With less than two weeks to go before parliamentary elections, and the ratings of the ruling United Russia party dropping fast, the Kremlin has apparently decided to shoot the messenger. The Levada Center, Russia’s only independent public opinion agency, was forced to stop work this week, a move that critics of the Kremlin read as an effort to block public perceptions that the ruling party’s popularity is plunging – even though nobody is directly disputing the highly respected organization’s findings. The Kremlin has pledged that voting on Sept. 18 will be open and transparent, so as not to lead to the kind of mass protests that erupted following allegedly fraud-tainted elections five years ago.
But clean voting stations are only one aspect of fair elections, the critics say, and the crackdown on Levada is just one of many examples of how authorities are micromanaging other key aspects of the electoral process to ensure desired results.
While Russia is a highly centralized state where key decisions are made at the top, it also has the working institutions of a parliamentary democracy, including elections, to meet the expectations of millions of Russians.