Russia will elect a new parliament Sunday, after an election campaign declared the “most sluggish” for a decade, according to the main, independent monitor of national votes. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia is expected to win, without a major contender even close. Meanwhile, the handful of liberals competing for seats face a stiff challenge to enter parliament at all. Despite the potentially predictable outcome, at least 14 parties, not counting independent candidates, are running and the vigor of the campaigning has produced some shocking moments. … Maria Baronova is running for a seat in one of Moscow’s constituencies as an independent candidate; she made headlines last month after her application to participate in the election was approved. Baronova, a former anti-government protester, is backed by one of Putin’s fiercest dissident rivals, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, whose organisation has frequently complained of harassment by authorities.
What is more, Baronova is standing as an independent candidate against a United Russia opponent, meaning that without the backing of a registered party she needs to collect thousands of signatures from voters to prove she has enough relevance to even be registered on the ballot.
Not only did she face the hurdle of collecting 15,000 signatures of support from a district with a population of 100,000 on a deadline, but she also needed the backing of the electoral commission. In the past, independent opposition activists have complained that even after collecting enough signatures, pro-government commissioners conveniently declare signatures false or forms ineligible.
Baronova was approved. But before she had time to celebrate she was the subject of a nude photo leak, as pro-Kremlin tabloid sites published selfies of her and another female colleague topless. She refused to comment during the campaign, but suggested she may do so after polling day.