russia: Parliamentary election unlikely to change Russia’s politics

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MOSCOW: After a few weeks of disjointed campaigns, but months of relentless official movements to end significant opposition, Russia is holding three days of voting this weekend in a parliamentary election that is unlikely to change the political makeup of the country. There is no expectation that United Russia, the party dedicated to the president Vladimir Putin, it will lose its grip on the State Duma, the elected lower house of parliament. The main questions to be answered are whether the party will maintain its current two-thirds majority that allows it to amend the constitution; if an anemic participation will overshadow the prestige of the party; and if the Smart Voting initiative of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny proves to be a viable strategy against him.
“There is very little intrigue in these elections … and in fact, they will not leave a special trace in political history,” Andrei. Kolesnikovan analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center told The Associated Press.
With 14 parties running candidates for half of the 450 Duma seats that are chosen per party list, the election has an appearance of being genuinely competitive. But the three parties, apart from United Russia, which are expected to garner the 5 percent support necessary to win a seat, rarely challenge the Kremlin.
The Kremlin wants control of the new parliament, which will remain in place in 2024 when Putin’s current term expires and must decide whether to run for re-election or choose some other strategy to stay in power.
The other half of the seats are chosen in individual electoral districts, where independent candidates or those from small parties like the liberal Yabloko may have a greater chance. These seats are also where Navalny’s team’s smart voting strategy could make headway.
The program bypasses ideology to undermine United Russia, simply warning voters which candidate, other than the ruling party, is the strongest in a single-term race.
It is essentially a defensive strategy.
“Voting to harm United Russia is not a meaningful goal, it is not a goal to elect another candidate whom you ideologically support,” Kolesnikov said.
But it showed power in its inaugural use in 2018 when opposition candidates won 20 of 45 seats on the Moscow city council, and a year later, when United Russia lost its majorities on the councils of three major cities.
However, it is unclear how widely it will be used this year after authorities blocked access to its website. The service remains available through apps, but Russia has threatened fines against Apple and Google for removing the apps from their online stores.
The Foreign Ministry convened the US ambassador last week. John sullivan to protest election interference by America’s “digital giants.”
The website blocking was the latest move to neutralize Operation Navalny, which was Russia’s most visible and determined opposition organization, capable of calling considerable protests across the country.
Navalny himself was jailed in January upon returning to Russia from Germany, where he had been recovering from nerve agent poisoning; he was later sentenced to two and a half years in prison.
Later, a court outlawed Navalny’s foundation to fight corruption and a network of its regional offices as extremist organizations, a verdict that barred people associated with the groups from seeking public office and exposed them to lengthy prison terms.
The Russian authorities also blocked about 50 websites run by his team or supporters for allegedly spreading extremist propaganda.
In August, Russia added the independent vote monitoring group Golos to its list of foreign agents, a move that does not block their work but strongly suggests that it should be viewed with suspicion.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, whose election monitoring missions are widely seen as authoritative, will not send observers for the parliament vote, saying Russia imposed excessive restrictions.
In addition to the Duma election, nine Russian regions will elect governors, 39 regions will elect legislatures, and voters in 11 cities will elect municipalities.
The electoral commission ordered the vote to be extended to three days, which ended on Sunday, to reduce overcrowding at the polls amid the coronavirus pandemic. Critics say the decision increases the possibility of ballot tampering. The head of the commission, Ella Pamfilova, rejects the accusation, saying that there will be “full video surveillance” of the polling places and that the ballots will be in secure containers.
Other ethical concerns also loom over the elections. According to the state-funded pollster VTsIOM, more than one in 10 workers say their bosses have given them directives to vote. In St. Petersburg, a Yabloko party candidate named Boris Vishnevsky, who is simultaneously running for the Duma and a regional legislature, discovered that there are two other men who oppose him in every race, one of whom is a member of United Russia, according to the newspaper Novaya Gazeta.
Although polls indicate that United Russia’s overall approval is low, the party is expected to reach an overwhelming first place in the new parliament. The independent center for current politics predicts that it will win between 299 and 306 seats, less than the 343 it currently has, but within the range of 303 seats needed to change the constitution.
The centre’s forecast suggests that most of the seats lost by United Russia would be picked up by the Communist Party, the second-largest parliamentary faction. But the party largely conforms to the Kremlin line, as do the other two parties that are likely to win double-digit seats.
“The communists themselves are not very dangerous,” said the commentator. Sergei Parkhomenko on Ekho Moskvy radio. The party is “a tool to imitate an opposition movement.”
Accusations of widespread electoral fraud sparked large protests in Moscow and St. Petersburg after the 2011 Duma elections. But with opposition groups neutralized, the prospect of unrest this time seems remote.
“The protests will not take place where we expect them, neither when we expect them nor from those from whom we expect them,” he added. Parkhomenko said.





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