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Duma Election - 18 September 2016

Official results in Russia's parliamentary, regional and municipal elections showed the ruling United Russia party headed the polls with 54.3 percent after 93 percent of votes counted. It was the first time the mixed principle was applied in elections to the lower house of the Russian parliament, the State Duma, since 2003. In 2007 and 2011, Russians elected MPs from federal party lists only. United Russia polled 54.2 percent of the party-list vote -- about 28,272,000 votes - which gave the party 140 of the 225 party-list seats available in the Duma. United Russia candidates won 203 of the 225 contests in single-mandate districts, giving the party an expected total of 343 deputies in the 450-seat house. That would be its biggest ever majority, with three quarters of the seats in parliament. This super-majority is enough to allow United Russia to unilaterally change the constitution, though Putin can run again for the presidency under the existing one because he was prime minister between his second and third terms.

Other parties slammed the record-low turnout as “shameful” and the results as “untrustworthy.” According to the Russian Central Election Committee (CEC), United Russia party dominated the polls, followed by the Russian Communist Party with 13.5 percent, the right-wing Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR) with 13.3 percent, and A Just Russia [aka Fair Russia] coming in fourth with 6.2 percent. LDPR, the Communist Party and Fair Russia have also made it into parliament, having passed the required 5 percent threshold. United Russia would now have 343 seats in the 450-member lower house. The Communist Party will have 42 seats, LDPR will have 39, and A Just Russia just 23. The other 10 non-parliamentary parties that took part in the elections did not receive enough votes to make it into parliament as they were unable to pass the 5 percent barrier. Some of their candidates, however, could still enter parliament as a result of constituency races. The leader of the CP, Sergey Mironov noted that 15% of the votes was "eaten" dwarf parties that received less than 3%.

Overall turnout fell to 48 percent from 60 percent, exposing growing apathy about a political system and elite which critics say tolerates no genuine opposition. The voter turnout in Moscow and St. Petersburg was a record-low in comparison to previous elections. The Russian capital saw a 20 percent turnout, while St. Petersburg saw 16.1 percent. The overall turnout stood at 47.8 percent of Russia's 111.6 million eligible voters, Interfax reported, citing CEC data. Low voter turnout in Russia is not the same as comparable numbers in democratic countries. In Russia, military personnel and state employees are more or less compelled to vote. It is difficult to escape the pressure, especially outside major cities. Russians who are somewhat more financially independent of the state can better avoid voting. They live almost entirely in large cities such as Moscow and St. Petersburg.

Sergey Mironov, leader of Fair Russia, claimed the low turnout was Russians' way of showing they don’t believe in the election transparency. “I’m afraid many voters chose not to take part in the election, unable to trust the fair counting of the votes,” he said, as cited by Interfax. Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov, whose party has been neck-and-neck with LDPR, also slammed the results, saying that his hopes that “this campaign would be fairer, more responsible and dignified given the crisis within the country” have floundered.

A poll by Russian public opinion researcher VTsIOM predicted that United Russia would secure 44.5 percent of votes, down from 49.32 percent in 2011. The pollster projected that three other parties had made it into Russia's new State Duma. The Liberal Democrats look set to grab 15.3 percent of votes, trailed by the Communist Party with 14.9 percent and center-left A Just Russia with 8.1 percent. The liberal Yabloko party appeared to not have cleared the needed votes after getting just over 3 percent according to both exit polls. Preliminary Election Commission data gave the party 1.4 percent. With the given amount of support the party would not enter the Russian parliament but would be eligible to receive state funding if the 3 percent barrier is cleared. Other parties, such as the Communists of Russia, Rodina, the Party of Growth, the People's Freedom Party and the Greens all received less than 3 percent of the vote, according exit polls.

Russia practices what Kremlin calls “managed democracy,” a system that simulates democratic institutions, to some extent. This tradition is likely to continue. The Kremlin’s first goal in the 2016 election was to maintain status quo of a dominant United Russia (currently 53 percent) and a loyal opposition of shopworn Communists (20 percent), clownish Liberal Democrats (13 percent), and Just Russia (14 percent). And electoral fraud should not be obvious, since it was rampant cheating that brought protesters to the streets in 2011. The Kremlin replaced the controversial chairman of the Central Election Commission (CEC), Vladimir Churov, whom Kremlin critics accused of manipulating the 2011 election. Instead, Putin handed the job over to Ella Pamfilova, a respected human rights activist.

In the last session, the lower legislative chamber, the Duma, and the upper chamber, the Federation Council, passed nearly 2,000 laws, including a record 160 pieces of legislation by the upper house in one day last June. Despite the presence of three blocs in nominal opposition to Putin's ruling United Russia party, most of the measures passed nearly unanimously.

