Moscow Politkom.ru 12 Sep 17
Elections of the heads of 16 regions and of deputies to legislative assemblies in a further six Federation components were held in Russia 10 September. Representatives of local organs of power were also elected throughout virtually the entire country. These were the first elections held under the new leadership of the Kremlin’s domestic policy section, which has amended the tactics of political control. These were also the last elections before the political season’s main election campaign — the presidential campaign.
The current regional and municipal campaigns had their own features. In October of last year, almost immediately after the election of the State Duma deputies, President Vladimir Putin decided to replace the leadership of the domestic policy section. Vyacheslav Volodin, the Presidential Staff first deputy head, moved to the post of speaker of parliament’s lower chamber, to a considerable extent politicizing the work of the State Duma’s renewed personnel. Sergey Kiriyenko, the former head of Rosatom, was invited to take his place, and he has required a certain amount of time to organize his subordinates’ new work style. This was one of the key innovations influencing not only the nature of domestic political processes but also the holding of the elections. Kiriyenko has counted on technocratizing the operation: This has affected the All-Russia People’s Front, the community of experts, and collaboration with the regional elites and the political parties.
Technocratization has also determined the features of the present regional campaign. First, the Kremlin has started to move away from the artificial maintenance of political competition. While previously the Presidential Staff would push governors to provide a proportion of municipal signatures for the registration of their opponents (so they could pass through the municipal filter), on this occasion the Kremlin did not do so, setting the cleanness of procedures as the key priority. Sources from the Presidential Staff repeatedly told the media that no one would give oppositionists any special help in collecting signatures and the emphasis would be on calm, predictable campaigns.
That is why during the present elections many prominent oppositionists were unable to get through registration. A graphic example is the refusal to allow Yekaterinburg Mayor Yevgeniy Royzman to take part in the gubernatorial race. The less competitive campaign reduced pre-election uncertainties and the favorites, at the gubernatorial elections for instance, almost everywhere deliberately received chances of an easy victory.
Second, the regional authorities were given instructions to conduct their campaigns as cleanly as possible, without manipulation and without the abuse of administrative resources. Observers noted that instead of the former Presidential Staff’s KOL principle (competitiveness-openness-legitimacy) it is only legitimacy which is foremost and which, as presently understood, means something more like «legality» and is based not on a political but a juridical foundation.
This became a kind of compensating factor for the first priority: The Kremlin is prepared to pay great attention to issues of legitimacy, but not so much the legitimacy of the elections themselves as of legal procedures. Thus amendments were adopted to legislation abolishing absentee ballot entitlements: It was their use which was one of the most popular rigging methods. This year for the first time instead of absentee ballots use was also made of a new system of voting at the voter’s location. This is the first experiment the Kremlin has «trialed» on the threshold of the presidential campaign. In addition the procedure for the work of observers — one of the most acute and sensitive issues for the Russian opposition — was also greatly liberalized.
Third, the attitude toward the turnout issue was rectified. It is true that back during the Duma campaign in the summer of 2016 it was clear that the priority of boosting turnout was losing its topicality for the Russian regime, and that it is simpler and more effective to hold elections under the conditions of a calm and uniform campaign. While in 2016 this was most likely the result of the overall dramatically intensified conservation of the party-political situation and the elections’ high degree of predictability, this year the rejection of support for a high turnout was largely built on fears of administrative abuses.
The governors will not be punished for a low turnout, but the elections should be held as transparently as possibly is what was said in, for instance, the report from the pro-Kremlin Expert Institute of Social Studies (EISI), «Unified Voting Day. Preliminary Approaches to a Qualitative Analysis.» One of the report’s compilers, Gleb Kuznetsov, said that the Russian electoral system now fully complies with accepted international requirements and the requirements of the OSCE: «And international recognition of the legitimacy of the regime formed following these elections will undoubtedly be higher.» Procedural issues have become more politically important, but that does not always mean a growth in legitimacy.
A sluggish campaign also helps lower turnout. In the estimation of KGI [Civil Initiatives Committee] experts, as was to be expected, it was United Russia that disseminated the most campaign materials. However, both the materials themselves and the election slogans of the regime’s candidates in the regions were of an inert nature. For instance: «The main task is to introduce elementary order» (Igor Vasilyev, Kirovskaya Oblast), «Order. Development. Results» (Artur Parfenchikov, Kareliya), «The kray’s development in people’s interests» (Maksim Reshetnikov, Permskiy Kray), «The Urals deserves to be Russia’s leading region» (Yevgeniy Kuyvashev, Sverdlovskaya Oblast).
The CPRF [Communist Party of the Russian Federation] takes second place in terms of activity. The campaigning by the LDPR [Liberal Democratic Party of Russia] and Just Russia was in the nature «customary» to them and did not bring anything new to the campaign. The liberal opposition was virtually unrepresented at the elections unless you count the new younger generation of candidates at the municipal elections in Moscow: This was one of the current period’s new trends.
