Table of contents ·
Over the last 18 months, situation around elections in Russia has changed dramatically. Following the “pension reform,” the protest sentiment has drastically increased, and last year this generated a number of painful defeats for the authorities at the regional and local-level elections. This year, in light of society’s growing politization, the government has went to considerable lengths to conserve the current system: reform of electoral legislation that was seriously discussed just a year ago has been essentially blocked, and any attempts by “non-systemic” politicians to enter the political system via elections were suppressed. In particular, the government backed out of relaxing the “municipal filter.” Nonetheless, the changing environment is forcing the authorities to adapt: as a result, at this year’s elections, six establishment candidates for the regional head positions are running as independents, foregoing nomination by United Russia party.
This report contains the analysis of the initial stage of campaign, comprising nomination and registration of candidates for the position of the regional governor. The main text of the report contains short descriptions of the specific examples of electoral rights violations and incidents. A more detailed description can be found in the Appendix.
1. Gubernatorial elections have lost their initial sociopolitical meaning. Against the backdrop of society’s increasing politization, the growing protest activities, decreasing trust in the government and last year’s results of the “second rounds” of gubernatorial elections, the federal political administrators are attempting to conserve the system that worked so well in the previous years. The abandonment of the idea to abolish or even slightly change the “municipal filter” is predicated on this. There’s also a tendency on the part of the authorities to view the elections of governors as a strictly bureaucratic planned replacement procedure for the region’s highest official. The voters are assigned the part of those who only have to approve the choice made by the country’s President. As part of this tendency, the share of regions where the acting governors were replaced with interim ones ahead of time has increased. Thus, in 2018, the appointed interim governors were sent for election in 17 out of 22 regions, and in 2019, this is taking place in 13 out of 16 regions. The share of “establishment candidates” that had no previous relation to the regions where they are being elected has also increased.
2. In situation of serious apprehension regarding potential loss of their representatives in the regions, the federal authorities are making the efforts to limit the citizens’ electoral rights. The abandonment of plans for the long overdue reform the “municipal filter” has led to the situation when nomination of any candidates without approval of authorities was simply impossible in the majority of the regions. At the territories presenting the greatest problems for the authorities (such as St. Petersburg, Trans-Baikal and Astrakhan regions), the candidates capable of seriously competing with the interim governors were simply blocked. A number of ambitious politicians faced substantial political hurdles in their attempt to realize the right to be elected. This means that the voters’ choices have been significantly limited. Meaningful groups of citizens were deprived of the opportunity to vote for the candidates representing their interests.
3. Degradation of the party system is ongoing. Even the major political parties are playing a smaller role in the process of nominating gubernatorial candidates. This year has been a record one in terms of nominated (45) and registered (6) independent candidates. All of the registered self-nominated candidates are the “establishment candidates” who decided that nomination from the United Russia party would be too risky in light of its decreasing popularity. The parliamentary opposition parties, in turn, proved to be unable to guarantee their candidates an ability to clear the “municipal filter” in the overwhelming majority of the regions. To register their candidates, they had to enter into agreements with their formal competitors. Parliamentary parties did especially poorly at the governor elections in the Trans-Baikal region where they proved to be unable to register a single (!) candidate. Having said that, in a number of regions, the parliamentary parties, even in the presence of strong politicians, effectively abandoned the political fight.
4. Prior to the start of election campaign, seven regions introduced amendments permitting self-nomination of candidates for the governors. In reality, this had no effect on expanding the citizens’ right to be elected. The formal extension of the right to be elected in practice was limited to the government’s ability to nominate its representatives without the use of party structures. The hopes that non-administrative self-nominating candidates would be able to take part in the elections proved to be futile as none were registered. Self-nomination of government-favored candidates actually worsened the situation with citizens’ rights. The pressure on municipal heads and deputies was augmented with administrative coercion and bribery of voters to guarantee the necessary number of signatures in support of the interim governors’ nomination.
5. Prior to calling the elections, amendments to the electoral legislation (such as on self-nomination) were made urgently and in contravention to international electoral standards. International standards of democratic elections proclaim the principle of electoral legislation’s stability and do not recommend changing essential parameters of the electoral system less than a year before calling elections so that election participants would have enough time to prepare for their introduction. The changes approved by the regional parliaments were opportunistic in their nature and prepared in the interests of people that already hold the power. Moreover, in the Trans-Baikal region, the haste in preparation of these amendments led to some serious mistakes on the part of the legislators, and these mistakes may trigger the annulment of the election results.
6. The results of the registration of candidates from the small parties clearly show that the real meaning of the “municipal filter” is that it allows the authorities to select the most comfortable rivals for their nominees. The “filter” often lets through the unknown representatives of small parties that have very few municipal deputies or that didn’t partake in the region’s local elections at all. Their candidates often don’t even hide the presence of arrangements with the establishment party, and their financing comes from organizations connected to their formal “opponents.”
