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Regional elections in Russia a test in run-up to parliamentary elections

September 12, 2015, 15:19 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila
© ITAR-TASS Archive/OAO Rostelecom press service

MOSCOW, September 11. /TASS/. Analysts do not expect any major uproar at the regional and local elections that will be held on Sunday, September 13, in a number of Russian regions, although they do not rule out certain surprises.

No one is calling into question the relatively high popularity rankings of the ruling United Russia Party and the regional governors who are going to be re-elected. But the elections are interesting, first and foremost, owing to the number of participating parties that has grown noticeably after liberalization of the election laws.

On the whole, the expert community regards the Sunday polls as a tryout ahead of the federal parliamentary election in the autumn of 2016.

On September 13, which is the so-called Unified Day of Voting in Russia, regional governors will be elected in 21 regions and deputies of legislative assemblies, in eleven regions. Also, municipal elections will be held in many constituent territories of the country.

All in all, there will be 10,700 elections of various levels in 83 constituent territories of the country. As many as 55 political parties of the 74 officially registered ones.

"The main peculiarity of these elections is found in the fact they are the last presentation of all the political forces ahead of the 2016 federal elections," Dr. Leonid Polyakov, the chief of the of the chair for general political science at the Supreme School of Economics in Moscow said. "All the participants in this election campaign interpret it much along these lines," he said.

The latter factor offers an explanation for why it has been held at a high competitive level, Dr. Polyakov said. "Plus the availability of an ever-increasing number of political parties. As a result of a political reform that was initiated in 2011 and 2012, the number of parties is by an order of magnitude bigger than it was five years ago and this intensifies the current election campaigns."

Still, although the number of new participants in the election race has hiked sharply and new personages and organizations are flooding the political scene, the old grand quartet of parties that have caucuses in the State Duma — the ruling United Russia and the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF), the Liberal-Democratic Party (LDPRF) and A Just Russia party that position themselves as opposition political forces — has managed to stand firm in practically all the regions, Dr. Polyakov indicated.

"Their current position isn’t as much unproblematic as it used to be in some places, though, and they’ve come to grips with an apparently more powerful competition," he said.

"The regional political systems will not get a new impulse of legitimacy as a result and the masses of voters will perceive these changes as only logical ones," Dr. Polyakov said.

Although the Presidential Administration demands observance of three crucial criteria at all the elections — competitiveness, openness, and legitimacy — these principles are sometimes disregarded in the regions, said Igor Bunin, the head of the Center for Political Technologies.

"Our Russian bureaucrat has long lost the habit of competition and is striving to get a 100% confidence of his or her victory in an election," Izvestia daily quoted him. "The bureaucrat doesn’t want any emotional disturbances. And that’s why in spite of all the moves taken by the federal authorities to bring in the elements of competition and legitimacy a number of regional red-tapers got into mishaps that had to be rectified."

For instance, pressures officials in Omsk in western Siberia was needed to make them include a representative of the Communist Party in the competition.

The electoral ticket of the PARNAS rightwing liberal party was registered in Kostroma on the Volga River after protracted tribulations.

PARNAS failed to get registration in Nobosibirsk but it was allowed to nominate its members in majority precincts.

"Big-stick methods are very handy today in making regional governors or local electoral commissions, which they control, rectify their own errors," Bunin said.

"On the whole, the main intrigue of this election is bigger than the nationwide electoral successes of the United Russia that has fair enough rankings, but how the election will be perceived by the political class at the federal and regional level and by the ordinary voters in the final run," Dr. Mikhail Remizov, the President of the Institute of National Strategies told TASS.

"Will the regional people of clout overuse the administrative levers and how will the federal center and the courts react to it?" he said somewhat rhetorically.

Unexpected surprises may occur at any election but big surprises are scarcely in the cards this time, Dr. Remizov believes. "The authorities have a big resource in the form of the President’s high popularity rating, which serves as a drive engine of people’s trust in the government on the whole," he said.

Dr. Lydia Timofeyeva, a senior staff member at the Moscow-based Presidential Academy of Government Service told TASS she did not expect any stunning surprises either.

"The economic situation is tense but not tragic," she said. "The liberal opposition is gradually, albeit slowly, expanding its electorate."

"And if the economic situation continues worsening, we will likely see some interesting moments during the 2016 parliamentary election," Dr. Timofeyeva said. "But their likelihood right now is practically zero."

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