In the monitoring of election campaigning the «Golos» movement mainly focused on the major elections scheduled for September 10, 2017:
In preparing this analytical report, long-term observers of «Golos» drew attention to the compliance with the principle of equality of candidates and parties in the course of election campaigning, and how state and public resources were used for election canvassing during the campaign — legally or illegally, appropriately or wrongfully. Special attention was paid to participation of federal and municipal authorities, public officials, federal and municipal employees in the campaign trail events of different parties and candidates, with promotion of some and countermeasures against others. The experts also conducted media monitoring, which for all intents and purposes campaigned in favor of certain election participants under the guise of providing information, as well as the actions of law enforcement agencies towards people engaged in legal or illegal campaigning. We also paid attention to cases when the principle of free and voluntary voting was violated (coercing and bribing the voters) in order to increase voter turnout at the upcoming elections.
Taking advantage of official position during campaigning remains a common practice in Russian elections. Public officials, regional and municipal employees, and staff of public sector companies take active part in campaign events in the interests of incumbents and United Russia party candidates. Public events organised by the regional or municipal authorities with public funds are widely used for election canvassing, which is especially characteristic to elections of regional heads and governors, which took place at 16 Russian regions this year.
One specific attribute of governors elections is greatly increased ceremonial and «official» activity of incumbent governors and temporary acting regional heads, and the subsequent preferential media coverage of their work. Pre-election period is characterized by the increased number of «working visits» and business trips associated with their official duties. It’s common practice when official and semi-official media, regional TV and municipal newspaper actively campaign for the incumbent candidates under the guise of informing the public about their official duties.
Thereby, the principle of equal rights of all candidates and parties is violated. The competitors of incumbent governors have no opportunities for equal access to informational resources and subsequent access to the voters.
Although overall in Russia (with the exception of several regions) elections scheduled for the Single Voting Day, September 10, 2017, cannot be characterized by visible campaigning, especially when it comes to visual propaganda in the streets, there are still cases when the campaigning of candidates and parties was obstructed. Such cases occur regularly at different elections and in different regions. The instances of obstruction take such forms as creating roadblocks and impeding access on the campaign trail; destruction and spoilage of campaign materials; application of administrative pressure against candidates; and smear campaigns.
Furthermore, under the threat of low voter turnout in many regions of Russia, administrative pressure on voters has increased, different mobilising and «stimulating» projects have been implemented, which are on the fringe of legality and seriously discredit the very institute of elections.
Administrative pressure at the stage of pre-election campaigning
The use of federal targeted programs for campaigning
The electoral campaign of 2017 has once again demonstrated the familiar practice of using federal programs for land improvements, repairs and purchase of equipment with public or sponsor money in the electoral interests of the United Russia party and its candidates (Perm, Kirov, Tver regions, and many others).
In the Kirov Region, for example, authorities are actively using road repair operations and new equipment deliveries to boost the positive image of acting governor Igor Vasiliev. The road repair is carried out under priority federal project «Safe roads,» while equipment deliveries are a part of the «Frugal health center» program.
In the Perm Region, the authorities used projects under the framework of priority program of regional development to build the brand of the acting governor Maxim Reshetnikov. The projects, combined into election PR project «Managing together,» included repair of roads, landscape development of residential courtyards and parks, repair of health centers and more. The project’s slogan «Managing together — achieving results» was actively used in Reshetnikov’s own campaign materials in the first half of the election campaign. Naturally enough, the «Managing together» project was actively promoted in the regional and social media, with links published on official webpages of the regional and municipal authorities of the Perm Region. The project was also actively promoted by the regional branch of United Russia party.
Participation of public officials, regional and municipal employees and employees of public sector companies in campaigning
As in previous years, an obligatory element of electoral campaigns by incumbent or recently appointed acting heads of regions is the demonstration of support from the federal public officials. For example, in Republic of Udmurtia alone there were a number of such «working visits»: by State Duma speaker Vyacheslav Volodin (August 28), by Health Minister Veronika Skvortsova (August 30), by the Communications Minister Nikolai Nikiforov, by deputy chairman of the government Igor Shuvalov, and by the chairmen of four different State Duma committees. Local commentators noted that «it’s unlikely that Udmurtia ever saw as many important federal officials and politicians as it did in the last month of the election campaign.»
In the Mari El Republic, the «high status» of August pedagogical conference, which was naturally attended by the republican head Alexander Evstifeev, «was imparted by the participation of the Education Minister of Russia Lyudmila Ogorodova and the chairman of the Federation Council’s Committee for International Affairs and member of the Supreme council of United Russia party Konstantin Kosachev.»
A visit by President Vladimir Putin is considered especially valuable and significant. Despite the existence of directives to limit the use of President’s image in the electoral campaigning of acting heads and other candidates, in the Republic of Mordovia, for example, a photograph was disseminated across the media (such as the regional government’s newspaper Izvestia of Mordovia), depicting the acting head of republic Vladimir Volkov as he walks along with Putin, and both men are looking in the same direction. The photograph was accompanied by a large text describing the successes of republican development.
In the Tver Region, where governor Igor Rudenya openly supports the United Russia party and its candidates to Tver City Duma, media published a detailed account of Rudenya «presenting» a CCT ambulance to the regional children’s clinical hospital. The media emphasized that the ceremony was also attended by the deputy chairman of the State Duma, head of the United Russia faction Vladimir Vasiliev.
A significant number of regional and municipal employees and employees of public sector companies are often dragged into the electoral activities, often during working hours.
For example, in the Leningrad Region, where by-election of State Duma deputy in the Kingisep single-mandate district No. 112 was to be held, the head of the Volosov District administration Sergei Ryzhkov used the newspaper Selskaya Nov, which is co-run by the local administration, to voice his open support for the United Russia candidate Sergei Yakhnyuk.