At the same time a contradiction is taking shape in this situation: The low turnout could have an adverse effect on the political legitimacy of the election results, to which the opposition has already started to draw attention. The opposition has pointed out that the regime is in no hurry to inform citizens about the forthcoming voting day and there is virtually no campaigning on the streets.
One further risk is the consequences of reduced political competition. Above all we are talking about regions like Sverdlovskaya Oblast or Buryatiya. In the former Royzman was denied registration and in the latter CPRF candidate Vyacheslav Markhayev was denied registration. In addition, less competition does not fully accord with the situation in conflicted regions. In some regions like Sevastopol’, or Yaroslavskaya and Kirovskaya Oblasts, for instance, conflicts among the elites took shape long ago and have not disappeared with the arrival of new governors, political analyst Andrey Kolyadin, who is close to the Kremlin, said: «In some places a kind of bomb is being planted given that as a result of the low turnout governors could collect something approaching 80 percent of the votes — that is not terrible, but the increased percentage points make for heightened expectations from the new governor.» In addition in some places, like Novgorodskaya Oblast, there is a conflict of many years’ standing between the city and the region, whose consequences continue to influence politics.
Finally, one of the most important new challenges is the passage through the election campaigns of favorites of a new type — the young technocrats who do not have any political experience at all. Their campaigns were distinguished by the fact that they were minimally politicized and scarcely noticeable, without high-profile rivals. The campaigns were sluggish in Buryatiya (despite the scandals) and in Kareliya, where virtually the only person to campaign was Acting Governor Artur Parfenchikov. «In Udmurtiya, for a citizen unversed in politics it was extremely difficult to find out the main part of the campaign or whether it was under way at all,» although the governor and municipal deputies were being elected there simultaneously, the KGI report says. In the previously active Yaroslavskaya Oblast essentially it was only Acting Governor Dmitriy Mironov who conducted a campaign.
As a result all of the regime’s 16 candidates got through at the gubernatorial elections. The lowest turnout was recorded at the election of the head of Kareliya — 23.5 percent. The highest was at the election of the head of Mordoviya — 71 percent. According to the preliminary voting results, the highest result was obtained by the head of Mordoviya, Vladimir Volkov, with 90 percent [of the vote], while in second place was Mariy-El head Aleksandr Yevstifeyev (88 percent) and in third place Buryatiya head Aleksey Tsydenov with 87 percent. Also according to the preliminary figures, the lowest result among the candidates from the regime was obtained by Kareliya’s Acting Governor, Artur Parfenchikov, with 60 percent.
The Moscow municipal elections provided a number of surprises. During the campaign there was virtually no removal from the race of any serious candidates with real chances of winning — thus we were talking about real competition. The Moscow authorities were counting on reducing the turnout and mobilizing the most «tested» supporters. This worked in the majority of rayons — as a result United Russia won the elections in these rayons and secured control over the majority of municipalities. The «United Russians» also dominate in terms of absolute figures.
At the same time in quite a large number of rayons — mostly in the center of the capital and territories adjacent to the center — the opposition won. This occurred through the active protest mobilization of the capital’s intelligentsia — under the conditions of the low turnout (14-15 percent) a few percentage points proved decisive. It was in the rayons where the opposition won that the turnout was lowest. As a result well-known oppositionists — Ilya Yashin, Yelena Rusakova, and others — could head a whole series of rayon assemblies. Differences in the opposition ranks (Aleksey Navalnyy obviously distanced himself from these elections, reluctant to play into the hands of his rival Dmitriy Gudkov; Yabloko, which nominated a large number of «Gudkovites» on its list, was actively playing against Yashin) did not exert any substantial influence on the outcome of the elections in those rayons. The «target audience» supported the local lists, which included mainly rayon activists — both those nominated from various parties (predominantly Yabloko, which as a result came second in terms of the number of municipal deputies, but also from the Party of Growth and even the CPRF) and also independent candidates.
Thus for the nonparliamentary opposition voting day was a success (although, apart from Moscow, it was able to get a substantial number of candidates through only in Pskovskaya Oblast, where the local «electoral machine» is led by Lev Shlosberg, a well-known Yabloko figure — there a Yabloko member also won the election of the head of one rayon). This happened against the background of a setback for the CPRF — in Moscow the candidates from the party who got through were mostly on the local opposition lists; in not a single region did the Communists lay claim to victory (although Markhayev in Buryatiya was removed from the elections, in Mariy-El, a promising region for the CPRF, they renounced the fight, reaching agreement with the republic’s new head). The regional elections confirm the trend toward the weakening of the Communist Party, a trend noticeable back at last year’s Duma elections.
The recent elections thus demonstrated two trends simultaneously. First, the high level of inertia in the election process under the conditions of the reduction in competitiveness. Second, if serious competition does nonetheless emerge, then the results are far less predictable and the campaign itself becomes far keener. So it may be said that there is a social demand not only for the honest summing up of the election results but also for the opportunity for a real choice.