Table of contents
The eighth State Duma elections in Russia are taking place in the context of seriously tightened rules for candidate nomination and registration, which have significantly worsened compared to 2016, when the outgoing lower house of parliament was elected. The elections are taking place against a backdrop of severe restrictions on freedom of expression and freedom of information, as well as freedom of assembly and association, accompanied by political repression of the most active of the opposition-minded citizens.
In addition, public video surveillance has effectively been destroyed, the Golos movement has been recognized as the "foreign agent", and the OSCE has been forced by the Russian authorities to refuse to send international observation missions.
This is the fourth report under the Golos program for long-term monitoring of the elections of September 19, 2021. It focuses on the results of nomination and registration of candidates for the elections to the State Duma of the Russian Federation. The previous reports were devoted to the defeat of Russian citizens in electoral rights, legal peculiarities of the Duma elections, and political and legal peculiarities of regional and local elections on September 19, 2021.
In the main body of the report, specific examples of violations of electoral rights and incidents are summarized.
At the beginning of the election campaign for the elections to the State Duma of the eighth convocation, 32 political parties had the right to participate in the elections. 14 of them had a privilege, i.e. they were not required to collect voter signatures to register their lists and candidates. All of these 14 parties put forward both federal lists and candidates in single-mandate districts. Of the remaining 18 parties, only one—the “Russian All-People's Union” (ROS)—attempted to participate in the Duma elections.
It should be recalled that in the previous elections of 2016, 74 political parties had the right to participate in the elections, but 14 parties also had the privilege at that time. 25 parties held conventions to nominate candidates and/or lists, but only 18 managed to certify federal lists and only 17 certified single-mandate lists. Only 14 federal lists of parties with privileges were registered, and the final pool of registered single-mandate candidates included only 13 party nominees with privileges.
After 2016, there has been more than a halving of the number of eligible parties: only 32 can run in the 2021 elections (although the number of real contenders—holders of the "parliamentary exemption"—has not changed: there are still 14 of them).
At the same time, the number of parties that tried to nominate candidates was even lower in absolute numbers than in 2016, and increased in relative numbers to the total number of eligible candidates only because the number of eligible candidates itself decreased.
In the previous elections to the State Duma in 2016, for the first time in recent Russian history, a situation arose in which none of the parties that had collected signatures was able to register either a federal list or a single-mandate candidate. Given this experience, parties without privileges have not even made an attempt to participate in the current campaign—except one. However, this party too, the “Russian All-People's Union” (ROS), apparently did not seriously expect to be registered. Otherwise, it would have tried to nominate its lists as early as possible and pass the verification stage, as time for signature collection is quite limited. However, ROS held a congress on the nomination of lists only on July 3, i.e., on the 16th day after the start of the campaign. ROS submitted documents for certification of the lists on 11 July, i.e. only on the 8th day after the congress. The CEC certified its lists on 17 July, meeting the legal deadline of 7 days. Thus, the party had only 18 days to collect signatures, while with more urgency this period could have been extended to 30 or even 35 days.
As a result, all 14 privileged parties registered their federal lists, while ROS was denied registration due to an insufficient number of collected signatures (less than half of the required number).
2.1 Division of federal lists into regional groups and distribution of mandates: what the law requires
225 mandates are distributed on party lists. When they are distributed within party lists, mandates first go to candidates from the all-federal part of the list. The remaining mandates are then divided among the territorial (regional) groups so that they cover the entire country. Only bordering regions (with the exception of enclave territories) may be combined into one group.
With a barrier of 5% and a minimum of "lost" votes, a party that gains between 5 and 6% is likely to get between 12 and 14 mandates. Thus, in reality, distribution of mandates among territorial groups for parties gaining less than 7% of votes is possible if there are less than 15 candidates in the all-federal part of the list (the fewer candidates there are in the all-federal part of the list, the more there is left for groups).
Universally recognized standards for free and democratic elections provide for the stability of electoral legislation as one of the conditions for the implementation of the principles of free expression of will. This applies, for example, to the design of the electoral system itself (including the rules for the allocation of mandates) and to the boundaries of electoral districts to prevent their manipulation in the interests of the political force that currently has an advantage in the legislature. The rule for determining territorial groups has a similar meaning in this sense. In Russia, however, the rules for dividing federal lists into regional groups are constantly changing. In the 2003 elections, the number of groups had to be at least seven, and there could be no more than 18 candidates in the central part of the list. In the 2007 elections, the minimum number of groups reached 80, and the central part was limited to three candidates. In the 2011 elections, the minimum number of groups was lowered to 70 and the maximum number of candidates in the central part was increased to 10. In the 2016 election, the maximum for the central part was retained at 10 and the minimum number of groups was reduced to 35. In the 2021 elections, the maximum size of the nationwide part of the list was increased to 15 candidates.