7. Even as the government exercises total control over the process of selecting and registering candidates for governors, nomination of its own representatives is accompanied by egregious violations of electoral rights and standards of free and genuine elections. The scale of “administrative” resources’ abuse often raises the question whether the candidates (especially the dispatched “outsiders”) are capable of honestly and independently mustering support from the voters, the local “managerial class,” municipal heads and deputies.
All of the above speaks of the fact that the logic of government’s actions during elections is now defined by the “fear of defeat.” In situation of growing protest voting, appearance of strong alternative candidates and unpopularity of government’s proteges, all of the actions of the election administrators are dictated by the fear of losing administrative control over citizens’ choice and suffering electoral defeat.
The Russian Constitution states that the country’s holder of sovereignty and the only source of power are the people and that the free elections and referenda are the highest manifestation of this power. However, over the last years, situation in Russia has been such that the regions are headed for long periods of time by people that nobody elected as they have been appointed as interim governors by the federal government (see Chart 1).
Chart 1. The terms of unelected “administrative” candidates at the helm of the regions (up to September 8, 2019)
The chart shows that in a number of cases the appointed interim governors will govern the region for close to a year up to the moment when elections take place (if they are elected, another two or three weeks may pass before they assume the office, and that’s if there’s no second round). The interim governors will govern Bashkortostan, Trans-Baikal, Kurgan, Kursk and Lipetsk regions and St. Petersburg for more than 300 days without being elected. The term of the Sakhalin region’s interim governor is also very close to this number.
Moreover, just three out of 16 governors partaking in the elections this year currently hold their office on the basis of election – that’s the heads of the Stavropol, Volgograd and Vologda regions. By changing the governors ahead of time, the federal government essentially relieves the voters of the opportunity to express their feelings towards results of their governing and to manifest themselves as the genuine source of power. In such a way, continuity with the previous regional policy is artificially eroded, as the appointed interim governors are supposedly meant to demonstrate its renovation.
In a normal political situation, it can undoubtedly happen that the head of the region receives an especially attractive job offer or experiences health problems incompatible with his work. At the very extreme, history knows of cases when high ranking officials were brought to criminal justice, and this prevented them from further performing their duties. But when early resignations take place on such grand scale, it shows that this has become a tried and tested technology of personnel renewal in circumvention of the citizens’ opinion. In 2018, interim governors took part in the elections at 17 out of 22 regions, and in 2019, they are doing this in 13 out of 16 regions, which means that the number of regional heads running for re-election has gone down from five to three.
It should be noted that this violates constitutional principle of federalism because by forcing the acting heads of the regions to resign ahead of time and appointing interim governors in their place the central government essentially introduces direct control of these regions until the moment of elections. On top of everything, this process lacks the procedure of at least approving the interim governor’s candidacy with the regional parliament.
The government doesn’t even try to conceal such interference. In the spring of 2019, the chairwoman of the Federation Council Valentina Matvienko called the succession of gubernatorial resignations a “planned process” and a “normal personnel renewal.”
For the federal administrators, gubernatorial elections have effectively been transformed into the bureaucratic procedure of replacing the region’s highest official, where the voters are assigned the role of those who have to approve the choice made by the country’s President. Gubernatorial elections have lost their initial sociopolitical meaning.
The federal government’s disdain for the opinion of the regions’ residents is accentuated by the choice of the interim governors. Out of 13 appointed interim governors only three have some sort of relation to the regions that they were appointed to govern: Batu Khasikov represented Kalmykia in the Federation Council and was twice elected as the deputy of the regional parliament, Khural; Radiy Khabirov began his political career at Bashkortostan, but the last 10 years he worked in Moscow and Moscow region; Alexander Beglov also began his career at St. Petersburg but spent the last 15 years holding different positions in the Presidential Administration.
Despite the fact that in his 2012 interview Dmitry Medvedev pointed out that the “municipal filter” is supposed to protect the regions from the appearance of governors far removed from these regions, all the other interim governors appointed during the last year are total “strangers” for the regional elites and regular voters. The share of “outsiders” this year is even greater than last year.
An important difference with last year is the relatively small share of regions (just the Trans-Baikal and Sakhalin regions) where the date of gubernatorial elections had to be moved due to the governors’ resignations. This is important, because Russia has signed the “Convention on the Standards of Democratic Elections, Electoral Rights and Freedoms in the CIS Countries” that states that elections can be deemed free and democratic only if they are held regularly and obligatory. At the same time, it is forbidden to take actions or disseminate the calls that instigate, among other things, the changes in the election times, electoral activities and procedures appointed in accordance with the Constitution.