According to the Svobodnye Novosti information agency and Alexander Nikishin, «Golos» movement’s coordinator in the Saratov Region, the officials of the regional Ministry of Information made phone calls to the region’s residents asking for permission to use their photos in the campaign materials of Saratov Region governor Valery Radaev (calendars for 2018). It should be noted that following introduction of modifications to the electoral legislation, the candidates can only use their own photos and photos of other party candidates in their promo materials, and they are forbidden from using photographs of other people who may be identified. Governor Radaev himself was dragged into United Russia campaigning, with its list of candidates for the regional parliament, when on August 13 the site of Saratov Region’s government published a story entitled «At the opening of Piterskaya mill, Valery Radaev thanked the residents for preserving traditions,» illustrated with the regional head’s photographs wearing United Russia baseball hat. The photographs became public, and the acting governor had to explain that this wasn’t campaigning for the party.
Unfortunately, the employees of public educational institutions take especially active part in illegal canvassing, violating provisions of the law «On Education.» For example, eyewitnesses reported that in the Kaliningrad Region, pre-election canvassing was organised by the employees of municipal children’s’ educational institution «Center for Children’s Development No. 2» of the town of Sovetsk, who used the occasion of the parent-teacher conferences to distribute information about the campaign promises of the acting governor Anton Alikhanov who was standing for election. Also at Sovetsk, the administrator of kindergarten No. 10 Tatyana Yarots openly campaigned for Alikhanov at his election webpage (http://алиханов2017.рф), organised canvassing events right in the kindergarten and introduced herself as the authorized representative of the acting governor. In addition to managing an educational institution, she was also the chairwoman of the district election commission No.565 in the town of Sovetsk, which means that she is expressly prohibited from both being a candidate’s authorized representative and canvassing for the elections.
The agitprop newspaper of Sergei Kurikhin, candidate for the deputy of Saratov Regional Duma from United Russia party, has published letters of support from the residents of the Kirovsky district. One letter stands out in particular — it’s from the teacher of grade school No.54 Irina Kosareva, who wants to express gratitude to the candidate. Meanwhile, the website of Saratov election commission specifies that Irina Kosareva is a member of the district election commission No. 123, representing the Communists of Russia party, which means that she has no right to take part in pre-election canvassing.
The analytical news portal Vyatsky Nablyudatel (Vyatka Observer) reported that at the Kirov Region, the new director of the local Palace of Youth state autonomous institution Ekaterina Mityagina published an announcement on her personal VKontakte page, looking for people to conduct the exit polls on September 10. The announcement read: «Dear friends! If some of you missed the chance to sign up to work on election day, I ask you to do it now. There are still some vacancies. Just a reminder that we need interviewers to conduct exit polls. The pay for one day of work is 1,500 rubles. We’ll be working both in the city and in the region. On September 10, from 8 am to 6 pm. Come, sign up!» After this information was widely shared, Ekaterina Mityagina deleted the post about hiring people to conduct exit polls.
Apparently, many employees of educational institutions and kindergartens, who often serve as members of election commissions, are unfamiliar with restrictions on their participation in pre-election canvassing, imposed on them by the electoral legislation.
Eyewitnesses in the Krasnodar Region report that regional and municipal employees were engaged in United Russia canvassing events in Krasnodar, Yeysk, Novorossiysk, Sochi, and other towns and districts. Several reports were published on the «Map of Violations.» Civilian and military personnel of the Yeysk district were especially active in this regard. According to Yevgeny Vitishko, the chairman of the regional Yabloko party branch, the officials of regional and local administrations force the local businessmen to post agitprop materials of United Russia party in their stores. He also expressed doubt regarding the sincerity of the chief administrator of the Tuapse district who claimed that the businessmen hung the party’s election posters voluntarily, and that relevant agreements to this regard can be found at the party’s regional branch. Regardless of his sincerity, it raises the question: why does the district administration employee deal with these issues instead the staff of the party’s regional branch themselves?
At the Altai Region, public officials have also taken part in pre-election canvassing for United Russia candidates at local deputy elections. According to the head of Siberian Village Council Oleg Boronin, on August 8, there was an attempt to hold unlawful agitprop event during the elections of the village head. The village head reports that the event was held in the high school building and «it seemed it had support of administration of the Pervomaysky district» in the interests of another candidate. The event was attended by employees of the district administration and the chairman of one of the district election commissions.
In Barnaul’s Lyceum No. 73, election canvassing was held during the teacher-parent conference by the candidate for City Duma deputy and the head of city’s Leninsky District administration.
In the Perm Region, on August 14, during the Conference for Election of Members of the Civic Chamber of Perm Municipal District, chief of staff of the district administration, deputy district head Vladimir Zalazaev personally distributed the printed agitprop materials of gubernatorial candidate Maxim Reshetnkov to the participants.
Use of premises held in regional and municipal ownership in the interests of specific candidates
Practice of using the premises of regional and municipal institutions and organisations in the interests of specific candidates and parties is prevalent. In the Kaliningrad Region, in the Central Town Library in the town of Sovetsk, some kind of «campaign office» for the gubernatorial candidate, the acting regional head Anton Alikhanov, was opened, and the library’s director became his election agent. Also at Sovetsk, another election agent of Alikhanov, director of Municipal State-Financed Institution of Culture «Centralized Library System of Sovetsk Municipal District» Galina Utkina openly canvassed for the candidate within the walls of the municipal institution, and held a meeting with the voters, employees and users of the Centralized Library System. In Mordovia, on August 23, the acting head of the republic and United Russia candidate V. Volkov held a campaign meeting with the representatives of republic’s intelligentsia, industry and agriculture at the Saransk State Theater of Opera and Ballet, where he introduced the audience to Russia’s former Ambassador to the United States Sergei Kislyak, who is now a candidate for the Federation Council.
In certain cases, the premises of administrative buildings become the storage for agitprop materials. In the Saratov Region, the administration of the town of Volsk stored the campaign materials for the acting governor Valery Radaev, which were printed for his election campaign for the governor of Saratov Region.
In the Novgorod Region, the packages of agitprop newspapers in support of Andrei Nikitin, United Russia candidate for the position of governor, were discovered on July 20 in the administration of Lyubnitsky rural settlement of Valdai municipal district, and on August 7 the same newspapers were found in the entrance hall of the administration building of Borovichesky municipal district, which is also where the local territorial election commission is located. Most likely, these facts point out that in violation of electoral legislation municipal employees take part in distributing campaign materials. Unfortunately, the law enforcement agencies and local election commissions prefer to avoid judging the unlawful actions of public officials and candidates, and delay investigations into such cases. The election commission of the Novgorod Region refuted the charges of unlawful distribution of campaign materials by the officials of village administrations on the basis of the prosecutor’s response, who came to the conclusion that the local officials collected these materials «for personal use such as heating the houses, household outbuildings, and saunas.»