However, there have been provisions in force for a long time. For example, in State Duma elections (unlike in most regional elections), parties always independently divide their lists into groups (within the limits imposed by law). Since 2007, the right to divide major regions into several groups has been provided by electoral law. Also since 2007, there has been a requirement that groups should cover all regions and that only bordering regions (with the exception of enclave territories) may be combined into one group. At the same time, a party can theoretically divide its list into groups corresponding to single-mandate districts, i.e. the biggest possible number of groups is 225.
2.2 Reducing the number of candidates on the lists
Table 1 shows the structure of the 15 certified federal lists. Comparison with a similar table made in 2016 shows that many parties have significantly reduced the number of candidates. For example, KPRF had 391 candidates in 2016, now it has 345. The LDPR list has decreased even more: from 313 to 217. Not as large but still notable is the decrease of “A Just Russia - For Truth” candidates: from 333 to 302. Similar changes were observed in the ranks of some non-parliamentary parties: the Party of Growth (down from 339 to 290), “The Greens” (down from 356 to 232), and Russian Party of Pensioners for Social Justice (down from 331 to 278). The other parties that had nominated lists in both campaigns had minor changes, but none had a significant increase (by more than five people).
Table 1. Structure of federal lists
|regional groups||nominees for|
|“A Just Russia - For Truth”||36||302||4|
|Party of Growth||37||290||3|
|“Communists of Russia”||68||398||15|
|REP “The Greens”||46||232||10|
|Russian Party of Pensioners for Social Justice||36||278||3|
|Russian Party of Freedom and Justice||40||246||10|
|“The Green Alternative”||42||216||5|
|“Russian All-People's Union”||38||220||12|
Thus, the number of individuals wishing to become candidates for the Duma elections is decreasing. Apparently, this is due to a constant increase in requirements for candidates. Piles of papers are required from them, and those who have foreign deposits and other financial instruments are obliged to get rid of them before nomination. The status of a candidate itself does not provide any special privileges but rather increases the risk of various inspections, pressures, and in some cases repressions (see below). True, all this has happened before, but a significant part of politically active citizens have understood these circumstances somewhat belatedly. Plus, during the last year and a half new restrictions on passive suffrage have appeared, which also probably contributed to the reduction of the number of nominated candidates.
2.3 How parties divided their lists
For the second campaign, the requirement to divide the list into 35 groups is already in force. In 2016, the analysis showed that the reduction of the requirement from 70 to 35 groups was justified: only three parties out of 18 created more than 70 groups, and most of the parties had the number of groups close to the minimum—seven parties had between 35 and 38 groups, and another four had between 40 and 45 groups. The current campaign follows a similar trend (see Table 1): out of 15 parties, only one (“Yabloko”) has created more than 70 groups, six parties have a near-minimum number of groups (36-38), and four parties have between 40 and 46 groups.
Three parties took advantage of the novelty and placed 15 candidates in the central part of the list. Another had 12 candidates. Three parties left 10 candidates in the central part, as stipulated by the previous law. The remaining eight parties had less than 10 candidates, with three parties having only three candidates. “New People” had two candidates, and “Yabloko” had only one.
The point of dividing the list into groups is, first, to bring the deputies closer to the voters, and second, to create incentives for the candidates to fight for votes. Such incentives are created by the maximum expansion of the "semi-passage zone" (i.e. groups that have approximately equal chance to be awarded a mandate according to the number of votes received). Candidates who are certain to be elected (if the party overcomes the barrier), and candidates who have no chance of being elected, have much weaker incentives than those who may or may not get into the Duma, depending on the number of votes cast for the party in a given territory.
Based on this, it would be advisable for parties to determine the number of their groups based on how many mandates they expect to win (namely, the number of groups should be approximately one and a half times less than the number of mandates, and should additionally be reduced by the number of candidates in the central part), so that all groups have a chance to get at least one mandate, but with the opportunity to claim two. In doing so, it is best to equalize the chances of the groups as much as possible. The first approximation is to equalize by the number of voters, although further adjustments can be made by taking into account the potential support of the party in certain regions.
