The next Russian parliamentary (the State Duma) election will be held on September 18, 2016. While the Russian parliament does not play a significant political role since the major decisions are made in Kremlin, this will be an important election to watch. The previous election, held in December 2011, was accompanied by significant fraud, which triggered a series of the largest mass protests since 1991. In the aftermath of the elections, Kremlin violently dispersed a large opposition rally in Moscow, and over time introduced measures that stifled civil society and restricted freedom of assembly, speech and other civil liberties. As a result, the opposition movement faded.
In the 2011 elections, only 7 parties were able to cross the 7% electoral threshold, and 4 parties won representation: United Russia, the Communists, the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia and A Just Russia.
Currently, Russia has 77 registered political parties and 14 of them will participate in the September election. Half of the 450 deputies will be elected by proportional system from party lists with a 5% electoral threshold. The other 225 seats will be elected in single-member constituencies using the first-past-the-post system.
United Russia is Russia’s ruling party, chaired by Prime Minister Medvedev, and has dominated national and regional legislatures since 2003. The party currently controls 238 of the 450 seats there.
The party positions itself as a centrist, social-conservative and traditionalist party. It advocates political stability, and appeals mainly to non-ideological voters. United Russia is often criticized as a symbol of corruption and cronyism in Russia.
The Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF)
The CPRF considers itself as an ideological successor to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. The party was founded in 1993 by Gennady Zyuganov who continues to lead it. It is the biggest party after United Russia, and has the second largest number of MPs in the State Duma, holding 92 seats.
The party’s goal is to establish a “modernized” socialism in Russia. The Communist party is supported mostly by the older working-class people and pensioners, especially in rural areas to the south of Moscow. Although the party uses Soviet-era rhetoric to condemn capitalism, it also supports the Orthodox Church, and places a strong focus on preserving Russian identity.
A Just Russia
A Just Russia is the third largest party in the State Duma, which currently has 64 MPs. The party is led by the former speaker of the upper house (Federation Council), Sergei Mironov. It was set up in 2006 as a social democratic counterpart to United Russia with the involvement from the Kremlin. However, a series of scandals have undermined its popularity.
The party promotes socialist values including social justice, progressive taxation, establishment of the “socialism of the 21st century”, and expansion of the welfare state. It supports President Putin but criticizes fiscal and monetary policy of the Medvedev’s government.
Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR)
LDPR is currently the smallest of the four parliamentary groups in the State Duma, with 56 MPs. It was founded in 1989, and since then has been led by a populist firebrand Vladimir Zhirinovsky. The LDPR, while liberal and democratic in name, promotes Russian expansionism and interference in internal affairs of the post-Soviet states.
The party also promotes authoritarianism and government intervention in the economy. It opposes both communism and the “neoliberal capitalism”. Despite the regular usage of radical rhetoric against the government, the LDPR frequently votes for government proposals.
DEMOCRATIC OPPOSITION PARTIES
Yabloko (“An apple”) has kept a relatively low electoral profile in recent years, mainly taking part in human rights, environmental and anti-corruption protests and campaigns. It currently has no representation in the federal parliament. Its leader, a prominent Russian economist Grigory Yavlinsky, is a MP in the St. Petersburg city council.
Yabloko’s ideology is center-left liberalism and European integration. It promotes strong welfare state, market economy and development of civil society. It is the only party which openly speaks about women and LGBT rights in Russia. The party’s electoral base is urban liberal intelligentsia.
People’s Freedom Party (RPR-PARNAS)
The predecessor of People’s Freedom Party (PARNAS), Republican Party of Russia (RPR) was founded in 1990 as a pro-reform and pro-democracy party. In 2007, the party was dissolved by the Russian Supreme Court, but after the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the denial of registration was unlawful, its official registration was restored.