In the Tomsk Region, campaign posters of United Russia gubernatorial candidate Sergei Zhvachkin were placed throughout different educational institutions of Tomsk (such as the Siberian State Medical University, Tomsk Polytechnical University, School No. 32, Kindergarten No. 33, and others).
Ceremonial activities and «working visits» of administrative candidates. Use of public and state events in the interests of administrative candidates
Current governors, temporary acting governors, and leaders of United Russia party tickets rarely organise official campaign events. Many of them refuse to take part in political debates, but everywhere the number of so-called «working visits» and business trips, associated with performance of official duties, increases greatly during the election period. Such regular events are promoted as working visits of the regional head and are widely covered by regional media on an almost-daily basis. These «working events» are actively attended by regional and municipal public officials. Information about these events, which for all intents and purposes serves as campaign propaganda, is published at official websites, in state-run media, and distributed in the form of press releases in the name of regional government press services.
Such tactic was used by acting governors in almost every region where the governors elections were scheduled for September 10. In the Kirov Region, for example, the acting governor Igor Vasiliev makes constant trips to the districts of the region, calling them working visits. During such trips Vasiliev always meets with the voters and organises personal appointments with the citizens, while the regional media cover these events on the pages of their newspapers and online.
In the Penza Region, governor Ivan Belozertsev, number one on United Russia party ticket, didn’t take a summer vacation, instead constantly partaking in events organised by the regional administration and visiting different districts. All of these events are actively covered by the local media. The Penza branch of VGTRK alone reports on the governor’s trips and speeches on a daily basis.
The acting head of Udmurtia and United Russia candidate Alexander Brechalov is no less active in his working visits around republic’s districts. He takes active part in various events and meetings, creating a wealth of news opportunities for the media and using them to build a positive image of the regional head still unfamiliar to most residents. Alexander Brechalov’s activity was noted on the federal level: based on his July activities, he joined the top 5 governors in Medialogy’s gubernatorial media rating in the sphere of housing services and utilities, and was named 9th among all regional heads across all spheres of publicity.
In the Mari El Republic, all of the events attended by Alexander Evstifeev and his ministers, get a wide media coverage. The events are aimed at demonstrating Evstifeev’s achievements and successes and the way he changes the republic for the better.
The common approach of «campaign offices» of administrative candidates is to constantly keep their candidates in the news with the help of state-owned resources. This can be clearly seen using the example of media promotion of United Russia candidates. For example, in the Leningrad Region, which is holding by-elections for State Duma deputy at the Kingisepp single-mandate district No. 112, United Russia candidate is Sergei Yakhnyuk, currently the deputy chairman of the regional government, head of the agriculture committee. As a public official, his activities received very little coverage from official media resources, but the situation changed when he became a candidate. Between March and July of 2017, press service of the Leningrad Region government mentioned the candidate’s name 14 times (once in March, once in April, five times in May, four — in June and three in July). The majority of mentions were associated with his official duties (comments on the activities of the agriculture committee). There were no personalized articles, and his name was always mentioned as part of the group of deputies. But in June and July the press service published a number of articles about Sergei Yakhnyuk’s participation in the opening of several sports grounds, which has no connection to his job (the committee for agriculture), and this can be interpreted as the start of election canvassing, which covertly continued throughout the campaign. Needless to say that the territories where the sports grounds were unveiled are all part of the electoral district No. 112.
The use of public events and events organised by regional or municipal authorities with state funds for election canvassing remains a widespread practice. Often such events involve participation of minor children.
In the Zelenograd district of the Kaliningrad Region administration of Zelenograd township organised a flashmob «Athletes of Kaliningrad Region for Alikhanov.» The majority of participants were members of specialised sports clubs for children. Neither the kids nor their parents were warned that the flashmob will be held in support of Anton Alikhanov and will be clearly political in nature. The video of this event can still be found on the municipal administration’s website.
Also in the Kaliningrad Region, the regional Ministry of Agriculture used state funds to organise the Day of Baltic Field-2017 event: United Russia paraphernalia was used throughout the event, and it was attended by the United Russia candidate for the post of the governor Anton Alikhanov.
In the Ryazan Region, the acting head of the region Nikolai Lyubimov was also taking an active part in all kinds of festivals and celebrations, giving speeches or interviews to the local media. Other candidates are usually not allowed to partake in such events. A good illustration of this happened when LDPR candidate for the governor, first deputy chairman of State Duma Committee on Defense Alexander Sherin was prevented from making a speech during aviation celebration dedicated to the anniversary of Russia’s Air Force.
However, the United Russia candidate Lyubimov actively and freely uses the public and professional holidays for pre-election canvassing, and his appearances are widely covered by state-owned media. On August 17, for example, he spoke at the open pedagogical forum at the Ryazyan Music Theater, where he announced the planned wage increases for the employees of the region’s educational institutions. On August 19, Lyubimov appeared in the town of Mikhailov, where the celebration dedicated to the town’s 466th founding anniversary was held for the first time (information about the celebration was published on the regional government’s website). On August 23, Lyubimov visited the regional forum «Small and Medium Business in the Current Context.» On August 27, he visited the Day of Little Villages in the village of Mikhailovo in Ermishinsky district: information about this visit was distributed by the regional government’s press service, and there was a concert organised for the local residents along with consultations by medical specialists, Pension Fund employees and social services.
In the Novgorod Region, United Russia candidate Andrei Nikitin first took part in the opening of the Veche historical film festival on August 22, and then came back on August 27 for the closing ceremony. On August 26, Nikitin took part in the opening ceremony for the Novgorod Region Youth Hockey Governor’s Cup. Also on August 27, he managed to partake in the Sarafan folk costume festival.
In the Sverdlovsk Region, the acting governor Evgeny Kuyvashev took part in the song celebration at Yekaterinburg, performing «people’s karaoke» with the popular Turetsky Choir. Following the performance, Kuyvashev made a number of electoral pledges.