From this point of view, “United Russia” should split its list into about 80 groups, while the rest of the parliamentary parties should strive to minimize the number of groups within the current limit, and which, despite the reduction, we still believe is excessive. As for the parties claiming only to pass the 5% barrier, this does not matter so much, because in any case most of the groups turn out to be non-passable. As can be seen from Table 1, the KPRF and “A Just Russia - For Truth” have a number of groups in line with this logic.
2.4 How aligned the groups are
Equalization of group size can be assessed by means of two indicators. The first is the ratio of maximum to minimum number of voters per group. The second is the standard deviation of the total size of groups (characterizing the dispersion of values) divided by the average size of the group. These indicators are presented in Table 2.
Table 2. Characteristics of the breakdown of federal lists into groups
|Party||Number of voters in the group||Ratio max./min.||Ratio of standard deviation/average.|
|“United Russia”||230 292||7 440 740||32,3||75%|
|KPRF||32 704||7 440 740||228||50%|
|LDPR||33 971||7 443 109||219||64%|
|“A Just Russia - For Truth”||32 704||5 304 663||162||34%|
|RUDP “Yabloko”||230 292||4 568 920||19,8||66%|
|Party of Growth||375 783||9 245 432||24,6||77%|
|“Communists of Russia”||32 704||7 440 740||228||89%|
|“Civic Platform”||983 023||5 728 747||5,8||33%|
|“Rodina”||162 251||7 440 740||45,9||86%|
|REP “The Greens”||298 591||7 440 740||24,9||70%|
|Russian Party of Pensioners for Social Justice||32 704||7 440 740||228||88%|
|Russian Party of Freedom and Justice||324 596||7 440 740||22,9||60%|
|“New People”||1 043 054||7 440 740||7,1||42%|
|“Green Alternative”||754 503||7 440 740||9,9||62%|
|“Russian All-People's Union”||230 292||6 270 390||27,2||43%|
As can be seen from the table, the ratio of the maximum to minimum group size is lowest (as in 2016) for the “Civic Platform” (5.8), and slightly higher for the “New People” and the Green Alternative. To achieve such a result, the main thing is simply to group small regions together. As the experience of the “New People” and the “Green Alternative” shows, it is not necessary to split large regions for this purpose.
The integral dispersion index is also the lowest for “Civic Platform” (33%), and slightly higher for “A Just Russia – For Truth” (34%). This indicator is also quite low for the “New People” and the “Russian All-People's Union”.
If we compare the data in Tables 1 and 2, we again, as in 2016, get an empirical confirmation of a theoretical conclusion we made long ago: the fewer groups in the list, the easier it is to equalize the size of the groups. All parties with good alignment indices have no more than 42 groups. The “Communists of Russia”, who split the list into 68 groups, had the worst equalization index (the principles of division also played a role here).
As for the specific schemes of splitting into groups and splitting up or combining regions, a huge variety can be seen. Each party makes such splitting, apparently, taking into account the level of its support in different regions, the state of regional groups, the presence of strong regional leaders, and other similar factors. This testifies in favor of the correctness of the provisions of the law, which give parties autonomy in this matter. One can only regret that the same approach has not prevailed in the regional legislation.
As shown in Table 2, nine parties have their largest group consist of 7,440,740 voters, i.e. Moscow. Five parties decided to divide Moscow into several groups; with “A Just Russia - For Truth”, “Civic Platform” and “Russian All-People's Union” dividing only the two largest regions, Moscow and the Moscow region, each into two groups. LDPR also divided Moscow and the Moscow region into two groups each, but in addition divided St. Petersburg into four groups and the Sverdlovsk and Irkutsk regions into two groups each.
“Yabloko” was the most original. However, it had reasons to be so: its support is extremely uneven across the regions. Thus, in 2016, the party received 34.4% of all its votes in Moscow and St. Petersburg. In this regard, it does not make much sense for “Yabloko” to equalize groups by the number of voters; rather, it should try to equalize them by potential support for the party. Following this principle, in Moscow and St. Petersburg the party created groups corresponding to separate single-mandate districts (15 and 8 respectively). It divided the Moscow region into six groups (five in two constituencies and one corresponding to a single constituency). It also divided the Krasnodar Territory, the Perm Territory, and the Leningrad, Nizhny Novgorod, Rostov, Samara, and Chelyabinsk Regions each into two groups, and the Sverdlovsk Region into three.