The persons in power should not manipulate the election dates in order to receive an additional advantage. When elections are moved to an earlier date, such advantage arises because the regime’s opponents are caught off balance and don’t have enough time to prepare well for the election campaign. The authorities in power may manipulate the times of campaign period, choosing the most favorable moment for reelection, such as before and not after the onset of the forecasted socio-economic or political problems.
The principle of periodic and obligatory elections should guarantee that the “free will of the people” will always serve as foundation of the elected bodies of authority and local self-governance and elected officials. In the Trans-Baikal and Sakhalin regions this principle was violated: in the Trans-Baikal region elections were moved by two years, and at Sakhalin - by one year.
In almost all of the cases, the federal government’s decisions to replace the governors prior to the elections had to do with uncertainty about electoral prospects of the regions’ previous heads.
Thus, in the situation of increasing politization of society, the federal political administrators continue the previous process of emasculating the very essence of the institute of governor elections: the acting governors en masse resigned ahead of time and were replaced by people who specifically had no previous relation to the region.
Throughout the last two years, the Central Election Commission’s chairwoman Ella Pamfilova had publicly stated her intention to seriously change the so-called “municipal filter.” Thus, in the summer of 2017, following the meeting of a working group at the Presidential Administration, Ella Pamfilova regretted that the filter won’t be abolished for that year’s elections and hoped that “in the future we will solve this problem and abolish [the municipal filter].”
The negative role of the “municipal filter” manifested itself especially vividly last year, when during repeat elections of Primorye region’s governor it failed Andrey Ishchenko, who won about quarter of a million votes in the annulled second round of elections in September of 2018. This has demonstrated once again that the filter doesn’t cut off the candidates with low levels of support among the voters, instead filtering out the real opponents of the establishment candidates.
Following surprising results of last year’s elections in several regions, there have been no real changes to the electoral legislation. Despite the fact that in February 2019, following the meeting of the working group on improvement of electoral legislation under the auspices of the Presidential Administration, participants of the meeting, including representatives of the United Russia party, agreed with the possibility of twofold reduction of municipal filter’s upper threshold, the relevant amendments to the federal legislation were never introduced.
Only two of the regions with upcoming gubernatorial elections – Kurgan and Lipetsk regions – decided to somewhat relax the municipal filter. In the Kurgan region, the required share of signatures of municipal deputies and heads of municipalities was reduced from 6% to 5%, and in the Lipetsk region – from 7% to 6%.
In order to assess the real meaning of “municipal filter” during elections of 2019, it’s important to have an idea of how many municipal deputies the major political parties have in each of the regions. This is not a trivial task, because the lists of municipal deputies and heads of municipalities usually don’t get published anywhere. The same is true for the aggregate information about their numbers among different political forces.
The only method of acquiring at least the approximate data is to analyze the results of elections on the municipal level. Chart 2 contains information about the number of candidates for the heads of municipalities and municipal deputies who were elected from the major parties and as self-nominated candidates over the last five years. Despite the fact that in some regions the period of their tenure may be less (for example, four years) and it may be that some of the deputies have resigned or changed their party affiliation over this time, this data still gives insight into the actual resources of the principal political players when it comes to overcoming the “municipal filter.” At the very least, the comparison of this data with information on the current state of municipal deputies corps, available for some of the regions, suggests that the margin of error isn’t that big and that the actual number of deputies available to the parties may be even lower, albeit not by much. The data for St. Petersburg is provided on the basis of available current information.
The chart does not take into account the different levels of municipalities as well as their distribution across the territory. These are actually important parameters because in reality the “municipal filter” has a three-fold nature: the candidates have to collect a strictly defined number of signatures of municipal deputies of the “first” (village and urban settlements) and “second” level (municipal or city districts), while the signatories should represent at least ¾ of all the municipal districts.
Chart 2. Numbers of elected municipal heads and deputies (September 14, 2014 – August 8, 2019)
NB: the chart presents information about the number of candidates that won the municipal elections over the last five years. Some of them could’ve lost their mandates, some could’ve changed their party affiliation. In some of municipalities, elections are held more often than once every five years.
Analysis of this chart shows that KPRF has a sufficient number of its own municipal deputies to pass the “filter” in just one region, Sakhalin.
Some of the deputies that belong to the parties were elected as independent candidates because often it’s easier to register that way at the local elections. Therefore, one can suppose that KPRF might have a sufficient number of deputies in two or three more regions (for example, Republic of Altai).
Nonetheless, in the overwhelming majority of regions, the large political parties made no preliminary efforts to elect a sufficient number of their adherents as deputies. As a result, only candidates able to arrange the signatures from the representatives of the “party of power” had any chance of being registered.
Such starting position has meant that only two scenarios were possible in the majority of the regions: the “bargaining” between the “party of power” and its potential opponents regarding the candidates or an attempt of self-nomination with a high risk of stumbling over the municipal barrier.