Sometimes the incumbent governors have extremely strenuous «celebration days.» In the Ryazan Region, on July 28, the acting governor Nikolai Lyubimov took part in the celebration of Ryazan City Day by visiting the street song festival «Podbleka-2017,» awarding prominent Ryazan residents, and singing with Turetsky Choir. On the following day, July 29, in the morning he stood through the public prayer service in honor of the City Day. On that same day the acting governor together with the paratroopers laid the flowers to the Eternal fire and the monument to the founder of the Airborne Troops (Ryazan Day has been integrated with Airborne Troops Day since 2010). Nonetheless, on August 2, Ryazan held a separate celebration of the Airborne Troops Day, which was attended by Nikolai Lyubimov. On August 5, Lyubimov visited the 15th Interregional Military-Historical Festival «Battle at Vozha,» which took place in the village of Glebovo-Gorodishche. This information was announced by the regional government’s press service.
Use of common images and symbols in communications of regional authorities and campaign materials of administrative candidates
The practice of using common images and symbols in communications of regional authorities and campaign materials of certain candidates and parties, the so-called «disguising technologies,» is also very common.
In the Altai Region, many United Russia candidates dedicated their campaign materials to «urban projects,» and then began to actively use them in the course of the campaign, including the use of graphical elements.
In the city of Petrozavodsk, in the Republic of Karelia, the residents received invitations to the elections of the head of Karelia, whose decoration is identical to the one, which is used in the campaign materials of United Russia candidate and acting head of the Republic Artur Parfenchikov. Moreover, the invitation violates the principle of candidates’ equality: the large red «checkmark» with the words «Karelia. My choice» was placed to the right of the box with the name of the acting republican head Parfenchikov. Such invitations were a cause for complaint to the Central Election Commission of Russia.
In the Tomsk Region, the streets were decorated with banners in support of United Russia candidate and acting governor Sergei Zhvachkin, whose slogan («Come and decide!») and design were identical to the awareness-raising posters used by the regional election commission.
Covert campaigning in the media. Violations of election canvassing rules
The «Golos» movement noted the domination of incumbent heads of regions, United Russia candidates and the «ruling party» itself in the media scene. This violates the principle of equality for all candidates and parties, which should be observed by the media in covering election events and the candidates’ official duties. This concerns both the elections of regional heads and the elections of representative body deputies.
The state-owned media, primarily the regional television, working under the guise of informing the public, was actively covering the public duties of acting heads of regions who were coming up for re-election. Such coverage improves their image and provides them with free (and budget-financed) PR support (such was the situation in the Mari El Republic, Kirov, Penza, Ryazan, Saratov Regions, and others).
Here’s an incomplete list of Igor Vasiliev’s achievements in the Kirov Region, which are covered almost daily by the local Vyatka TV channel, part of the VGTRK network. Often, these achievements have nothing to do with his professional duties: Igor Vasiliev cooks pilaf (June 13, 2017), Igor Vasiliev made a working visit to the Nemsky district (June 13, 2017), Igor Vasiliev had a working trip to Orichevsky district (July 15, 2017), Igor Vasiliev made a working visit to Falensky district (July 10, 2017), Igor Vailiev at the Vyatsky Lapot festival and Sabantuy celebration in Malmyzh (July 18, 2017), Igor Vasiliev with a working visit to Omutninsky district (July 18, 2017), Igor Vasiliev had a meeting with people to discuss the most relevant social issues (July 19, 2017), Igor Vasiliev took part in the roundtable discussion with the leadership of public organisation PILLAR OF RUSSIA (July 21, 2017), Igor Vasiliev at Falyonky district (July 22, 2017), and so on.
Similar coverage could be noted in the state-owned media of Udmurtia:
Alexander Brechalov visited Pikhtovka fish farm in the Votkinsky district (July 24, 2017). Alexander Brechalov made a working visit to Izhevsk Kupol Electromechanical Plant (July 28, 2017). Alexander Brechalov visited Kupol plant (July 31, 2017). Acting head of Udmurtia Alexander Brechalov opened presentation of the map of investment opportunities (August 1, 2018). At the presentation of the Map of Udmurtia’s investment opportunities Alexander Brechalov noted that the city of Izhevsk is a potential incubator for innovations (August 2, 2017). Alexander Brechalov spoke with participants of the youth hiking rally in the Malopurginsky district (August 5, 2017). Acting head of the region visited the Staromonyonsky Handicraft House (August 6, 2017). Alexander Brechalov visited Yar (August 8, 2017). The acting governor’s trips and meetings are also actively publicized on his personal page at VKontakte social network.
In the Ryazan Region, almost all of the media scene was also occupied by the single candidate — acting governor and United Russia candidate Nikolai Lyubimov. Lyubimov could be seen on the news almost daily on two channels: Vesti Ryazan and the «governor’s channel» called TKR. On July 19, Nikolai Lyubimov received the certificate of his registration as a candidate, and this was shown by local Vesti news. On July 21, another candidate, Alexandra Perekhvatova, received her certificate of registration, but Vesti didn’t mention this at all. In the news programs of TKR channel Lyubimov may appear several times in one show. Other media outlets were also actively covering the acting governor’s working visits.
In the Novgorod Region, the state-owned and municipal media violated electoral legislation and several times published the campaign materials of United Russia candidate Andrei Nikitin, and status reports on his activities as the acting governor. At the very start of the election campaign, on June 21, 2017, the Novgorodskie Vedomosti newspaper (No. 24 (4641)), established by the regional government, published an article called «Focus on transformation: five-step strategy» that had all the earmarks of canvassing. The print run of this newspaper is 3436 copies. On June 29, 2017, a similar article with a slightly different title «Dialogue. Development. Prosperity. Five-step strategy» was published in the municipal newspaper Novgorod, whose print run equals 105,916 copies. On June 29-30, the same article was published in 18 district newspaper, established and published by the state autonomous institution Agency of Informational Communications, owned by the government of the Novgorod Region. None of these articles were marked as campaign materials and weren’t paid for from the candidate’s electoral fund. The total cost of such publications equals approximately 4,254,075 rubles, which is 5% more than the maximum size of expenditures allowed for the candidate’s electoral fund. The synchronized distribution of the same article in the name of the acting governor Andrei Nikitin, who was simultaneously a candidate for the gubernatorial position, in 19 state-owned, one municipal and one private media cannot be explained by anything but election campaigning.