The two parties with the maximum number of voters turned out to be larger than the Moscow city group. To be more precise, LDPR's group turned out to be practically the same as the Moscow group—a group that combined the Krasnodar Territory and the Rostov Region. And the Party of Growth got an even larger group by combining four Ural regions (Perm Krai, Kurgan, Sverdlovsk, and Chelyabinsk Oblast) and for some reason also the Komi Republic.
Four parties had groups with the maximum number of voters smaller than the Moscow city group. These are “A Just Russia - For Truth” (Perm Territory and Sverdlovsk Region), “Yabloko” (Republic of Bashkortostan and Orenburg Region), “Civic Platform” (St. Petersburg, Leningrad and Novgorod Regions), and “Russian All-People's Union” (Novosibirsk, Omsk, Tyumen Regions, Khanty-Mansi, and Yamalo-Nenets AOs). They are not much smaller, however: “Yabloko” has the lowest number (4,568,920), and there are two regions in this group where the party usually does not receive much support. For the other three parties, these groups turned out to have more than 5.3 million voters (more than 71% of Moscow voters), so here the division of Moscow and Moscow Oblast into parts has not greatly reduced the gap between the smallest and the largest group.
Four parties have the smallest group with 32,704 voters, that is, Chukotka AO, which they did not merge with anyone. Another party has such a group corresponding to Nenets AO (33,971). Several parties also left small regions unincorporated: “Rodina” had the smallest group corresponding to the Altai Republic (162,251), three parties had the Republic of Ingushetia (230,292), “The Greens” had the Karachay-Cherkessia Republic (298,591), Russian Party of Freedom and Justice had Sevastopol (324,596), and Growth Party had Sakhalin Oblast (375,783). Only three parties made the group with the lowest number of voters relatively competitive: “Green Alternative” (Smolensk Oblast, 754,503), “Civic Platform” (Ulyanovsk Oblast, 983,023), and “New People” (Kirov Oblast, 1,043,054).
Interestingly, “Green Alternative's” groups were numbered in descending order of the number of voters in them. This indicates that the party gave priority to this indicator.
2.5 Small and Large Voter Groups
In general, the majority of parties have a desire to equalize the groups by the number of voters or by other indicators. However, it is noteworthy that some parties intentionally created many groups with a small number of voters (i.e., knowingly unpassable) and many groups with a large number of voters.
The most typical example of this approach is the breakdown of the list of the Russian Party of Pensioners for Social Justice. In this list, 16 groups correspond to territories with less than 752 thousand voters (11 of them have less than 400 thousand) and 18 groups had more than 4.6 million voters. It is worth noting that this party has numbering of groups connected with the number of voters, although not as consistently as the “Green Alternative”: 15 groups with less than 800 thousand voters go first, then 18 groups with the number of voters equal to 4.6 million, then 18 groups with more than 4.6 million voters, and finally the remaining three groups. Since voting for this party is usually fairly even across the regions, it is obvious that the party has blatantly divided the list into 18 clearly non-passable groups and 18 groups that can compete with each other for mandates.
This example clearly shows that the minimum of 35 groups is exaggerated, and parties have to resort to tricks to comply with the law and to make the division convenient in terms of competition for mandates.
At the same time, parliamentary parties deliberately created some groups that united large regions that could well form separate groups. The most striking example is the previously mentioned group on the LDPR list, which united the Krasnodar Territory and the Rostov Region. KPRF's groups that combined St. Petersburg with Leningrad Oblast (5.2 million) and Samara Oblast with Orenburg and Ulyanovsk Oblasts (4.9 million) played a similar role. “A Just Russia – For Truth” combined the Sverdlovsk Region with the Perm Territory (5.3 million), the Samara and Saratov Regions (4.3 million), and created a large Far Eastern group of eight regions (4.5 million).
2.6 The Merger of the Kaliningrad and Sakhalin Oblasts
The situation with the Kaliningrad and Sakhalin Regions is of separate interest. The law requires that bordering regions should be united into one group, with the exception of regions that do not border other regions. The Kaliningrad Region is such a region to the fullest extent, and by law it can be merged with any other bordering regions.