This created significant political hurdles for a number of ambitious politicians seeking to realize their right to be elected and restriction of real candidates representing the interests of different groups of citizens.
The shining example of the first scenario was the Just Russia’s refusal to nominate as the candidate for the governor of Astrakhan region the well-known and popular politician and State Duma deputy Oleg Shein. Despite the regional branch’s position, executive committee of the party’s central council refused to nominate his candidacy. As a result, Oleg Shein was funable to overcome the “municipal filter.” The Just Russia party didn’t nominate its candidate in the region at all (see Appendix, card №1).
The Just Russia also forewent nominating its candidates in the Trans-Baikal and Chelyabinsk region, although the party traditionally enjoys some support in both of these territories.
KPRF and LDPR forewent nominating their brightest representatives at the elections of the Volgograd region governor (see Appendix, cards №2 and №3).
LDPR altogether decided against partaking in elections in the Trans-Baikal and Orenburg regions even though in last year’s elections of the regional parliament deputies in the Trans-Baikal region, LDPR list received 24.6% of votes – just 3.7% less than the winning United Russia party and 0.01% more than KPRF. In St. Petersburg, LDPR nominated the head of its Legislative Assembly faction Oleg Kapitanov for the governor. On June 25, during the regional government meeting, he asked the interim governor Alexander Beglov for help in passing the “municipal filter” but received an offer to join the city government instead – and accepted it. Following that, the part officially agreed to withdraw its candidate from the elections (see Appendix, card №4). In this way, the interim governor put one of his competitors out of the way by coopting him.
After the list of municipal deputies who left their signatures in support of the nominations was published, certain peculiarities came to light in St. Petersburg.
Chart 3. Overcoming the “municipal filter” in St. Petersburg
Chart 3 shows that the party candidates for some reason failed to collect the signatures of all the municipal deputies affiliated with their parties – among the signatures unused in the candidacy lists are 14 Just Russia signatures (about one third), seven LDPR and five KPRF signatures. Meanwhile, all of the registered candidates have a lot of signatures from the United Russia deputies. This can be seen as an indirect proof of arrangements that were made to pass the “filter.”
In cases when the campaign quarters of “establishment candidates” sense a serious threat from the parliamentary opposition candidates, the parliamentary parties experience problems with overcoming the “municipal filter.”
Thus, KPRF representatives failed to pass registration in Kalmykia, Trans-Baikal and Vologda regions. In Kalmykia and Vologda region, well-known regional deputies from KPRF Namsyr Mandzhiev and Alexander Morozov were not allowed to run (see Appendix, cards №5 - 6).
In the Trans-Baikal region, the situation is truly unique: the interim governor is running as an independent and not a United Russia candidate, LDPR and Just Russia also refused to nominate a candidate, and KPRF representative was blocked by the “municipal filter” (see Chart 4).
As a result, for the first time in recent history, none of the parliamentary parties will take part in the region’s gubernatorial elections. Instead, the list of candidates includes little-known representatives of the “small parties”: the chairwoman of the district branch of the All-Russian Society of the Disabled Elena Krauze (Russian Party of Pensioners for Social Justice), game warden of LLC Los Vyacheslav Ushakov (Patriots of Russia), Director of Business Development of LLC Zeleny Mir Plus Yana Shpak (Party of Growth). Considering that a year ago United Russia, KPRF and LDPR received a nearly identical number of votes in the regional parliamentary elections, Just Russia received almost 9% of votes and the Pensioners’ Party – more than 6%, such selection of candidates for the governor can attest only to the fear of meaningful competition and devastating defeat on the part of the establishment candidate. Had the candidates from major parties been allowed to run, the second round in the region would have been practically guaranteed even if those candidates didn’t run any campaigns.
Chart 4. Results of registration of gubernatorial candidates (by regions and parties)
In St. Petersburg, the situation may be no less absurd. There, the authorities are attempting to remove the KPRF candidate, a well-known film director Vladimir Bortko, using appeals of several city residents. Should such decision be made, there will be only three registered candidates in St. Petersburg elections: the interim governor, self-nominated candidate Alexander Beglov, Civil Platform candidate Mikhail Amosov and Just Russia candidate Nadezhda Tikhonova (see Appendix, card №7).
In the Lipetsk region, LDPR failed to clear for the election the first deputy chairman of the State Duma Defense Committee Alexander Sherin.
The Just Russia party failed to guarantee the clearance of the “municipal filter” to the regional Business Rights Commissioner Leonid Yefimov (in the Republic of Altai) and to the director of LLC NS Media Alexander Alistratov (at Sakhalin).
In this way, the existing structure of the “municipal filter” from the start sets the election campaign scenario in which opposition parliamentary parties are forced to approve nomination of their candidates with the regime, because they are simply unable to guarantee their candidates’ nomination any other way. At the same time, it’s important to note that the parties themselves make no noticeable and effective efforts to resolve this problem.