In the article, Andrei Nikitin provides a status report on his work and makes various election pledges. The article uses special methods of delivering information, as well as colours, logos, photos, infographics, which are identical to other campaign materials of candidate A. Nikitin. Campaigning character of the aforementioned texts is confirmed by the fact that on July 4, candidate Andrei Nikitin commissioned and paid for the campaigning text called «Dialogue. Development. Prosperity. Five-step strategy,» which is identical in its content and execution to the articles published in the Novgorodskie Vedomosti and Novgorod newspapers as well as in 19 district newspapers. Nonetheless, the election commission of the Novgorod Region dismissed the submitted complaint, judging that the aforementioned publications in the media were news items, not campaign materials, and claiming that there were significant differences in their execution and appearance.
In the Leningrad Region, where by-elections to the State Duma for Kingisep single-mandate electoral district No. 112 were taking place, on July 17, at least five municipal media outlets, cofounded by local administrations and the Public Affairs Committee of the Leningrad Region government, published an article called «Sergei Yakhnyuk: living on the land,» which contained covert propaganda in favour of the United Russia candidate, deputy chairman of the regional government Sergei Yakhnyuk. The article, timed to the upcoming 90th anniversary of the Leningrad Region, is actually an interview with the candidate, in which Yakhnyuk answers questions about his life and describes his achievements in the regional government. This article has been published on websites of official municipal publications Vostochny Bereg (Kingsepp district), Baltiysky Luch (Lomonosovsky district), Luzhskaya Pravda (Luzhsky district), Znamya truda (Slantsevsky district) and on the Mayak media portal (town of Sosnovy Bor). On July 19, the website of Baltiysky Luch newspaper also published a news item detailing Sergei Yakhnyuk’s submission of the documents for nomination to the Leningrad Region Election Commission, but no information about other candidates was published. All of these publications were distributed in municipal districts incorporated in the single-mandate electoral district No. 112, where Sergei Yakhnyuk was running for State Duma deputy.
In a number of regions, the start of election campaign coincided with the launch of regular TV programs featuring incumbent regional heads. In the Saratov Region, for example, starting on July 1 and running every Saturday, cable channel Saratov 24 unveiled a program Week with the Governor, featuring the United Russia candidate and temporary acting governor of the region Valery Radaev. There is no doubt that the program was promoting his positive image. In the Novgorod Region, a similar program was broadcasted under the name Nikitin. To the Point, featuring the acting regional head Andrei Nikitin and also promoting his positive image.
According to the information agency Vyatka Observer, in the Kirov Region, the Kirovskaya Pravda newspaper, which is published out of budget resources, regularly violates the principle of candidates’ equality, as it regularly promotes acting governor Igor Vasiliev without mentioning the fact that he is running for governor, while «other candidates who publish information about themselves are forced to pay from their electoral funds.»
Covert propaganda, not paid from the electoral fund or paid out of budget resources, has also been widespread throughout the months of municipal elections in the Altai Region, leading to numerous complaints about unlawful canvassing. For example, in the town of Biysk, the town election commission ordered the recall of 100,000 copies of United Russia newspaper. Complaints of unlawful canvassing were regularly made in the town of Rubtsovsk, also leading to the removal of these printed materials.
The elections to Barnaul City Duma demonstrate total predominance of information about United Russia candidates in regional and municipal media. The analysis of mentions of United Russia candidates in the Evening Barnaul municipal newspaper has demonstrated that between May and early July, out of 40 principal «ruling party» candidates (front-runners of party ticket, leaders of territorial groups, single mandate candidates) 39 had received coverage in print and online media either in the form of a large by-liner or in the form of an interview or another significant mention. Over the same period the acting deputies of the Barnaul City Duma, who didn’t make it to the party ticket, failed to get even cursory mentions.
United Russia candidates used the shortcomings of electoral legislation and distributed a significant number of de facto campaigning materials before the party ticket was announced. In July, United Russia candidates began to hold meetings with the voters, and a lot of printed campaigning materials were hung around the city without any mention of their financing from the electoral fund. The Communist Party complained of unlawful canvassing to the city election commission, and at first, the commission’s expert group deemed some of the posters placed on the streets, in municipal transport and at state-funded organisations as containing signs of canvassing. However, several days later, the head of the city election commission Zamaruev came out with an unexpected statement, and announced that the «representatives of the Communist Party inaccurately interpreted the provisions of electoral legislation and made a mistake in their interpretation of the expert group’s decision on information disputes.» According to Zamaruev, the majority of reviewed materials are strictly informational, and the expert group’s ruling doesn’t contain any conclusions on the violations by the local branch of United Russia party. However, after Altai branch of «Golos» movement made a petition on this issue, the chairman of the election commission claimed that measures have been taken, and requests to the police have been sent, although no ruling of the election commission was formalized.
Similar situation could be observed in other cities of the region. In Biysk, for example, municipal newspaper Biysk Times actively published articles dedicated to United Russia’s party projects. The articles showed signs of election canvassing, but there is no information that they were paid for with electoral funds. There were no indications that these were «sponsored statements.» At the town of Rubtsovsk, the June 28 issue of municipal newspaper Local Times was fully dedicated to the activities of United Russia party and its future candidates for the deputies. Distribution of this edition continued well into the campaign. United Russia printed materials were also posted in the building of Rubtsovsk town administration and in the municipal transport. Only after the Communist Party complained to Rubtsovsk election commission, the unlawful campaigning was removed. The Communist Party also filed a complaint to the election commission to deem as unlawful canvassing the newspaper RTV-3 Presents, whose issue from June 20, 2017, contained a clear campaigning material about LDPR-backed candidate for the deputy of the city council.
In the course of election canvassing, certain candidates and parties openly violate copyright law and engage in covert bribery of voters.
In the Altai Region, in the Barnaul City Duma elections, in the electoral district No. 7, United Russia candidate, high school principal Inna Borisenko, and the self-nominated candidate, deputy chairman of the city duma Andrei Solodilov, invited the residents to the opening of a sports ground on the territory of the school, headed by one of the candidates. The leaflet with announcement contains no obligatory publisher’s imprint and is compiled in clear violation of copyright law. At the celebration, the candidates invited voters to vote for them, and handed out free of charge beverages, which is a form of vote buying.