There is no sign that there will be any kind of protest vote. Crackdowns on the opposition over several years have driven Putin critics out of the country or into political inaction. Two Kremlin-critical parties - Yabloko and People's Freedom Party [PARNAS] - were also allowed to participate. Mikhail Kasyanov, a onetime prime minister under Putin who has since joined the opposition, will led the liberal PARNAS party. Prties that manage to win 3 percent or more of the vote they will be eligible to receive state funding to help finance their campaigns. And if they gain 5 percent or more, they would actually win seats in the Duma. In all, 14 parties were allowed to participate in the election campaign - twice as many as in 2011. Despite looser rules, a number of opposition parties were not allowed to run. For instance, the Progress Party, headed by the popular young opposition politician Alexei Navalny, was not registered.

One thing was clear before voting began: When Russian polling stations closed, politics in the country would remain unchanged. The Duma, Russia's parliament, does not dictate policy - the Kremlin does. President Vladimir Putin and his powerful presidential administration call the shots. The Russian constitution, which gives far-reaching powers to the executive, guarantees that the situation remained so. And since being elected to office some 16 years ago, Vladimir Putin continuously stripped the Duma of its independence.

The introduction of a mixed system in the 2016 elections, where half of the lawmakers (225 out of 450) are elected in single-seat constituencies also plays into the hands of United Russia, as it allows candidates who are loyal to the government to stand in the elections not for the party, but allegedly for themselves. Putin can use single-seat constituencies to bring candidates who are loyal to the government and only technically call themselves independent into the State Duma, without causing severe irritation. United Russia may experience difficulties in the constituencies with strong candidates from other parties, who are supported by local elites. A fierce struggle is possible in about 50-60 out of 225 constituencies.

In August 2016, a survey by the independent pollster Levada Center showed showed a reduction in United Russia’s rating – only 31 percent of respondents expressed willingness to vote for the party in the parliamentary elections if they were to be held the next weekend. This was the lowest result since the beginning of 2016. Analysts attribute the decline in United Russia’s popularity to the socio-economic crisis in Russia. The crisis was a difficult issue for the ruling party, since it is the authorities that people blame for the deterioration in standards of living. The public’s actual attitude to United Russia has deteriorated even in comparison with 2011, when the party's victory in parliamentary elections was followed by mass protests and accusations of fraud. In some regions, the social situation is tense, and it is United Russia that is blamed for this.

Russia's sole independent polling organization, Levada was labeled a "foreign agent" by authorities under a law that bans foreign funding of Russian nongovernmental organizations involved in loosely defined “political activities.” Levada representatives say their troubles began only after opinion polls showed support for Putin's United Russia party ebbing. The “foreign agent" label prevents it from conducting research into yhe September vote.

The authorities tried to raise United Russia’s rating by getting rid of problematic and unpopular officials associated with the government. One example was the dismissal of Education Minister Dmitry Livanov (Aug. 19) and children's ombudsman Pavel Astakhov (Sept. 9). Livanov was remembered for his reform of the Academy of Sciences, which was unpopular in the scientific community, and Astakhov for his scandalous and tactless statements. In the run-up to the election, the Kremlin decided to get rid of “ballast” that could pull down the ratings of the government and United Russia, which is associated with it.

Russia's embattled opposition political parties hoped to win a voice in the Kremlin-dominated parliament in the upcoming September 18 elections. Allegations of fraud during the 2011 parliamentary elections sparked mass protests against President Vladimir Putin's rule. But the crackdown that followed was bolstered by nationalist fervor over Russia's annexation of Crimea, further marginalizing dissenting voices.

The Russian political landscape underwent a major change after the Kremlin rolled back its draconian party legislation in a concession to mass protests against United Russia’s narrow victory in the 2011 Duma elections, which critics said were rigged. The number of political parties in Russia went from seven to 54 over 2012 thanks to the rollback, but next to none of them had any legislative representation, and many are considered Kremlin spoilers.

In December 2012 President Vladimir Putin ordered a bill on election reform drafted by March 2013. The Duma entry threshold at the next Duma vote in 2016 was currently set at 5 percent, but some political consultants advised the bill’s authors to set it at 3 to 5 percent for single parties and 7 percent for blocs.

Russia’s ruling party said it would support a Kremlin proposal to lift a ban on electoral blocs, imposed during the party’s heyday in the mid-2000s. Sergei Neverov, a Duma Deputy Speaker with United Russia, said 10 January 2013 that the party is ready to support the proposal. But the Duma entry threshold should be higher for blocs than for single parties, and bloc members should be required by law to stick to their election programs, Neverov said.

The reform was championed as benefitting the small non-parliamentary parties, but the flagging “party of power,” United Russia, would in fact be the main beneficiary. The reintroduction of electoral blocs could allow United Russia to maintain a grip of power by aligning with such spoilers, boosting constituency and presenting a new face to the voters. United Russia’s support rating is declining in the long term, down from 55 percent in 2009 to 41 percent in December 2012, according to state-run Public Opinion Foundation. The party is struggling with an identity crisis aggravated by the vote-rigging accusations. But the opposition – which criticized the ban on blocs for years – would find it harder to capitalize on its lifting because ideological differences would prevent it from forming a unified bloc.