Against the backdrop of refusals to register well-known candidates from the parties that have confirmed the presence of significant voter support during last State Duma elections, the clearance of “municipal filter” by the representatives of the so-called “small” parties raises a lot of questions.
Chart 5 details the results of nomination and registration of such candidates.
Chart 5. Results of nomination and registration of gubernatorial candidates
The registration successes of such parties as the Russian Party of Pensioners for Social Justice (RPPSJ) and Patriots of Russia beg special attention. The former party registered four candidates out of four nominated: in Bashkortostan, Trans-Baikal, Volgograd and Murmansk regions. We have mentioned the Trans-Baikal region candidate earlier. In the Volgograd region, the candidate was registered, but later offered his support to the acting governor and withdrew from the race. In the Murmansk region, the “municipal filter” was cleared by the unknown pensioner Gennady Tupikin and in Bashkortostan – by blogger Vladimir Kobzev.
In Bashkortostan, at least, RPPSJ is somewhat noticeable on the municipal level (over five year more than 250 of its candidates took part in the local elections and 63 of them were elected), but in the other regions the situation is completely different. Beginning in September 2014, only four candidates from this party had won municipal elections in the Volgograd region, and seven – in the Murmansk region, while at the Trans-Baikal region the party never even took part in the local elections.
A similar situation happened to the Patriots of Russia who nominated five candidates for the governors and were unable to clear the filter only in St. Petersburg where each new candidate significantly complicates the task of interim governor Alexander Beglov’s first-round victory. The party’s candidates were registered in Bashkortostan, Kalmykia, Trans-Baikal and Lipetsk regions. Over five years, the party was able to elect 112 municipal deputies in Bashkortostan (although this number is still insufficient to clear the “municipal filter”). But in the other three regions, if the state automated system Vybory is to be believed, there isn’t a single municipal deputy elected from this party over the last five years.
A similar situation can be observed with the other small parties whose candidates were registered for the governors’ elections.
The situation in the Orenburg region, where candidates Konstantin Goryachev (technical manager, nominated by the Democratic Party of Russia) and Anatoly Kobzev (pensioner, nominated by KPSS) were registered, is also symptomatic. Both parties never took part in the local elections in this region, and both candidates were sponsored by the foundations connected with United Russia party – the Ulyanovsk Fund for Support of Regional Projects, the Fund of People’s Projects and the Fund of Future Generations.
Financial coincidences were also discovered in St. Petersburg. A total of 10 out of 28 candidates took no actions with their election campaign accounts. Ten candidates (almost all of them from the small parties) spent an equal sum of 250,000 rubles on collecting the signatures (only six of them submitted the signatures). It should also be noted that the interim governor Alexander Beglov had managed to collect and authenticate the signatures of both the municipal deputies and of supposedly 350,000 city residents, of which 80,000 were submitted to the election commission – and all for a paltry sum of 293,000 rubles. To compare: Vladimir Bortko had spent 300,000 rubles just to collect the deputies’ signatures.
Still, even the small parties had some scandals with nomination of candidates. For example, in Bashkortostan, blogger Evgenia Kutsueva announced that the Party of Growth confirmed it would back her nomination, but under pressure from the regional administration abandoned the agreement (see Appendix, card №8).
Against this backdrop, the fate of candidates from one of Russia’s oldest and best-known democratic parties Yabloko presents a stark contrast. Out of five nominated candidates, the only one registered was Zulfia Gaisina at Bashkortostan (the republic is actually a leader in terms of registered candidates – there are eight of them). But a well-known St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly deputy Boris Vishnevsky was unable to clear the “municipal filter” (see Appendix, card №9 - №11). The party’s candidates in the Volgograd, Orenburg and Chelyabinsk regions also failed to receive registration.
Registration results of the small parties candidates clearly show that the real meaning of the “municipal filter” is the regime’s ability to use it to select the most comfortable opponents for its candidates. The filter is often cleared by the little-known representatives of small parties that have a negligible number of municipal deputies or that didn’t participate in the local elections in the region. At that, the candidates don’t conceal the existence of arrangements with the regional administrations, and they are financed by organizations connected with their formal “opponents.”
On the eve of calling the elections that will take place on the single election day of 2019, the parliaments of seven regions hastily introduced amendments to the electoral legislation, permitting self-nomination of candidates for the governor. Such legislation was introduced in the Trans-Baikal, Astrakhan, Kurgan, Murmansk, Sakhalin and Chelyabinsk regions and the city of St. Petersburg.
The haste, with which the amendments were introduced, has created a questionable legal situation in the Trans-Baikal region. On June 5, the deputies of the region’s Legislative Assembly called for the early elections of the governor. The story was reported by the media on the same day.
