Russia will elect a new parliament three months earlier than planned after a majority vote in mid-2015 to move the elections up from December 4 to September 18 of this year. The initiative from the Duma chairman Sergey Naryshkin was supported by President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party, as well as Just Russia and the Liberal Democrats. Like the Communists, who are more or less loyal to the Kremlin, these parties are sure to remain in parliament. Meanwhile, a coalition between the two main opposition parties has fallen apart. The “Russian Democratic Party” (Yabloko) and the “People’s Party of Freedom” (RPR-PARNAS), co-founded by Boris Nemtsov, the opposition politician who was murdered in February 2015, will now go into the election independently from each other. Polls say that these “outlier” parties barely stand a chance of crossing the 5 percent threshold for representation.
The next presidential election will take place in 2018, according to a change made in 2008 extending the Duma’s legislative period from four to five years, and the presidential term from four to six years. Previously, the Duma elections were held three months prior to the presidential election, meaning that the parliamentary result could well influence the vote for head of state. That was the case at the end of 2011 and the beginning of 2012, when Russia saw mass protests over electoral fraud. “By de-coupling the two elections, this effect has been eliminated,” said Petra Stykov, a professor at the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich. The Kremlin responded to the protests by making hundreds of arrests and cracking down on opposition members.
Then as now, opposition members face massive restrictions in Russia, Caroline von Gall, a professor in Eastern European Law at the University of Cologne, told DW. “The climate is such that it is impossible for truly strong opposition parties to emerge,” she said. Would-be opposition parties lack independent media to get their message across, as well as independent courts where they can fight for their rights.