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Фото: скриншот к/ф «Джентельмены удачи»

Imitation of political struggle: how the parties capitulated to the “municipal filter”

On the single voting day (hereinafter – SVD-2018) of September 9, 2018, there will be:

• off-year elections of State Duma deputies in 7 constituent entities of the Russian Federation;

• elections of the high ranking officials in 22 regions;

• elections of regional legislative assemblies’ deputies in 16 constituent entities of the Russian Federation;

• municipal elections at 13 regional centres and two large municipal units (city of Syzran and city of Togliatti).

Altogether, election campaigns will be run in 43 regions of Russia.

Imitation of political struggle: how the parties capitulated to the “municipal filter”

The local self-governance elections remain the only place on the Russian political landscape where actual political competition can still be found. This reduces the voters’ interest in the elections and leads to degeneration of political system as a whole. Such conclusions have been made by the experts of the Golos movement for protection of voters’ rights after analyzing the stage of the candidates’ nomination and registration at the local and regional elections that will take place in Russia on September 9.

This investigation has demonstrated that the Russian political parties had reduced their participation in the struggle for mandates even at the local levels. This, in turn, led to the decline in qualification of their employees, who in some cases were unable to even prepare the package of documents necessary for the candidates’ nomination. At times, they provided the signatures of people who had died several years ago.

Having said that, the parties’ regional branches exist under the dictate of their federal leadership that can recall a candidate even after he had collected the signatures in his support and had been registered by the election commission. The instances of power politics against candidates were documented in a number of regions.

Conclusions

The election campaigns for the heads of regions, which are taking place on SVD-2018, are all aimed at organization of non-competitive elections with results that have been predetermined ahead of time. Non-competitive political situation that emerged in virtually all the regions, when the winner is known ahead of time, takes all meaning out of the voting day itself, deprives the voters of real choice, and forces the authorities and election organizers to use new technologies to bring the voters who show no interest in participating to the ballot stations.

The current elections demonstrate a catch-22 situation, when the largest political parties effectively forego real political struggle for power in precisely the same regions where they have the highest chances of success. Concurrently, these parties had received a number of government positions and other stimuli, including financial ones. This forces the observers to suspect the presence of political collusion. For example, the Communist Party has withdrawn from participation in the regions, where the party’s presidential candidate Pavel Grudinin demonstrated results that exceeded his average results across Russia (11.8%), such as the Altai Region, where he earned 23.7% of votes, Omsk Region, where he received 20.4%, Novosibirsk Region (16.4%), and Krasnoyarsk region (12.8%). Having said that, Novosibirsk and Omsk regions were among the three regions where the party was capable of surmounting the “municipal filter” on its own. LDPR failed to nominate its representative in the Amur Region, and in the end he was nominated as the candidate for the Federation Council by the acting governor Vasily Orlov (United Russia), while the Just Russia nominated as its candidate one of the regional government’s officials.

To a greater extent, the parties now play the role of electoral machines and not the political associations with a certain ideology, which defend their voters’ interests. Instead of this, the regional stakeholders use several parties simultaneously to acquire control of the representative body. More often than not, such stakeholders are the representatives of the Russian regime. 

In the absence of real elections and public politics, the small and sometimes even large political parties deteriorate at breakneck speed, proving themselves unable to even prepare the documents that are necessary for candidates’ nomination. This concerns even such experienced parties as Yabloko. There is obvious marginalization of political organizations who proved unprepared to nominate a sufficient number of candidates or collect the signatures. Instead, they began to nominate random people or collect signatures from the dead. Such problems had been discovered several times in regards to the party Communists of Russia. In at least two of the regions, they had submitted the signatures of people who had died several years ago. In the Vladimir Region, the election commission had even forwarded this information to the Investigative Committee. All of this engenders doubts about validity of party’s registration in other regions.

Registration of the candidates for SVD-2018 once again demonstrates that surmounting or the failure to surmount the “municipal filter” by the nominees from the so-called “small parties” has no connection with their actual political weight in the region.

The “municipal filter” only leads to the removal of free competition from the election process, and remains the mechanism for manupulative screening of candidates. A number of well-known regional politicians capable of attracting significant numbers of voters had announced that they were forced to abandon their plans to take part in the elections due to the failure to surmount this barrier. The “municipal filter” failed to become the instrument for increasing the influence of the local deputies, who instead became the objects of manipulation and pressure on the part of the regional and federal authorities. 

The absence of possibility of self-nomination serves as significant impediment to the ballot access. This results in another – party – filter, which also greatly limits competition at gubernatorial elections. Plus, such norm forces the politicians to depend on the party bureaucracy.

The government authorities and election commissions that depend on them are obligated to remain politically neutral, but in reality remain the principal players that influence election results. Election commissions regularly provide selective support to the nomination and registration of those political parties and candidates that play a nominal role in the specific region, meaning that they act as “spoilers” or dummy candidates. 

There have been instances of administrative pressure, including pressure coming from the law enforcement agencies, applied to specific candidates, as well as the members and leaders of regional and local branches of political parties in order to obstruct their nomination. The situation at Yekaterinburg was especially alarming during this election campaign. Another case study came from the Zabaykalsky Region, where several candidates at once spoke of the pressure applied by the regional authorities. The candidates also met with pressure in the Ivanovo and Yaroslavl regions along with several other ones.

As a result, the campaign in anticipation of SVD-2018 shows no principal difference from the regional election campaigns of the previous years: non-competitive elections of the regional governors; the use of administrative methods and manueuvers to cut off the unwanted candidates at the preliminary stage and with the help of “municipal filter”; and the current and acting heads of regions using all the advantages of their position. 

The existing system effectively leaves no space for the voters and the expression of their will, while the voting procedure itself in the majority of cases is a mere formality. This does not contribute to the citizens’ greater participation in elections and leads to the decline of their trust in the political system as a whole.

The full texts of Golos reports (in Russia) may be found at the following links:

https://www.golosinfo.org/ru/articles/142798 

https://www.golosinfo.org/ru/articles/142818