Five years have passed since the street protests that erupted following what were widely perceived as rigged parliamentary elections in Russia. But recent events have already made clear that anyone hoping that the next election to the Duma, Russia’s lower house, on Sunday will be significantly freer and more open is set for disappointment. Just two weeks before the ballot, Russian authorities blacklisted the Levada Centre, the country’s last independent pollster, as a “foreign agent”, leaving it barely able to function. This was ostensibly for receiving foreign funding. More likely it was because Levada’s polls showed falling support for the pro-Kremlin United Russia party. Memories of the 2011 demonstrations are still fresh in President Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin. So Moscow has taken steps to make this poll appear a little more transparent and competitive. It is reverting to a mixed system for the first time since 2003. Half the seats will come from party lists, half from single-member districts, to restore local representation.
Far more parties have been allowed to register than five years ago. Vladimir Churov, the discredited Putin crony who headed the Central Election Commission, has been replaced by Ella Pamfilova, a former human rights watchdog. Ms Pamfilova has said she will resign if there are widespread voting violations this time. But the Kremlin has also acted to ensure the election still delivers the desired result. Bringing the poll forward to September from its traditional December date appears aimed at shortening the election campaign and lowering interest and turnout.
By squeezing other non-governmental organisations besides Levada, the authorities have eroded civil society’s capacity to challenge questionable results. And the most problematic opposition leader for the Kremlin, the anti-corruption blogger Alexei Navalny, has been excluded through trumped-up legal charges.
United Russia is therefore likely to dominate again, albeit with smaller support than in previous elections. The first-past-the-post portion of the ballot could help it secure a majority. Only the pro-Kremlin party and three other more-or-less puppet parties that constitute the so-called “systemic” opposition seem likely to pass the 5 per cent voting threshold required to secure seats in the party list portion.
Full Article: Russia’s election remains far from truly free — FT.com.