Provision of free of charge services is also considered a bribery of voters. According to provision 2 of article 56 of the Federal Law 67-FZ «On the principal guarantees of voting rights...,» «candidates, electoral associations, their agents and authorized representatives, as well as other persons and organisations are forbidden from bribing voters in the process of election canvassing: to provide services free of charge or on special terms.» In the meantime, in the Kaliningrad Region, the lawyers of the gubernatorial candidate Anton Alikhanov’s campaign office provided free legal services to the population, and the candidate himself announced this on his Instagram page.
Obstruction of election canvassing of candidates and parties
Inequality of candidates and parties is also reflected in the fact that some of them experienced pressure from the administration and law enforcement agencies, and faced various obstructions in conducting canvassing events.
Obstruction in conducting canvassing events and distributing campaign materials
On July 13, in the village of Lopatino, in the Penza Region, policemen detained two Communist Party activisits. One of them was the first secretary of Lopatino district committee of the Communist Party Igor Sobyanin. According to the party’s regional branch, the policemen disliked the fact that the activists were handing out the newspaper Penzenskaya Isrka, which they believed could only be done after permission from the district administration. Despite the fact that the Communists had their passports with them, they still had to follow the police to the police station, where they spent almost two hours. After almost two hours at the police station the detained activists were let go without drawing up any protocols.
On August 17 in the Sverdlovsk Region a package of campaign materials for the United Russia candidate Evgeny Kuyvashev was stolen in the town of Serov. The local publication Globus reported that at around 12:20 PM an employee of United Russia’s local campaign office saw that somebody broke into the storage room where the campaign materials were stored and stole several packages with leaflets. The publication’s source said that the thieves decamped to the local concrete-mixing plant. When the police arrived at the plant, two cement-mixers were just trying to leave the premises, and the stolen materials were found inside. The publication noted that the thieves tried to mix the leaflets with concrete. Globus suggested that the theft was organised by the movement «We are Serov!» and the candidate for the town duma Pavel Kozyaev, but the candidate declared that someone is «trying to tar his reputation.» The police began investigation into the theft.
The Communist Party faced some serious problems in distributing its campaign materials in the Kirov Region. On eve of Vladimir Putin’s visit to Kirov, the 100,000-copy edition of Iskra newspaper was confiscated from the Communist Party. The Communists blamed acting governor Igor Vasiliev directly for this. Confiscation took place in the course of the search conducted in the official reception of the Communist Party chairman Gennady Zyuganov and the cabinet of State Duma deputy and deputy chairman of the Communist Party Vladimir Kashin, and the search was conducted by the staff of the regional Ministry of Internal Affairs. According to the regional election commission, the reason for confiscation was the fact that the newsletter was produced in violation of the law: in it the photos of the regional government officials were published under the guise of Russian folk tale characters such as Koschei the Immortal, Nightingale the Robber, and the witch Baba Yaga. The head of the Communist Party faction of the Kirov legislative assembly Sergei Mamaev had sent a petition to the chairwoman of the Central Election Commission Ella Panfilova, asking her to reverse the unlawful decision by the Kirov Region Election Commission. The Communist Party believes that the images in question were political cartoons, which are allowed for publication. On August 16, the Central Election Commission sustained the Communists’ petition, deeming the confiscation of newspaper illegal, and cancelled the regional commission’s decision.
The deputy chairman of the Kirov Region Election Commission Vladimir Motorin demanded that the regional branch of the Communist Party obtain the agreement of (dead) poets Alexander Pushkin and Alexander Odoevsky for the publication of their poems in the Iskra and Molniya newsletters, which used the two poets’ correspondence as epigraphs for the articles. In response, Sergei Mamaev filed an official inquiry with the prosecutor’s office blaming the deputy chairman of the election commission Vladimir Motorin of abuse of power and an attempt to disrupt the elections of Kirov Region governor.
In addition to this, Sergei Mamaev reported that at all of municipal units of the Kirov Region local authorities interfered with the Communist Party’s election canvassing. On August 24, at the town of Yaransk, the law enforcement officers cut short the attempt at a picket protest by the representatives of the Communist Party, and confiscated their campaign installations, loudspeaker equipment and printed materials with a total worth of over 1 mln rubles. Notably, the Administration of Internal Affairs of the Kirov Region made no announcements about the basis for the rally’s ban. According to Mamaev’s information, the whole process was coordinated by Igor Vasiliev’s spin doctors from the Polylog company, while confiscation of campaign materials was directly ordered by the acting Minister of Internal and Informational Politics of the Kirov Region Vladimir Beketov. Representatives of the Communist Party reported that they submitted notification of the rally to Yaransk town administration all the way back on August 15. They say that the head of the local adminsitration Denis Ikonnikov delayed consideration of this resolution as long as possible, although the law stipulates that such notifications have to be reviewed within three days.
The regional committee of the Communist Party also reported that the Kirov Region Election Commission in the person of its deputy chairman Vladimir Motorin for several days refused to register the Kolokol newsletter, citing its ruling No. 12/105 from June 22, 2017. According to the ruling, registration of campaign materials is only done on business days between 9 am and 5 pm (4 pm on Fridays). Such ruling of the election commission is justified by articles 42 and 48 of the regional law «On elections of the Governor of Kirov Region.» But articles 42 (Election canvassing) and 48 (Terms of issue and distribution of election print, audiovisual and other campaign materials) of the regional law «On elections of the Governor of Kirov Region» specify no time restrictions on admission and registration of campaign materials. During the campaign period, the election commission works from 8 am to 6 pm on business days and from 8 am to 1 pm on the weekends.
At the same time, the Kirov Region Election Commission easily deems any disputable campaign materials by the incumbent authorities’ opponents illegal campaigning. For example, the election commission ruled that the statements made in the shows «Special opinion of Valery Turulo» and «Special opinion of Aziz Agaev» that were broadcasted on Radio Kirov Grad on August 2 and August 9 are illegal campaigning because they contained certain critical statements against the acting governor of the region. But nobody deemed the radio and TV shows where speakers would only praise and approve the acting regional head as election campaigning and «creation of excessively positive image.»