Amendments to article 6 of the Trans-Baikal region’s Law №676-33K “On Elections of the Governor of Trans-Baikal Region” dated 29 June 2012 were approved on April 17, 2019, prior to the official start of election campaign.
But amendments to the Constitution of the Trans-Baikal region that allow the citizens to self-nominate themselves as candidates for the governor were not approved by the regional parliament until July 10, when elections have already been called.
According to article 11 of the Federal Law №67-FZ “On the Principal Guarantees of Electoral Rights and the Right to Referendum of the Russian Federation Citizens” dated 12 June 2002, if changes concerning the preparation and organization of elections are made to the law during the election period, the said changes cannot be applied to the current elections. They will come in effect for the elections that will be called after their introduction. The same article states that constitutions of the Russian Federation constituents are an important component of the electoral legislation.
In accordance with item 4 article 4 of the Constitution of the Trans-Baikal region, the Constitution has the highest legal authority in relation to the regional legal acts and takes direct precedence on the whole territory. The laws and other legal acts introduced in the region cannot contradict the Constitution.
In this way, up to July 10, 2019, the provisions of the regional law that allowed self-nomination in the elections of the regional head were in clear contradiction to the Constitution of the Trans-Baikal region and could not be applied. The effect of these norms only became possible from the moment these amendments to the Constitution were published, but in this case the norm of the federal law applies, forbidding the introduction of changes to the election procedure during the course of the election campaign. The assertion that the legal norm preserved in the region’s Constitution supposedly has no importance for the election campaign belittles the political and legal meaning of the constituent’s principal law and its constitutional nature, and, ultimately, the nature of the state itself.
The Golos Movement welcomes the enhanced options for realization of the citizens’ right to be elected that result from the introduction of the self-nomination norms. At the same time, we are forced to acknowledge that this norm cannot be applied during current elections because it contradicts the federal legislation that forbids making changes to the rules of elections in the course of the campaign.
Golos also points out that the “Trans-Baikal case” is an example of the continuing malpractice of introducing changes to the electoral legislation shortly before calling corresponding elections. Often such changes are opportunistic in nature and prepared in the interests of people in power.
In connection with this, the Golos Movement cannot accept the opportunistic position of the Central Election Commission contained in the letter of the Commission’s secretary Maya Grishina. This is a reply to the inquiry of the State Duma deputy Valery Rashkin, member of KPRF. In the letter, Grishina argued for the lawfulness of the decisions by saying that the procedure of introducing amendments to the regional constitution was initiated before the campaign’s start. We want to stress one more time that amendments are deemed to come in effect only after they’ve been approved, not when the deliberations began. Application of the constitutional provisions not yet approved by the deputies contradicts the aforementioned norms of the federal and regional legislation.
International standards of democratic elections proclaim the principle of electoral legislation’s stability and do not recommend changing fundamental parameters of the electoral system less than a year before calling elections so that the election participants have enough time to prepare for their introduction. Providing the candidates with a right to self-nominate undoubtedly can be deemed a fundamental parameter of the electoral system because it fundamentally affects the logic of election participants’ actions and the very course of the campaign.
The hasty introduction of the self-nomination option in several regions’ gubernatorial elections can only be explained by the political situation and not the concern for the citizens’ electoral rights.
Diagram 1 clearly demonstrates that prior to 2019, self-nomination was not a wide-spread practice. Beginning in 2012, when direct elections of governors were returned in Russia, there were, as a rule, no more than 2-3 self-nominated candidates across all the regions where election campaigns were taking place. The only exceptions were 2013 and 2018 when there was an upsurge in self-nominations.
Both peaks were tied to the elections of the mayor of Moscow. In both cases, the right of self-nomination was used by Sergey Sobyanin, but this allowed other citizens to attempt and nominate themselves as well. Apart from Sobyanin, the only “establishment” candidates to use self-nomination were Nikita Belyakh in the Kirov region, Alexey Dyumin in the Tula region and Alexander Burkov (member of the Just Russia party) in the Omsk region.
Diagram 1. Results of candidates’ nomination and registration
However, even in cases when the right of self-nomination existed, it was purely theoretical. Over the whole reviewed period, only two self-nominated candidates were able to register in addition to the “establishment” candidates. In 2014, along with Nikita Belykh, pensioner Alexander Zhdanov was registered in the Kirov region and received 2.5% of votes, and in 2018, in the Omsk region, Anatoly Solovyev, department chair of Siberia State Automobile and Highway University, was allowed to run and received 3.85% of the votes. Both candidates can be safely considered sham candidates.
In 2019, “establishment” candidates used the right of self-nomination in six out of seven regions that offered such an option: in the Trans-Baikal, Astrakhan, Kurgan, Sakhalin, Chelyabinsk regions and St. Petersburg. Only in region Andrey Chibis was nominated by the United Russia party, although in the process of introducing the changes to the electoral legislation it has been said that the self-nomination option is being introduced in his interests. All six were registered as candidates. Apart from them, another 39 people in six regions attempted to exercise their right of self-nomination but none of them were able to clear the “municipal filter.”