Five parties (“United Russia”, “Communists of Russia”, “Rodina”, Party of Growth, and “Russian National Union”) did not unite the Kaliningrad region with any other. Four parties (“A Just Russia - For Truth”, “Yabloko’, “Civic Platform”, and “New People”) made a "maritime" group, uniting Kaliningrad Oblast with Crimea and Sevastopol. Russian Party of Pensioners for Social Justice included the region in a larger group, uniting six other regions of the Northwest. “Green Alternative” similarly united the Kaliningrad region with five other north-western regions. REP “The Greens” combined it with St. Petersburg and Leningrad Oblast (geographically the closest regions). Russian Party of Freedom and Justice combined the Kaliningrad region with the Pskov region (also geographically closest, although not connected). The KPRF did the most paradoxical thing, combining the Kaliningrad region with the Saratov region, while LDPR combined the Baltic region with the Trans-Baikal Territory.
The situation is different with the island Sakhalin Oblast. In 2007, the CEC of Russia issued a special clarification, approved by Decree No. 25/192-5 of August 15, 2007, according to which Sakhalin Oblast is not an enclave territory but has a sea border (belonging to the inland waters of Russia) with Kamchatka and Khabarovsk Krais. However, this clarification appears to have been completely forgotten. Thus, in 2016, four parties merged Sakhalin Oblast with Primorsky Krai, even though, according to the Russian CEC clarification quoted above, the two regions do not border each other. The CEC of Russia did not pay attention to this violation at the time.
Roughly the same thing happened in this election cycle. Five parties (“Communists of Russia”, “Yabloko”, “Rodina”, Russian Party of Pensioners for Social Justice, and Party of Growth) did not unite the Sakhalin Region with any other. Eight parties (“United Russia”, KPRF, “A Just Russia – For Truth”, “Civic Platform”, Russian Party of Freedom and Justice, “New People”, “Green Alternative”, and “Russian All-People's Union”) placed the Sakhalin Oblast in a large Far Eastern group which included Khabarovsk and/or Kamchatka Krai. On the other hand, LDPR and the REP “The Greens” simply merged Sakhalin Oblast with Primorsky Krai, which again was not considered a violation.
The process of dropping candidates from federal lists can be divided into four stages.
The first stage occurs during the certification of the lists. Here, there can usually be two grounds: exclusion of candidates by the party itself, and exclusion by a decision of the CEC of Russia due to lack of necessary documents. In this case, the CEC requires that all documents be submitted at the same time, disallowing subsequent delivery of the candidate’s documents.
The second stage is between the certification of the list and its registration. Here, there can be both withdrawals by personal statement and by decision of the party body.
The third stage is in the process of list registration. Here the withdrawal can also be due to the decision of the party itself, but more often it is due to a claim of the CEC of Russia against the candidate: either the absence of passive suffrage of the candidate is revealed, or there are violations, which are grounds for excluding the candidate from the list.
The fourth stage is after the registration of the list. Here it is possible to drop out either on the basis of a personal statement, a decision of a party body, or a court decision. This stage has just begun, and here we give an overview of it as of August 17. So far, there have been no withdrawals on the basis of court decisions.
Table 3 presents data on withdrawal of candidates from all 15 certified lists.
It should immediately be noted that the number of withdrawn candidates is noticeably higher than in the 2016 campaign. At that time, a total of 234 candidates dropped out, 143 of them in the first three stages (the main contribution, 138 candidates, was made at that time by three parties: Russian Party of Pensioners for Justice, Party of Growth, and “Communists of Russia”).
Table 3: Withdrawal of candidates from federal lists
|Party||Disposal phase||Initiator of the disposal|
|“A Just Russia - For Truth”||5||0||0||1||2||4||0|
|Party of Growth||10||0||3||1||0||1||13|
|“Communists of Russia”||2||0||3||4||0||4||5|
|REP “The Greens”||11||1||4||1||0||14||3|
|Russian Party of Pensioners for Social Justice||66||0||1||0||0||66||1|
|Russian Party of Freedom and Justice||4||1||2||0||1||0||6|
|“Russian All-People's Union”||38||0||- —||- —||0||0||38|
As of August 17, a total of 244 candidates have dropped out of the race. At the same time, very few candidates from parliamentary parties have dropped out, and only one candidate (Pavel Grudinin from the KPRF) has dropped out by decision of the Russian CEC.
Three non-parliamentary parties, Russian Party of Pensioners for Social Justice (67), “Russian All-People's Union” (38), and “New People” (28), had the largest number of drop-outs (132). (38) and the “New People” (28). In the first party, almost all candidates withdrew at the party's own initiative, and in the other two, at the decision of the Russian Central Election Commission.