The Kirov Region Election Commission also ruled that the article «Igor Vasiliev ordered confiscation of 100,000 copies of Iskra newspaper on the eve of Vladimir Putin’s visit to the Kirov Region» and the news poster «Stop plundering our region!» published on the website of the regional branch of the Communist Party and the article «The team of „temporary outsiders“ is spending millions...» published on the Communist Party’s page at VKontakte social network are examples of illegal campaign materials.
Overall, in the Kirov Region, campaign materials posted on specially-dedicated information stands were regularly destroyed or posted over.
In the Penza Region, the Communist Party’s campaign banners were destroyed. Overall, the regional Communist Party organisation noted that the last two weeks of the election campaign for the legislative assembly of the Penza Region have been characterized by increased provocations and political pressure towards Communist Party candidates. Five campaign banners were illegally dismantled, and one was damaged. On the night of August 27, in the Arbekovo microdistrict, the campaign banner of Communist Party candidate Oleg Shalyapin was put on fire. On August 28, two Communist Party campaign banners and three banners of Viktor Khomets, the candidate for electoral district No. 1, were illegally dismantled from the local beach by the order of certain employees of the district administration. Complaints to the police were made following these actions.
In the Tomsk Region, the LDPR candidate for the governor Alexei Didenko reports that his campaign materials were destroyed and retrieved from the mailboxes on a massive scale. At the end of July, banners informing the voters of Tomsk governor elections («Come and decide!» with the logo of the Tomsk Region Election Commission) appeared on the streets of Tomsk. A bit later, campaign posters with the same slogan but without Election Commission logo began to be posted on top of the campaign posters of the Communist Party candidate N. Baryshnikova and LDPR candidate A. Didenko with a clear aim of hiding them. This was happening even though the posters of the said candidates were hung in the specially dedicated areas of the city streets.
Administrative pressure on the candidates
In the Altai Region, three parties — the Communist Party, the Just Russia party and Yabloko — reported about administrative pressure on their candidates. At the very start of the campaign, Yabloko announced that two territorial group leaders at the Barnaul City Duma elections were forced to resign due to pressure — they were a well-known coach and a medical director of the city hospital.
The Communist Party filed a complaint to the prosecutor’s office regarding administrative pressure on its candidates applied by the district officials during election processes in various village settlements of the region. According to the party’s information, the teacher of Novoburanovo school Nadezhda Malygina was first nominated as the candidate for the deputy of Novoburanovo Village Council, but then refused to submit her documents because she was threatened with losing her job. After health worker Marina Krynina registered as a candidate for the Ognevo Village Council deputy, she experienced psychological pressure from the head of the district Pavel Zinoviev personally. Elena Foleeva, a cook at the Priozernaya High School, was also forced to recall her candidacy after submitting the documents to Priozernaya election commission. Later, the deputy head of the district administration Anjelika Brodnikova suggested that teacher Evgeniya Pasilko withdraws as the candidate for election in the process of inspecting Priozernaya High School for the new school year. It was also then that the director of the recreation center Oxana Podachina also withdrew her candidacy without explaining her reasons. Acting head of the Charyshi administration Shurygina called a number of the candidates persuading them not to campaign on the platform of the Communist Party. It was later discovered that the kindergarten director Svetlana Kapustina was also forced to write declaration of withdrawal. Representatives of the district administration also put pressure on the Communist Party candidates for the deputies of Ust-Kalmansky Village Council. Deputy head of the district administration Anjelika Brodnikova summoned teacher Nadezhda Vasilenko for a conversation, demanding that Vasilenko withdraw her candidacy, and even called the election commission requesting their assistance in preparing the relevant statement. Chairman of the district administration’s culture committee Alexander Myskin, who simultaneously chairs the district election commission, demanded that the employee of Ust-Kalmansky recreation center Viktor Fedorov withdraw his candidacy.
Representatives of the Just Russia party also reported about several waves of pressure applied to their candidates in different districts of the region. The head of the regional party branch writes that «following conversations with representatives of the city administration, two candidates at Rubtsovsk — deputy director of the Youth Sports School Vitaly Arzhantsev and chief engineer of Torpedo Sports Club Maxim Miloserdov — decided against registering as the candidates.» Around the same time, the party reported about two instances when pressure was applied to the village election candidates: «two nominees from the Just Russia were also „convinced“ to forego registration. The candidates did not work for the state-funded organisations, but the methods of pressure were similar: one candidate is an entrepreneur who was told that his permit won’t be extended, while the second candidate is an employee of a private company, who was pressured by her bosses,» wrote the head of the party’s regional branch Vladislav Vakaev.
In late August, the Just Russia party reported the «second wave of pressure» on its candidates. «In the last week of the month, we’ve been receiving alarming information from the districts that people are being forced to withdraw their candidacies. In particular, such instances of pressure were registered in Shelabolikhinsky, Zavyalovsky, Kamensky, Kosikhinsky, Krutikhinsky, Krasnoshchekovsky, Troitsky, and Romanovsky districts, as well as in Barnaul and Rubtsovsk,» the party’s press service reported. For example, in the Romanovsky district two of the party’s candidates withdrew from elections following pressure from their bosses at the municipal unitary enterprise. In addition to this, candidates for the Blagoveshchensky District Council report that the district officials applied administrative pressure in order to keep opposition candidates from partaking in the elections by any means. «The wife of one of the self-nominated candidates who works in the school was told that she’ll be fired if he doesn’t withdraw his candidacy. The same threat was made to one of the milk plant’s employees,» said the unregistered candidate Valery Stena.
The Communist Party also reported that its candidates were subjected to administrative pressure in the Penza Region. Its leaders especially emphasized situation with the candidate and oncologist Anton Stolyarov, who heads the party ticket in the regional group and who experienced serious pressure from the hospital’s medical director Serebryakov.
Naturally, just like any other time, this year’s elections saw their share of smear campaigns. Some of them were even directed at the «ruling party.» This happened, for example, in Udmurtia, where media published unverified information about two United Russia candidates, which supposedly «discredited the party.»
