The September 18 Russian parliamentary elections will take place amidst a deep economic crisis, with oil at $30 a barrel, and with election rules deliberately designed to blunt and conceal voter disaffection. The Putin regime incurs risks with this strategy because it creates an opportunity for political forces to emerge that actually address the deep concerns of the people. It is virtually impossible for the scheming Putin to know from whence such a threat will come. Russia’s last parliamentary election (December 2011) sent tens of thousands of protesters into the streets calling for “Russia without Putin,” in outrage over the flagrant election fraud on the part of Putin’s United Russia (dubbed the “party of crooks and thieves”). The demonstrations shook Putin, who responded by cracking down hard on dissent.
Deputies of suspect loyalty were purged from the Duma (the Russian parliament); ordinary demonstrators were given jail terms; and protest leaders were convicted of fictional crimes by kangaroo courts, the result being that the Duma has served for five years as a rubber stamp for President Putin. Among the three other parties, not one has been willing to act as an opposition party.
Remember that the 2011 elections took place with $100-plus-oil, a growing (albeit slowly) economy, indexed pensions, and a balanced budget. Not so for 2016, amid $30 to $40 oil, sanctions, a collapsing ruble, double-digit inflation, unpaid salaries, and sharp budget cuts. In preparation for a blow up in reaction to the economic disaster, Putin has added to his formidable arsenal of election tricks to prevent his United Russia from being swept away in a tsunami protest vote.