Of the 114 candidates excluded from the lists by the CEC decision, 82 dropped out at the verification stage and 32 at the registration stage. As noted above, candidates who lacked any documents were excluded at the verification stage. More interesting are the grounds for exclusion from the lists at the registration stage. It turned out that in 25 cases out of 32, the decision to exclude the candidate was related to a criminal record: either the candidate did not indicate a criminal record, or he or she was deprived of passive suffrage because of a criminal record (in some cases, both). Such candidates were found in eight out of 15 lists.
The remaining seven cases were administrative penalties for "displaying Nazi symbols" (one candidate for “Yabloko”; it has become a tradition to punish anti-fascists under this article), presence of foreign financial instruments (Pavel Grudinin for KPRF and Dmitry Bulykin for “Rodina”, who was later reinstated by court), and presence of foreign citizenship (two candidates for “Yabloko”, one candidate for “New People”, one candidate for “Rodina”).
Thus, in the current campaign, the main obstacle to the registration of candidates was formally a criminal record. At the same time, we counted 46 candidates on the registered lists who have or had a criminal record: one from the LDPR two each from KPRF, “New People”, Russian Party of Pensioners for Social Justice and Russian Party of Freedom and Justice three from
“Civic Platform”; four each from Fair Russia and “Communists of Russia”; six from “Yabloko”; seven from “Rodina”; and 13 from Party of Growth (that is, 11 of 14 parties).
Taking into account another 25 candidates removed by the CEC for a criminal record, we get 71 candidates with a criminal record out of 3,953 candidates who were on those 14 lists submitted for registration (1.8%).
For single-mandate candidates, the picture is also similar to that of 2016. For parties with privileges, almost all candidates were registered, and the number of denials of registration was low. For the party without privileges (ROS), not a single candidate was registered. The number of registered self-nominated candidates was very low compared to the number of rejected candidates (see Table 4).
Table 4. Nomination and registration of candidates in single-mandate districts
|Party||Disposal phase||Initiator of the disposal|
|“A Just Russia - For Truth”||5||0||0||1||2||4||0|
|Party of Growth||10||0||3||1||0||1||13|
|“Communists of Russia”||2||0||3||4||0||4||5|
|REP “The Greens”||11||1||4||1||0||14||3|
|Russian Party of Pensioners for Social Justice||66||0||1||0||0||66||1|
|Russian Party of Freedom and Justice||4||1||2||0||1||0||6|
|“Russian All-People's Union”||38||0||- —||- —||0||0||38|
Note: Number of candidates registered and withdrawn after registration as of 17.08.2021.
However, a more detailed comparison shows that the situation has worsened in comparison with 2016. Already at the stage of nomination, there were fewer candidates: in 2016, there were 2,438, now there are 2,296 (this refers to the number of candidates who notified the DEC about their nomination). The number of registered candidates also decreased, from 2,091 to 2,072 (including those who subsequently withdrew). This is despite the fact that in 2016, 13 parties participated in the elections in single-mandate districts, and now 14 are participating. While the parliamentary parties, as five years ago, nominated candidates in all or almost all constituencies, the remaining parties have reduced the number of candidates: “Communists of Russia” from 224 to 144, “Yabloko” from 171 to 158, “Rodina” from 171 to 138, Party of Growth from 157 to 98, “The Greens” from 138 to 93, and “Civic Platform” from 68 to 62.
The number of denials of registration formally decreased: in 2016, there were 244; now there are 181. However, in 2016, only 15 party candidates with a privilege received refusals; the rest were 43 party candidates without a privilege and 186 self-nominated candidates. This time, there were fewer self-nominated candidates and party candidates with no exemption, so the former had 134 rejections and the latter 22. On the other hand, the number of rejections of candidates from parties with privileges increased to 25, apparently due to the new restrictions on passive suffrage.
As Golos has previously pointed out, about 9 million people in Russia are currently disenfranchised. Among them there are well-known politicians. Between May 2020 and the start of the election cycle in 2021, the following people were disenfranchised: Andrei Borovikov, former coordinator of Navalny's headquarters** in the Arkhangelsk region; Yulia Galyamina, a Moscow municipal legislator and organizer of the Land Congress; former Vologda City Council deputy Evgeny Domozhirov; Nikolai Platoshkin, leader of the movement For New Socialism; the communist Yuri Yukhnevich from the Tyumen region; and the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia's Anton Mirbaldaev from the Mari El party. At least four of them could have become candidates for the Duma. After the start of the campaign, a court ruling on the organizations of Alexei Navalny's supporters came into force, which deprived several dozen more people of their right to be elected.
