Russia has yet to set a date for its upcoming constitutional plebiscite, but that hasn’t stopped regional officials from spending in preparation
April 22 came and went without Russians visiting the polls to participate in a nationwide vote on constitutional amendments (including changes that could extend Vladimir Putin's presidency to 2036). The quarantine restrictions imposed during the coronavirus pandemic forced the authorities to postpone the vote indefinitely, and while rumors about potential dates are swirling in the media, an official rescheduling has yet to be announced. In the meantime, regional officials and election commissions are continuing to prepare for the occasion, primarily by spending lots of money, the BBC Russian Service reports.
According to the BBC, regional officials and election commissions signed a grand total of 63 new contracts in preparation for the vote between April 23 and May 22, on top of the 280 agreements that had been previously concluded. This jacked their total spending up to 474 million rubles, that’s more than $6.6 million (up from the previous 430 million, or about $6 million).
Sources told the BBC that the nationwide vote could take place as early as June 24, so Russian officials want to be ready, but their ideas about what constitutes preparation vary widely.
The Sverdlovsk region’s governor, for example, decided to drop 9.2 million rubles (more than $128,500) — taken from the regional government’s reserve fund — on purchasing letters of appreciation; to thank the region’s 2.17 million eligible voters for participating in the plebiscite. The department also ordered two thousand “gift sets for participants” — to the tune of 2.8 million rubles (more than $39,000).
Sverdlovsk officials have also ordered more than 10 million rubles ($139,700) worth of posters to go up on billboards ahead of the vote. The Internal Policy Department’s director refused to give a comment to the BBC over the phone.
Meanwhile, in the Bryansk region, the local election commission put in an order for “33 blue and white blenders, 33 black slow-cookers and food processors,” the BBC reports. Apparently, these kitchen appliances will serve as prizes for the “Our decision!” informational scavenger hunt, being organized to “assist in the preparation” for the nationwide vote. In total, this will cost the regional budget 387,400 rubles (around $5,400).
The Bryansk election commission has also spent 3.12 million rubles from the regional budget on a video wall from the same Chinese supplier behind the kitchen appliances. The commission told the BBC that the video wall will be installed inside its offices — information about voting, as well as results of the vote, will be put up on the big screen. They are also planning to use it for any future elections, including the gubernatorial vote still scheduled for September 2020.
As it turns out, the Bryansk region accounts for more than half of all of the contracts concluded across Russia in the past month in preparation for the plebiscite. In addition to the appliances and the big-screen TV, Bryansk's election commission has ordered brochures with the law on amendments to the Constitution, as well as shelving and metal cabinets. Meanwhile, Bryansk's Internal Policy Department signed another 33 contracts for sums ranging from 100,000 to 500,000 rubles (about $1,400 to $7,000) with local media and legal entities, as part of its promotional campaign.
In Moscow, the district administrations have signed eight new contracts. The Brateyevo district put in an order for “electoral equipment,” including 138 portable ballot boxes, stationary boxes, and safes, while the Marfino district purchased 66 transport boxes and 900 security bags. Other district administrations are importing goods for members of their election commissions, such as Nokia cellphones from Vietnam, or stationary and flash drives from China.
Unlike the authorities in the regions, however, Moscow officials have been reluctant to spend hard cash before the plebiscite's rescheduled date is set in stone, writing into their contracts that 20-day delivery deadlines will only begin once they've submitted their customer requests.
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