PARNAS’ ideology is conservative liberalism, federalism and constitutionalism. It was led by Boris Nemtsov up to his assassination on February 27, 2015. PARNAS is currently headed by former Prime Minister of Russia Mikhail Kasyanov. The party considers the annexation of Crimea illegal, and has vowed to return control of Crimea to Ukraine.
Prospects for the opposition parties
In all previous elections, democratic opposition parties enjoyed relatively small support (about 5%). When the threshold was raised to 7%, they were unable to compete. The opposition regularly talked about unifying, but no real steps were made.
A Democratic Coalition was created in the spring of 2015. It was built on the initiative of the People’s Freedom Party (PARNAS) and included other opposition parties: Progress Party, Libertarian Party, December 5 Party and Democratic Choice. Since then, Progress Party (not registered, led by an anti-corruption figure Alexey Navalny) and Democratic Choice (liberal conservative party, led by Vladimir Milov) quit the coalition after the sex tape scandal implicating Mr. Kasyanov.
In May 2016, the Democratic Coalition held primaries and formed the PARNAS party list, headed by liberal ex-PM Kasyanov, nationalist blogger Vyacheslav Maltsev and conservative historian Andrei Zubov.
Khodorkovsky’s representatives in single-member constituencies
Another half of the 450 Duma seats will be elected in single-member constituencies using the first-past-the-post system. The candidates can be nominated by the party or by self-nomination after collecting the required number of signatures.
Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a disgraced oligarch and former political prisoner, doesn’t belong to or support any political party in Russia. However, he created the Open Russia platform that declared its support for independent media, political education, the rule of law, and release of political prisoners in Russia. Open Russia supports 19 candidates in single-member constituencies in 13 Russian regions through the Open Elections project. The project supports members of the PARNAS, Libertarian Party, Jabloko, A Just Russia and non-partisan activists.
The most notable figures among them are the Open Russia’s project manager Maria Baronova (running in Central Moscow), a leader of the Libertarian Party Andrei Shalnev, the PARNAS activists Andrei Pivovarov (St. Petersburg), Natalia Gryaznevich (St. Petersburg) and Egor Savin (Novosibirsk region) and former Newsweek and Time journalist and writer Yulia Yuzik (Republic of Dagestan). In addition to that, Khodorkovsky’s project supports five candidates for the St. Petersburg city council.
Expected voter turnout is low. According to the Levada-Center, 42% of Russians believe the election will be a mere imitation of political struggle.[i]
Analysts suggest that despite the economic crisis and other grievances, the election will unlikely to bring any surprises. The broader public and the elites remain loyal to Putin.[ii]
Nevertheless, electoral violations may take place throughout Russia, but they are most likely in the ethnic republics of Northern Caucasus and other regions rather than in Moscow. [iii].
In addition, since 2012, Russian government has undertaken a series of efforts to secure regime’s stability, including restrictions on demonstrations, jailing a number opposition activists and creation of the National Guard that is authorized to use force in case of a large-scale unrest.
Russian authorities also made it easier for United Russia candidates to win the single-member constituencies. The changes in the electoral legislation in 2012 merged cities that have strong protest potential with more pro-Kremlin rural areas. Moreover, after the 2011-2012 protests, it became more difficult to register as an observer or a press representative, which will likely result in fewer observers present at the Duma election.[iv]
[i] Levada-Center. 2016. “Bol’she 40% rossiyan nazvali dumskie vybory imitatsiyey bor’by.” TV Rain. July 1. Accessed September 1, 2016. https://tvrain.ru/news/bolshe_40_rossijan_nazvali_dumskie_vybory_imitatsiej_borby-412465/.
[ii] Bershidsky, Leonid. 2016. “Russia Has the Most Boring Election of 2016.” Bloomberg. July 8. Accessed September 1, 2016. https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2016-07-08/russia-has-the-most-boring-election-of-2016.
[iii] Bader, Max. 2016. “Russia’s Duma election. What to expect.” New Eastern Europe. August 18. Accessed September 2016, 2016.