On Sunday, the governors of 21 Russian regions and more than 1,300 heads of small city administrations will be elected, together with deputies for 11 regional parliaments and 25 city legislatures. The nationwide elections, known as unified election day, are considered by some analysts to be a final rehearsal for the State Duma elections in 2016 in which tactics and methods are being tested accordingly. The main question is whether the opposition will be able to gain any ground, but chances are slim, say pundits. “The Kremlin fears elections at all levels,” Dmitry Oreshkin, an independent political analyst, told The Moscow Times, commenting on vigorous efforts in some regions to eliminate the opposition at the candidate registration stage. The campaign has seen several tactics employed that have raised eyebrows among political commentators.
One of the few things the mass protests in the winter of 2011-12 achieved was the return of direct elections for State Duma deputies representing single-member districts. They will be held in September 2016, and half of the parliamentary deputies (225) will, for the first time in 13 years, be elected by specific cities and regions. The winners in each of these 225 districts will be the candidates who receive more votes than any of their opponents. Parliamentary parties, non-parliamentary opposition groups and the Kremlin are already hard at work in preparation for these elections. A foundation with ties to the Kremlin, the Institute for Socio-Economic and Political Research (ISEPR), recently released its forecast for the elections, working from the current composition of the Duma. This ISEPR report (“Acting State Duma Deputies in their Districts — 2016”) is important and noteworthy, not only as an expert study, but as a formative one.
President Vladimir Putin has signed off on a law that brings next year’s Russian parliamentary elections forward by three months, a move some commentators said gives an unfair advantage to pro-Kremlin parties. “The election of the seventh convocation of State Duma deputies will take place on the third Sunday of September 2016,” the Kremlin said in a statement on Wednesday. Parliamentary elections were initially scheduled to take place in December 2016. Supporters of the initiative, including State Duma speaker Sergei Naryshkin, have said an early election would ensure continuity between the adoption and implementation of the 2017 budget. Critics of the move have argued it is unconstitutional and unfairly plays into the hands of the Kremlin.
Russia’s Constitutional Court has upheld the legality of early parliamentary elections, clearing the way for lawmakers to vote on bringing forward next year’s State Duma elections by three months. The court said the initiative was constitutional so long as election dates were not regularly shifted. The effort to bring forward the 2016 elections, from December to September 18, is expected to come to a vote on July 3. The bill has strong backing from deputies for the United Russia, A Just Russia, and ultranationalist Liberal Democratic parties.
Lawmakers from pro-Kremlin parties United Russia and LDPR have submitted to the State Duma a bill abolishing popular elections of mayors and city councils in major cities. Analysts said the legislation represents an attempt to increase the dependence of municipal authorities on the Kremlin and effectively liquidate their self-government. Some observers also interpreted the proposed measure as part of a Kremlin effort to consolidate power in reaction to the political crisis in neighboring Ukraine. The reform would apply to 67 large cities, including 56 regional capitals. The mayors of affected cities would be elected by city councils from among their members, while the city councils would consist of deputies delegated by newly created assemblies of city districts. City governments would be headed by city managers — executives appointed by commissions, half of which would be chosen by governors and the other half by city councils.
Russia’s lower house has approved the first reading of a bill returning independent constituencies to the federal parliamentary polls. The bill drafted by the presidential administration in line with Vladimir Putin’s 2012 address to the parliament in which the Russian leader pledged personal support to the move suggested by politicians and political experts . It was passed in the first reading by 296 against 148 with one abstention.
Vladimir Putin has submitted legislation to change the way the Russian parliament is elected, a move he says will advance democracy but critics say is aimed at bolstering his United Russia party. The bill calls for half of the 450 seats in the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, to be filled by voters choosing individual candidates in districts. Currently all seats are filled by voting for parties. The legislation is expected to pass. The United Russia party, loyal to Putin, has a majority in parliament despite losing seats in the December 2011 election that set off the biggest protests of his 13-year rule.
Three candidates running for mayor in the Moscow region town of Khimki announced Tuesday that they will withdraw from the high-profile race, one of dozens of local and regional elections slated for Sunday that include the first gubernatorial elections since 2005. Igor Belousov, a former Khimki deputy mayor who became an opposition supporter, said he has decided to quit the race and back acting Mayor Oleg Shakhov, who is supported by the ruling United Russia party. Also exiting the race is Yury Babak, a candidate from the obscure Cities of Russia party who said he would also support Shakhov. The third person to abandon his candidacy Tuesday was Alexander Romanovich of the Just Russia party. Without elaborating, Romanovich said actions by the regional administration were preventing him from running a proper campaign, the party said in a statement.