There were 75 more politically active citizens on the Golos list at that time, who were at risk of being disenfranchised. Some of these people, assessing their personal risks, refused to nominate themselves. For example, Dmitri Gudkov, who was searched and forced to flee the country on June 1, 2021, did not put forward his candidacy. Yevgeny Roizman from Yekaterinburg, Novosibirsk deputy Sergei Boiko, and Aleksei Vorsin from Khabarovsk, who is under house arrest, also declined to run for the Duma. Ilya Yashin reduced his ambitions to the level of a by-election for the Moscow City Duma (in the end, Yashin was not even allowed to open an electoral account because of "extremism"). The list of those who refused to run for office because of the threat of persecution could probably go on.
At the same time, some candidates were able to be nominated (both in single-mandate districts and by lists) despite active opposition from the law-enforcement agencies. Examples include Ketevan Kharaidze in Moscow ("Green Alternative"), Mikhail Matveev in the Samara region (KPRF), Nikolai Bondarenko in the Saratov region (KPRF), Andrei Pivovarov in the Krasnodar region ("Yabloko"), and Vladimir Kalinin in the Rostov region ("Yabloko") (see Appendix, cards 1 - 5). Some of these candidates were in pre-trial detention facilities at the time of nomination (or are in detention now), while others had criminal proceedings initiated or were under threat of being criminally investigated. At the same time, former prominent Krasnoyarsk politician and businessman Anatoly Bykov, who has been in pre-trial detention since May 2020, could not take part in the elections—the investigation refused to allow him to see a notary and he could not submit documents to the election commission.
Some candidates withdrew their candidacy already after registration. For example, deputy of the Krasnoyarsk Regional Legislative Assembly Alexander Gliskov (LDPR) actively campaigned, but on August 12 requested to have his his candidacy withdrawn from electoral district #55. He explained this decision by stating that Krasnoyarsk voters urged him to stay in the region and continue his work as a deputy of the Legislative Assembly of the Krasnoyarsk Region. On August 16, Dmitry Ionin (Sverdlovsk Oblast), a strong candidate from “A Just Russia - For Truth”, who was considered to be the main rival of “United Russia’s” Sergey Chepikov, dropped out of the election.
Another group of well-known politicians were not nominated by political parties. It is likely that some of them simply could not reach agreements with the parties, but some of them claimed the parties had experienced pressure not to nominate them. The most high-profile story was the refusal of the political committee of “Yabloko” to approve the list of candidates proposed by the federal bureau. As a result, Sergei Vlasov, Igor Drandin, Vadim Korovin, Aleksei Menyailo, Oleg Stepanov, and Denis Shenderovich were crossed off the list. Igor Drandin wrote on his Facebook account on July 4: "About a month ago I received information from two sources independent of each other, that the presidential administration had sent out an instruction to all parties to ban nominations of those who had participated in rallies in support of Alexei Navalny. I have never been deceived by these sources before".
Ivan Bolshakov, deputy chairman of “Yabloko”, did not deny that the party refused to nominate these candidates because of the risks associated with them: "Stepanov's nomination endangers the entire “Yabloko” list. Removing the “Yabloko” list is 'draining' the election in favor of “United Russia”, because then there will be no party in this election which demands the release of political prisoners and the repeal of repressive laws," he said. Later, “Yabloko's” informal leader Grigory Yavlinsky was forced to further disassociate himself from Alexei Navalny's supporters, urging them NOT to vote for his party. This statement by Yavlinsky was even put on paid promotion on his social network accounts.
Pressure on “Rodina” was reported by Albert Rakhmatullin of Bashkortostan. The media reported pressure on KPRF over the nomination of Vitaly Petrov, an associate of Valery Rashkin, in the Moscow constituency 203. Valery Solovyov was not nominated in the Kostroma region by Party of Growth.
Thus, both the willingness and the ability of potential candidates to put forward their candidacies has decreased. The main reason for this, we believe, are the significantly increased risks for the opposition, which already faces not only threats but also direct criminal proceedings and arrests.
A number of other candidates were eventually disqualified for various reasons. For example, a number of strong candidates were denied registration: Oleg Stepanov, former head of Navalny's headquarters** in Moscow (he was simply not allowed to open an electoral account); independent Moscow politician Roman Yuneman; the son of former governor of the Khabarovsk Region, Anton Furgal; and others.