Having said that, the attempts to transform the “establishment” candidates into “non-party” self-nominees required organization of collection of voters’ signatures in support of such candidates’ nominations, and this process was carried out through the tried-and-true methods of administrative coercion and bribery (see Appendix, cards № 12 — № 16).
Consequently, the technical expansion of the citizens’ right to be elected in practice was restricted to the authorities’ ability to nominate their representatives without using party structures. Participation of “non-establishment” self-nominees in the elections proved to be impossible. Meanwhile, the self-nomination of the establishment candidates violated the citizens’ rights, because to guarantee the necessary number of signatures in support of the interim governors’ nomination, the authorities abused the administrative resource through coercion and bribery of voters.
This year, nomination and registration of candidates were once again accompanied by problems that have already become traditional for the Russian elections. This primarily entails the abuse of administrative resource and putting pressure on the candidates, heads of municipalities and municipal deputies.
“Convention on the Standards of Democratic Elections, Electoral Rights and Freedoms in the CIS States” proclaims that the free elections presuppose that the voters can express their will without any kind of influence, violence, the threat of violence of any other unlawful actions (article 8 of the Convention). This entails, among other things, the decision to support the candidate’s nomination or whether to take part in the elections.
However, in the situation when registration of candidates depended on municipal heads and deputies, many of them faced serious administrative pressure or even some threats. We have received reports about municipal deputies’ apprehensions regarding the placement of their signatures from Bashkortostan, Vologda, Lipetsk, Orenburg regions (see Appendix, cards № 17 — № 22).
In Kalmykia, the KPRF deputy of Chernozemelsky district Petr Chemidov filed a complaint to the Reginal Office of the Ministry of Internal Affairs under article 5.47 of the Administrative Code “Collection of signatures of voters, referendum participants at forbidden locations as well as collection of signatures by persons forbidden to do this by the federal law.” He claims that the interim head of the district Dordzhi Saryaev and the consulting expert of the district assembly Valentina Dzhaltsanova forced him to put down his signature in support of Batu Khasikov’s nomination. He was brought to the notary’s office straight from the hospital where he was getting ready for surgery (see Appendix, card № 23). Other deputies from Kalmykia also reported about serious pressure (see Appendix, card № 24).
In Bashkortostan, there has been interference from the law enforcement agencies that obstructed the candidates’ election campaigns. Thus, the head of the regional branch of the Party of Social Welfare reported that on June 21, he and other activists were visited at home by employees of the security services and law enforcement agencies who “recommended” them to forgo the party’s meeting that was scheduled for later that day to nominate the candidate for the governor. The reason offered by the law enforcement officers was that June 21 was the meeting of Russia’s Security Council that would be held in Ufa (see Appendix, card №25). Another candidate for the head of the republic, Ramilya Saitova, who was detained on June 29 despite her protected status as the candidate, also reported about pressure put on her by the FSB. She claims that after the detention she was forced to go to the first-aid station (see Appendix, card № 26).
According to the “Convention on the Standards of Democratic Elections, Electoral Rights and Freedoms in the CIS States,” each citizen should be given equal legal prospects of nominating their candidacy in the elections, while the officials are forbidden from using their position to win elections. The national Russian legislation proclaims the same. However, in situation of administrative pressure applied to the heads of municipalities and municipal deputies as well as the total dependency of all the candidates on the United Russia party when it comes to clearing the municipal filter, the real support of the candidates is neglected and to the fore comes the benevolence of the executive branch bodies who actively partake in organization of signature collection.
Year in and year out, the “establishment” candidates demonstrate the same technology – the collection of the overwhelming majority of municipal deputies’ signatures organized as early as possible. For example, in Kalmykia, according to the information of the KPRF candidate Namsyr Mandzhiev, the heads and employees of all district administrations held a large-scale and organized collection of signatures of the district deputies in support of Batu Khasikov on June 12, which was a public holiday, at about 10:30 am. As the deputies themselves attested, on the previous day they were called by employees of the district administrations and summoned to the heads of the districts, and those who didn’t want to put down their signatures got a personal call from the head of the interim governor’s administration Chingiz Berikov. The notaries of Kalmykia’s district centers were also forced to go to work on their day off. In four districts – Lagansky, Chernozemelsky, Tselinny and Iki-Burulsky – this allowed the establishment candidate to “collect” all 100% of the deputies’ signatures. The candidates from the republics of Altai and Bashkortostan, as well as the Trans-Baikal and Volgograd regions and St. Petersburg, also talk about the use of similar technique (see Appendix, cards № 27 — № 31). It should be noted that as soon as you have 100% of municipal deputies’ signatures in more than ¼ of the districts, you can block or “put in limbo” registration of all other candidates.
