Russian Duma Elections without Meaningful Results

Russian Duma Election 2016. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Despite predictable results, the Russian Duma elections nevertheless brought a few surprises – one of which was that the election had record low voter turnouts and a bigger than expected victory for the ruling party.

Only 48% of eligible voters came to the Duma polls on September 18, which is far below the 60% voter turnout of the 2011 elections — and actually this is the lowest turnout of any Duma elections in recent memory.

The turnout in Moscow and St Petersburg, two otherwise politically active capitals, was even lower at 29% and 26% respectively, compared against 62% and 55% in 2011. Some of the other industrial cities and education centers like Novosibirsk, Irkutsk and Tomsk – all in Siberia, showed similar low turnouts.

September 11, 2016  Russian Duma election had the lowest turnout of any Duma elections in recent memory.

Higher levels of voter turnout was in Chechnya (95%), Dagestan (69%),  and in several other Caucasian regions where turnout was between 70% and 80%. Chechnya’s strongman, Mr. Ramzan Kadyrov, who faced re-election on the same day, won 98% of the vote. Interestingly, he proclaimed in Instagram that this would be the fairest elections in the world on the eve of the elections.

No effective opposition left in Russia

President Putin’s United Russia party has drastically improved its representation in the new Duma. Now the party commands 343 or 76% of the seats out of a total 450, compared against the 238 seats it won in 2011. The Communist Party, the Liberal Democrats, and the Just Russia party — all pro-Putin platforms, retained their representation in the new Duma, although with nearly half of their previous seats now lost to Putin’s United Russia.

Since the changed voting system had allowed to fill 250 seats in the Duma outside party lists, three seats went to newcomers. One of them was won by the chairman of the “Motherland” party, Mr. Alexei Zhuravlev, 54. The party was created in 2003 by Mr. Dmitry Rogozin, a darling of Russia’s military industrial complex and the country’s Deputy Prime Minister. The party promotes an outright anti-liberal agenda. In the new Duma, Mr.Zhuravlev is expected to champion issues related to defense, military expenditures, and of course, Russian nationalism.

Another winner was Mr. Rifat Shaihutdinov, 53, the head of the tiny Civil Platform party. Established in 2012 as a liberal platform, the party now exhibits ultra-nationalist tendencies in its political outlook.

And there is also the single independent member of Duma, Mr. Vladislav Reznik, 62, elected from the small Southern region of Adygea. He is a millionaire businessman, and has been in Duma since 1999. Until very recently he was a member of the top governing body of the ruling United Russia. Mr. Reznik had several high profile legal troubles in Spain in the past on various allegations lodged by Spanish authorities.

Although there are now six parties in Duma, almost all of them are loyal to President Putin, and in all likelihood, they will essentially compete for demonstrating their utmost loyalty to him.

Election outcome was not rigged, but systemic misconducts persisted

Unlike previous elections, there were few reports of breaches of electoral conducts at the polling stations. A video footage recorded by an official camera from a polling station in a southern region of Rostov showed stacks of ballots being inserted into a voting box in advance with support from the polling commission members. However, the general consensus is that electoral violations were fewer than the 2011 election, although a prominent Russian election observer Goloss pointed out that violations remained institutionalized and systematic. Most of the breaches took place not during the voting hours, but before the polls opened and mostly with participation of polling commission agents and local authorities. US State Department expressed “concern that the inclusiveness of the candidate registration process was diminished by limitations on the right to stand and excessive registration requirements, particularly for independent candidates”.

Although there are now six parties in Duma, almost all of them are loyal to President Putin, and in all likelihood, they will essentially compete for demonstrating their utmost loyalty to him.

Declaring his party’s victory on election night, a seemingly pleased President Putin said that the results reflected the people’s choice for stability. “Just nobody does it better”, proclaimed Mr. Putin showing satisfaction at his party as it overcame various crises in recent years. However, unlike the previous elections, there was little joy, no happy tears, and little festivity in the party headquarters on September 18.

Not much to expect from the new Duma

It was distrust over the Duma elections among the voters that led to the low turnout, according to Mr. Dmitry Gudkov, a prominent Liberal candidate who lost his seat in Duma despite intense door-to-door campaign. His Yabloko party, the standard bearer of liberalism in Russia, has received only 2% votes which is less than 3% necessary to obtain federal budget funding for the next election period. It means that their next campaign in 5 years will be much more difficult to conduct for parties like Yabloko.

Another liberal voice, the PARNAS party, fell short of 1% votes. Its leader, Mr. Mikhail Kasianov, the former Prime Minister in Putin’s first cabinet, argued that the country has now lost the last opportunity for a peaceful constitutional change.

It was the first time that Russian national elections were held in Crimea where 7 deputies were elected to Duma. However, European Union and the US refused to recognize these elections.

Ukraine raised criminal charges against all of the elected deputies insisting that by being elected to the Russian legislation they have contributed to undermining Ukraine’s territorial integrity since Crimea was and must remain part of Ukraine.

The fact of the matter is that apart from rubber stamping budgets proposed by the Kremlin, the newly elected Duma will continue to face a serious identity crisis. Absent anything ground breaking to do, many elected members of Duma will end up in schemes around self-aggrendisement and furthering the agenda of President Vladimir Putin.

The fact that 52% of Russian voters did not bother to vote, perhaps is the most important outcome to remember coming out of this recently concluded poll. 

About Sergey Denisov 7 Articles
Sergey Denisov covers Russia and Eurasian geopolitics for The GeoStrategists. He writes from Moscow, Russia.

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