In the Novgorod Region Zhirinovshchina newspaper was distributed, its texts aimed against the LDPR candidate Anton Morozov.
Administrative pressure on voters
Closer to the election day, the more frequent were the reports about administrative pressure on the voters aimed at coercing them to vote.
In the Altai Region, according to reports from the heads of organisations that work in the Central district of Barnaul, the district head disseminated everyone letters demanding that they provide weekly reports with «the lists of supporters» to the administration. The heads of organisations candidly say that by «supporters» the official means United Russia supporters. The voters report that in the social services of Barnaul, the management ordered employees to create the list of United Russia supporters before the election («mobilization map»). Each employee had to find at least 10 supporters among their friends and relatives and hand their personal details over to their superiors. In the Smertin Park (Forest Fairytale Park), the manager obligated all the employees to vote for United Russia threatening them with non-payment of salaries.
Biysk voters reported that they were being coerced into voting as well. Each employee was also obligated to compile a list of 6-10 people who will vote for United Russia. In particular, this was reported by the employees of Biysk Administration of Architecture and «single-window» government services offices. They say that the order came directly from the city administration’s chief of staff Yudin. Beyond that, the head of Biysk Department of Community Affairs Lyudmila Balakhonova personally visited the city’s civic organisations encouraging them to support United Russia.
In the Sverdlovsk Region, the medical director of the regional clinical hospital Felix Badaev established tight control over the will expression of his employees, say representatives of the hospital staff. The source confirmed his words with an audio recording that was supposedly made at the August 14 meeting that Badaev held with the hospital’s senior physicians. In the recording, a man explains to everyone the obligatory procedure for reporting the medical personnel’s voting. A source of the Ura. Ru online media claims that the voice belongs to Felix Badaev.
It also came into light that the state employees in the Sverdlovsk Region are also forced to compile the lists of supporters who will go to vote.
In a number of regions projects have been launched, aiming to increase election turnout through prize drawings and giveaways. One of such examples is the "Golos«ovach project, which invites people to take a picture at the polling station, publish this photo on social media and take part in prize giveaways. The «Golos» movement denounces such projects as distorting the very essence of free elections and the voluntary nature of participation.
The «stimulating project» organised by the Urals Gems Foundation in the Sverdlovsk Region is the largest of such projects. The festival’s official website informs that on election day «award centers» will open in 20 of the region’s cities and towns. Those who are willing to take part in the giveaway of apartments, cars and other valuable prizes, have to find out the address of their award center on the website, come there on September 10 with a passport, fill out a questionnaire, choose a certificate, and receive a prize. Altogether, 20 municipalities will raffle 15 apartments, 130 cars, 10,000 units of household appliances, and another 700,000 gifts and souvenirs. The event’s rules state that it is not a lottery and is not risk-based, as such events are forbidden from being held on election day. The Sverdlovsk Region Election Commisison saw no violation of the legislation in such activities.
In some of the regions, early voting has already begun, and it’s accompanied by coercion of voters. In particular, this has already been revealed in the Altai Region, at the elections to the Barnaul City Duma, where turnout was forecasted to be approximately 20%. According to the incoming information, authorities plan to secure early voting from 10% of all voters. If these figures are achieved, each second voter will vote before the single election day. In 2014, during gubernatorial elections, 50,000 voters (out of 524,000) voted early in Barnaul, which amounted to 9.6% of all voters, with the actual turnout of 33%.
In this regard, many participants of the election and experts express serious concerns in connection with frequent signals from voters regarding the start of administrative pressure and coercion towards early voting.
For example, on August 29, the parents of students of School No. 127 reported that their teachers are forcing them to compile the lists of people to bring to early voting. At the Barnaultransmash plant an announcement was recently hung calling people to vote early. In mid-August, administrative pressure was reported by employees of one of the parks, and similar reports came from the social services. On August 28, at the Biysk Oleum Plant, the head of the plant’s recreation center and United Russia candidate for the deputy Yulia Matusevich organised a meeting with shop foremen and heads of subdivisions demanding that they secure their workers’ turnout to the early voting, while the head of the Biysk Administration’s Department of Community Outreach Lyudmila Balakhonova demanded that such lists are compiled by the city’s civic organisations. Similar complaints were made by the employees of Biysk Administration of Architecture and «single-window» government services offices.
It should be noted that election commissions are also systematically working towards pivoting voters towards absentee ballot voting. Since late August, printed leaflets commissioned by the Barnaul Election Commission have been distributed around the city. The leaflets invite the residents to polling stations to update the voter lists and inform them about early voting held in the district election commissions from August 30 to September 9, 2017. According to the state procurement web portal, there were 515,000 copies of these A5 leaflets produced. It’s conspicuous that the leaflet fails to inform the citizens of the actual day of elections. The contract envisions production of just one printed leaflet that informed the voters of the actual election day, but its circulation was for some reason 10 times as small. Similar leaflet without the date of the single voting day was published by the Biysk Election Commission as well. The election commission admitted that it specifically encouraged the residents to vote early. An article published by PolitSibRu, citing the chairman of the city election commission, says: «The election commission says that they call on people to vote early in order to give them an opportunity to harvest, because this is an agrarian region. „The Altai Region is an agrarian territory, city residents have many gardens and vegetable plots, and the weather is great, many people are taking vacation,“ explained the chairman of Barnaul’s election commission Vitaly Zamaruev.» It should be noted that United Russia’s campaign materials as a rule also don’t mention the voting day of September 10, which forces one to suspect local election commissions of conspiracy with the said political party.
The regions, which instead of early voting use the new declarative principle of voting at a place of current residence, also report about coercion of voters to fill out such forms. For example, in the Republic of Udmurtia, eyewitnesses from district No. 19 of the town of Sarapul reported to the «Map of violations» of such preparations in the interests of United Russia candidate Alexei Malyuk.
In the Perm Region, the management of the local Mashinostroitel plant demanded its employees to come to vote. Instructions distributed among workers explain the procedure of voting at a place of current residence. The letters encouraging the workers to vote also contain the bio of the acting governor Reshetnikov, and it’s emphasized that he was nominated by the President. The letter is signed by V. Manin, the deputy of Perm City Duma and head of Mashinostroitel’s personnel department.