Party is facing at least 10 such opponents.

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In reality this leads to deception of several millions of voters. They bite a huge piece from the main body of our electorate. We need to alter the law in such way that the opportunities for such moves are completely ruled out as these are ‘black’ practices,” the MP told reporters.

The bill prepared by the Communist Party lawyers contains a paragraph that precludes election candidates from changing their names over the period of several months before the actual polls. Solovyov said that he hoped the move would get approval from the Central Elections Commission and be passed by the parliament, though already after the September elections.

The head of the Central Elections Commission Ella Pamfilova has previously acknowledged the problem, but said that the state could not ban the use of such practices. However, she said that monitors could inform voters about such schemes by issuing warnings to parties that use them. She also suggested that representatives of Russian political parties jointly develop and approve a code of ethics that would prevent all sort of spoilers at polls.

Representatives of other major Russian political parties said in comments that the problem of ‘doppelgangers’ existed and claimed that their candidates had also suffered from this trick.

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However, they also pointed out that the existing elections law already contains a procedure to counter it: if a candidate has changed his or her name within a year before the polls, the previous name must be mentioned in all elections materials along with the new one.