Fraud and pressure on independent observers during Russia’s regional elections

On Sunday September 13th nationwide regional elections were held in Russia in 84 of the 85 regions of the country, including the disputed region of Crimea. More than 189.000 candidates were eligible for election by 59 million voters in 10,700 different elections and 70 referendums were held in 10 regions. In 21 regions Governors were elected. The Kostroma region was the only region where an opposition party openly critical of the Kremlin, the People’s Freedom Party (Parnas), participated in the elections. Preliminary results show that Vladimir Putin’s party United Russia won the elections. Independent watchdogs registered multiple violations during the elections, including fraud and pressure on independent observers.


Results

Exit polls and preliminary results show a victory for the ruling United Russia, with Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev speaking of “good results” that “reflect United Russia’s actual influence in regions” and “prove that the parliamentary parties conduct their election campaign rather successfully”. The results of the communist party, the second biggest party in parliament, show that “the rivalry between United Russia and the Communist Party is ongoing” and that it “remains the main competitive party”, according to Ivan Melkinov of the Communist party. Leader of A Just Russia party Sergey Mironov was pleased with the results and said the party was “confident before the elections and will be confident at the next elections” and “no one should doubt that our party will be in the State Duma” at the next parliamentary elections in 2016. Leader of the Liberal-Democratic Party Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the fourth party in parliament, said that they had achieved “good results in several regions of Russia”. Meanwhile Parnas, representing the opposition umbrella group Democratic Coalition, is expected to have 2% of the votes in Kostroma, and thus not to overcome the 5% threshold.


Criticism

Ahead of election day there already was widespread criticism of the elections. Nearly half of the eligible candidates came from United Russia while the Democratic Coalition, which had hoped to participate in 4 regions, was taken off the ballots in all but one region. It was made virtually impossible for them to reach voters by TV or radio and Parnas claims to have intercepted fake brochures aimed at alienating potential voters. During the election campaign Russian election monitoring NGO Golos reported more than 900 violations and another 800 were registered on election day. Official complaints reached 192 by Monday, even though Central Election Chairman (CEC) Vladimir Churov spoke of “a brilliant result” and claimed that “the Americans have yet to try to hold such pure elections”. The CEC announced before the elections that the media “have no right to be observers” of the elections. The most violations were reported in Kostroma, where police stormed the offices of independent election monitoring group Open Elections. There were also reports of violence, people voting multiple times and people being bribed.


Rehearsal of the 2016 State Duma elections

These regional elections are seen in the light of the 2016 elections for the parliament - the State Duma - and an opportunity for the political parties to test their position after a period of economic downfall and increased isolation of Russia, which affected many of the voters. Still this is not reflected in the official results of United Russia when “all the opinion polls suggest that growing crisis phenomena in the economy and a decline in people’s income so far have failed to affect the attitude of Russian nationals to the authorities”, according to vice president of the Centre for Political Technologies Boris Makarenko. If the attitude of people regarding United Russia and the other three parties in parliament does not change, it will be hard for a fifth party to overcome the threshold in parliament. Director General of the Centre for Political Technologies Igor Bunin believes that “people don’t believe that the opposition has something to offer”. While the State Duma elections are still a year away, Vice President of the Centre for Strategic Communications Dmitry Absalov said that “this campaign will open the election campaign of 2016”.

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