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Municipal filter hampers opposition candidates at gubernatorial polls

September 10, 2012, 16:50 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila

Russia is preparing for the elections of the heads of the constituent territories of the Russian Federation that will be the first elections after an interval of eight years. The registration of candidates at the gubernatorial elections, which are due on October 14 in five regions, is over. The experts believe that the election campaign found the new law on elections quite inadequate, and the parliamentary parties were weakly ready for a real political struggle. The main problem for the opposition candidates turned out to be the so-called municipal filter that is the need for a signup campaign among municipal deputies. The analysts believe that this mechanism reduces a real political competition, because it filters out the candidates, who are unsuitable for the state authorities. The appeals to cancel this procedure are becoming louder.

Despite the forecast of the Central Elections Commission (CEC) that six candidates will run for the post of governor, four candidates succeeded to pass the municipal filter in three out of five regions, namely the Amur, Belgorod and Bryansk Regions, and only three candidates passed it in the Velikiy Novgorod Region. The Ryazan Region has made the only exception, where seven candidates will vie for governor.

The elections of the chief executives in the federal constituent territories, unofficially called gubernatorial elections, are held in the regions since 1991 with an interval for a period of 2006-2011. In 2004 direct gubernatorial elections were abolished at the initiative of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The governors were appointed at these posts by the decisions of the local parliaments on the nomination by the Russian president.

In 2012 former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev revived direct gubernatorial elections, but with the municipal filter. Under the new law a person cannot become a gubernatorial candidate, failing to raise 5-10% of signatures of municipal deputies in his or her support (each region set the exact percentage on the signup lists itself). Meanwhile, a deputy can sign up only for one candidate. The self-nominees are to raise from 0.5% to two percent of signatures from the number of residents in the region.

This time the incumbent governor from the United Russia Party and a representative of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia will run in gubernatorial elections in each of five regions. Three candidates were registered from the Russian Communist Party and the Patriots of Russia and two candidates from the Right Cause Party. A Just Russia, Yabloko, Novaya Rossiya (New Russia) and the Pensioners of Russia registered one candidate each. In most regions the incumbent governors will not face a real competition, as the municipal filter came into effect in order to help sifting out strong rivals.

Only the governors in the Belgorod, Amur and Velikiy Novgorod Regions have some chances for victory at upcoming gubernatorial elections, the authors of the third issue of “The Index of Electability of the heads of Russian federal constituents” from the Political Expert Group think. The chances of the Bryansk governor “are lower than medium” and those of the Ryazan governor are about to be zero at all, they said.

“Speaking about first five election campaigns, a weak readiness of the parliamentary parties to a real political struggle can be noted,” chief editor of the Internet portal Political Technologies Sergei Polyakov believes. “First of all, this factor concerned those regions, where the personal popularity of the governor is at the high level. Meanwhile, the tendency is obvious for the concentration of the opposition forces in those federal constituents, where the position of the incumbent governor is not so strong,” he noted.

Political expert Alexander Kynev, who is cited by the Kommersant daily, believes that the revived gubernatorial elections are staged. For instance, “some hopefuls, who had quite good chances, were not nominated for governor” in the Velikiy Novgorod, Bryansk and Ryazan Regions, he remarked. He named the municipal filter “an additional scarecrow” and the informal pressure in the way of the negotiations to avert a split in the elites among the reasons for boycotting the elections. The signup campaign “turned out a shameful event,” because the signatures could have been raised only with the support of the state authorities, and those candidates, who “were nominated not in the negotiated way,” were excluded from the election race.

The first experience to apply the law on direct gubernatorial elections with the procedure of municipal filter showed that this mechanism filters out unexpected strangers and those, whom the state authorities consider that they should be sifted out, the Internet magazine New Politics reported. The filter turns out to be excessive or harmful, the newspaper noted. “The filter protects weak and worn-out links of the state authorities rather than the state authorities themselves. Meanwhile, it hampers a fair political competition. The main thing is to oust strong political rivals, rather than marginal candidates from running in the elections,” the Internet magazine reported.

The Russian Public Chamber proposed to abandon the municipal filter for representatives of the parliamentary parties at all. The Public Chamber’s working group over public control for the election process studied the work of the municipal filter at the example of Velikiy Novgorod and came to the conclusion that the use of this type of filtration for candidates does not allow the opposition parties to nominate their candidate. The fact that the Russian Communist Party failed to overcome the municipal filter raised major concerns and bewildered specialists.

“The signup campaign turned not just in a filter for candidates, but in a real plug-in,” former gubernatorial candidate in Velikiy Novgorod from the Communist Party Olga Yefimova wrote down in an open letter to President Vladimir Putin. Candidate from A Just Russia Alexei Afanasyev also failed to raise the required percentage of signatures. Moreover, A Just Russia gained 27% of votes (United Russia polled 37%) at the elections to the Velikiy Novgorod Regional Duma in 2011 and formed the second largest faction in the local legislature.

The main systemic flaw on the new law is that local deputies organize the filter, but the municipalities are the most powerless and dependent link in the Russian state authorities, the Russian Reporter magazine noted. “The problem is even not in the fact that a large part of municipal lawmakers are members of the ruling party or are affiliated with it. Even those who are considered independent can be easily pressed on. Finally, it fully depends from the good will of regional authorities whether the oppositionists will get desirable signatures,” the magazine reported.

MOSCOW, September 10