The new imitation technology was used in the Lipetsk region. The association of the “Council of Lipetsk region municipalities” had sent invitations to all the candidates to meet with the municipal deputies. Altogether, 18 events were scheduled (three a day). But in reality, the meetings were attended by the employees of the district administrations and municipal institutions. There were very few actual deputies. Based on results of these meetings, the candidates from KPRF, LDPR and Parnas collected just 44 signatures between the three of them, while being taken out of the election campaign for almost a week (see Appendix, card № 32).
In Bashkortostan, the candidate from the Patriots of Russia party Rafis Kadyrov publicly admitted entering into arrangements with the authorities. He said, in particular, that there were attempts to sell him the signatures collected in the districts for a price of 10,000 rubles a piece (see Appendix, card № 33).
In the Chelyabinsk region, Yabloko candidate Yaroslav Shcherbakov spoke about additional demands on the part of the election commission. He said that the regional election commission demanded that the municipal deputies show the notaries not just their municipal deputy identification document, but also a letter of confirmation signed by the chairman of the assembly and not mentioned in the electoral legislation. All of this significantly complicated the process of signature collection.
Additionally, in the Chelyabinsk and Kurgan region one can detect violation of rules of election campaign financing in the process of nominating and registering establishment candidates. Thus, the secretary of Chelyabinsk regional branch of United Russia party Vladimir Myakush announced that the party will do everything possible to support the “independent” candidate Alexey Teksler: “We support the acting interim governor Alexey Teksler. We have already started the campaign. We are collecting the signatures so that he is supported, and these documents will be submitted to the regional election commission. Considering that we have the most deputies in all the municipal councils, we’ll do everything so that our candidate successfully clears the municipal filter. We will use all the United Russia resources – agitprop teams, our network, the media – in the campaign. We are working on the roadmap for the campaign, and I think we’ll successfully implement it and achieve a decisive victory.” United Russia party also announced its help in collecting the signature for its interim governor in the Kurgan region.
According to item 5 article 59 of the Federal law “On the Principal Guarantees of Electoral Rights and the Right to Referendum of the Russian Federation Citizens,” the citizens and legal entities have a right to offer financial support to the candidates only using the relevant campaign funds. The law forbids the legal entities, their branches, representative offices or other subdivisions, which are directly or indirectly connected to the elections and whose activities are aimed at the achievement of specific election results to perform works and provide services free of charge or for unreasonably low (or exorbitant) prices. Both candidates are running in the elections not as United Russia candidates but as self-nominees, therefore in this case the party serves as a regular legal entity that may provide services to the candidates only if they are paid for from the campaign fund. Otherwise, all signatures in support of the nomination collected with the help of the party should be deemed unlawful.
In view of all this, even in situation of the regime’s total control over the process of choosing and registering gubernatorial candidates, the nomination of its own candidates is accompanied by flagrant violations of electoral rights and standards of free and genuine elections. The scale of “administrative” resource’s abuse often raises the question of whether the candidates (especially the dispatched “outsiders”) are capable of independently and honestly winning the support of both the voters and the local “managerial class” that includes the heads of municipalities and municipal deputies.
More than 5,000 elections will take place in all of Russia’s regions on the single election day of September 8, 2019. About 47,000 mandates and elected positions are up for election. About 56 million citizens will be able to vote.
In 2019, the Golos Movement for Protection of Voters’ Rights is running a program of long-term monitoring that includes selective monitoring of the regional and municipal election campaigns for compliance with principles and standards of free and fair democratic elections. The following most important elections are called for September 8, 2019:
Important election campaigns are happening in 39 regions. The Golos Movement is doing systematic public monitoring of 2019 elections in 35 regions. In addition to this, the analysis also includes information from other regions that was submitted to the Map of Violations information resource and published in the media.
The Golos Movement is guided in its work by the international standards of election monitoring and remains strictly politically neutral, which is an essential precondition of independent and objective election monitoring.
Expert group that worked on the report: Stanislav Andreichuk, Vitaly Kovin, Denis Shadrin.
Regional long-term observers: Artur Asafiev (Republic of Bashkortostan), Anna Bochilo (Altai Republic), Alexander Grezev (Orenburg Region), Andrey Gusev (Sakhalin Region), Daniil Maltsev (Chelyabinsk Region), Andrey Kalinichenko (Astrakhan Region), Valery Korolev (Lipetsk Region), Dmitry Krayukhin (Kursk Region), Kirill Kruglikov (Vologda Region), Mikhail Kuzovkov (Kurgan Region), Ekaterina Ponomarenko (Stavropol Region), Oleg Reut (Murmansk Region), Natalya Romanchenko (St. Petersburg), Arslang Tavkhaev (Republic of Kalmykia).