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The sign above (in Russian) could be translated roughly as “They want a check mark, but they'll get dick.” The sample ballot shown underneath has what Russian’s call “the three letter word” written on it. (A bit like writing “f*** you” in English.) The call to “write in” Mr Three Letter Word seems to be all over the Russian internet and is a twist on the Other Russia’s more politically-correct call for simply tearing up the ballots or throwing them in the trash:

Here is the back story on Mr Dick and how he got to figure so prominently in the Russian elections. (And why he will likely win!)

In early March Russia will again stage a show called “Presidential Election”. As was the case in 2000 and 2004, everything is done to make sure that there are no surprises and the right man is guaranteed to win with a substantial margin. (The right man is different this time, which I suppose is a step in the right direction.) In all three cases, the list of candidates got carefully trimmed to make sure there is electable opposition. This year, for instance, the voters get to choose between Putin’s heir, a corrupt communist, a clown and one guy nobody ever heard of. So, what does one do?

Faced with a similar situation in 2000, part of the opposition united in asking people to vote “against all.” At that point if enough people voted “against all,” the elections had to be re-done with a new slate of candidates. Mr Against All ended up getting around 2% of the vote.

In 2004, there was even less suspense about who would get elected, and many expected very low voter turn out. In other words, there was no question about who would get elected, but there was uncertainty about whether enough people will bother to go and vote, given that the outcomes were predetermined. The government put a lot of effort into encouraging people to vote (for Putin). The opposition then decided that people who vote against all might just end up making the quorum, so they asked them to simply stay at home. There were slogans along the lines of “Putin can elect himself. Spend the day with your kids.” The government cracked down on that, however, the universities and employees “encouraged” people to vote, and eventually they got the numbers they needed.

In preparation for the 2008 election, Putin decided to tweak the election law: removing the “against all” option and the requirement that a certain minimum number of people vote for the elections to be valid. Which is to say that once the only liberal candidate was removed (just yesterday), there is no option other than choosing from among Mr. Teddy Bear (the future President), Mr. Communist, Mr. Clown and Mr. Random Guy. Or one write in Mr. Three Letter Word. Writing an obscenity into the ballot is of course not going to have any effect on the outcome, but then neither would any other course of action.

Yet, paradoxically, Mr. Three Letter Word is expected to win in a sense. There is a Russian saying going back to Soviet times that has been repeated quite often recently on the Russian websites: “Golosui ne golosui, vse ravno poluchish …”. (“Vote or not, either way you'll get …”) There is only one short Russian word that fits into that ellipsis and completes the rhyme, and Russian will get that in March whether or not they write that word on the ballots. Might as well have some fun.