In April 2013, a new law entered into force in Russia to simplify registration of political parties. By August 2013 more than 70 parties were registered in the country. Most Russians are against having a wide variety of parties, the head of the Public Opinion Foundation told RIA Novosti on 05 August 2013. “Some 24 percent showed interest in having multiple parties. They said they liked that because it would probably be better – more ideas, more people,” Alexander Oslon said. “They were mainly educated Muscovites.” Oslon said his remarks were based on surveys conducted in January, April and July. The latest poll on the matter was conducted on July 15-23 in Moscow and involved 1,500 respondents. He added that 57 percent of respondents were against having multiple parties. “These people believe that that would mean chaos, two much politicking,” he said.

More parties were banned from regional elections in Russia in 2012 than in 2012, despite the Kremlin’s attempted liberalization of political legislation, a new study reported 14 August 2013. In total, 9.2 percent of the candidate lists submitted by parties for the September 8 elections have been banned, compared with 2.4 percent last year, according to a report by the Civil Initiatives Committee think tank, founded by longtime Kremlin insider-turned-critic Alexei Kudrin, a former finance minister. At least some of the bans were politically motivated, especially those targeting the liberal “Republican Party of Russia – Parnas,” which had allied with leading anti-Kremlin basher Alexei Navalny for the upcoming mayoral election in Moscow, and billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov’s Civil Platform, the report said.

Russian lawmakers approved a bill 14 February 2014 to create a mixed electoral system that will reintroduce single-mandate elections in the next parliamentary vote. The bill submitted to parliament by President Vladimir Putin last year reintroduces voting for individual candidates for half the seats in the 450-member parliament, scrapping the fully closed-list proportional system used in the last two elections. Candidates running for direct election to the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, rather than through party lists, would be required to present signatures in support of their bid from 3 percent of potential voters in their electoral district.

While the rules could open the way for opposition candidates to win in single constituencies, opponents of the law argue its real aim is to ensure the ruling United Russia wins as many seats as possible. In one detail of the legislation that will serve as a blow to smaller parties lacking the resources to ensure nationwide representation at votes, electoral blocs are to be banned. All registered candidates will be entitled to free air time for electoral campaigning. The maximum elections budget is set at 700 million rubles ($3.3 million) for a political party and 15 million rubles ($500,000) for an independent candidate.

Putin reached his highest approval rating since he returned to the Kremlin in 2012, a poll reported 26 February 2014. The survey by the state-run pollster VTsIOM found that 67.7 percent of Russians approved of Putin’s work as head of state. The survey center said that the peak in popularity was “related to the results of the Olympic Games in Sochi, as well as the effect of comparison to the political unrest and specter of civil war in Ukraine.”

Putin’s approval rating rose 5 percent amid the crisis over the Crimean parliament's plan to secede from Ukraine and join Russia, according to a survey published 12 March 2014 by a state-run pollster. According to the Public Opinion Foundation, 53 percent of respondents said they would vote for Putin if presidential elections were held this week, as opposed to 48 percent a week earlier. In regular polls during the past year, respondents said they would vote for Putin about 45 to 47 percent of the time.

Polling data provided by the state-owned All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion, or VTsIOM showed a spike in the Russian president's popularity. According to VTsIOM, Putin’s approval rating, thanks largely to his handling of Ukraine, hit 71 percent 13 March 2014 -- its highest level since the 68 percent approval rating registered during his May 2012 inauguration.

A poll conducted by All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion on March 20, showed that more than 75 percent of Russians approved of President Putin's work, while in the beginning of March his rating was about 71 percent. Sociologists noted that high approval rating of Putin’s work was attributed to a good handling of the Ukrainian political crisis and Crimea’s referendum held on March 16. The victories of the Russian Olympic and Paralympic teams have also played an important role in growth of the President’s rating.

If presidential elections were held 30 March 2014 Putin would gain 85-87% of votes, according to Dmitry Abzalov, president of Centre of Strategic Communications. The level of Russian electoral support to incumbent Russian President Vladimir Putin had reached the figures of the country's presidential elections in 2004 for the first time, the presidential rating peak is caused by his responsible actions in view of current crisis in Ukraine, political experts reported in comments on the Public Opinion Fund (FOM) survey results made public on 26 March 2014.

Putin moved the election date from December to September 18 and scheduled debates during August when, according to protesting Communist Party leaders, most of the nation is on vacation or harvesting crops. September 18 falls before the start of the school term, meaning that most students will be at home rather than on the streets of major Russian cities.




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