As in recent years, both the attempts to obstruct the campaign to collect signatures in support of the nomination of candidates, and the procedure for the verification of collected signatures, have raised big questions. Thus, one of the strongest self-nominated candidates, Roman Yuneman, who had already proved his ability to effectively overcome the signature filter, faced opposition from law enforcement agencies throughout the campaign. Police detained his collectors, "anti-terrorist security" checks were conducted at his headquarters at the height of the signature collection campaign, and the Public Council under the Department of Internal Affairs of Southwestern Administrative District distributed leaflets in his district stating that malefactors could be acting as signature collectors. Other candidates also reported police obstruction.
As a result, Roman Yuneman was denied registration. The commission considered all 14,906 signatures invalid because the signature list did not correspond to the established form. In addition, 10.78% of the signatures were "rejected". At the same time, Dmitry Reut, Deputy Chairman of the Moscow City Election Commission, was present and influential at the DEC meeting, although the MSEC is not the organizing commission for this election and the DEC was supposed to act independently.
The candidate appealed this decision in court. First, he insisted that the form of signature sheets indeed complies with the law (we note that other candidates also pointed to problems with the form of the signature sheet). Second, he pointed to numerous errors of data entry by the commission "(f.e. Игоревич — Игорьевич)". Thirdly, he referred to errors in the database of the Ministry of Internal Affairs itself (and has confirmed this with notarized copies of passports of voters, as well as video and audio recordings).
A similar situation occurred in the Kostroma region with candidate Mikhail Dolmatov. The verification of the signatures he handed in lasted only one day, according to the candidate. In one of the signature lists, which contained five signatures, the commission declared seven signatures to be invalid. Voters came to the regional election commission to support Dolmatov and confirm their signatures, but were not allowed to attend the commission meeting.
As a result, the number and proportion of registered self-nominated candidates decreased even in comparison with 2016, although these figures had already set an anti-record at that time. In 2016, only 23 self-nominated candidates passed the registration stage, amounting to 7.7% of the number of nominees. Now there are even fewer self-nominated candidates—11—and making up only 6.3% of the total number of nominees.
It is noteworthy that the majority (6 out of 11) of the registered self-nominated candidates belong to what many media and experts refer to as "administrative" candidates. Among them are Oleg Leonov (electoral district No. 208), Dmitry Pevtsov (electoral district No. 200), Anatoly Vasserman (electoral district No. 205), Vladislav Reznik nominated in Adygea (electoral district No. 1), Leonid Babashov from Crimea (electoral district No. 21), and Vladimir Kozhanov from Mari El (electoral district No. 22). In all these constituencies, “United Russia” either did not nominate its candidates at all, or put forward deliberately weak representatives.
In three other cases, the registration of self-nominated candidates benefited "administrative" candidates, as it divided protest voters. Otherwise, candidates from opposition parties would have a better chance of winning in these districts. This is particularly evident in constituency 40 in the Altai territory, where Vladimir Popov, a deputy of the territorial legislature who had earlier been expelled from KPRF, was registered. The incumbent deputy Viktor Zobnev was not nominated to the State Duma in this constituency. In his place, “United Russia”
is represented by a fairly weak candidate, deputy of the Barnaul City Duma Sergey Struchenko, who needs to defeat not only the first secretary of the regional committee of KPRF Maria Prusakova in a very competitive district, but also strong regional deputies Vladislav Vakaev (“New People”), Irina Shudra (LDPR), Lyudmila Suslova (SRPZP), and former deputy of the Barnaul City Duma from “United Russia”, businessman Evgeny Astakhovsky (“Rodina”).
It should be noted that in this case KPRF accused state and local authorities, in particular the administrations of Volchikhinsky, Pavlovsky, Pospelekhinsky, and Yegoryevsky districts of Altai Krai, the Emergency Ministry department of Pavlovsky district, and the Rubtsovsky branch of Altaivagon JSC, of helping to collect signatures in support of the single-seat candidate Vladimir Popov. According to KPRF, signatures were collected through these same structures in support of the nomination of “Communists of Russia” in the regional elections. A statement to this effect has been submitted to the Altai Krai Prosecutor's Office. It should also be noted that Veronika Lapina, deputy of the Altai Krai Legislative Assembly (KPRF), published a video on her Telegram channel which shows campaign materials in support of Popov lying in the premises which, judging by the signboard, are the offices of “United Russia”.
Two other self-nominated candidates, Anastasia Bryukhanova and Aleksei Melnikov, were registered in Moscow's constituency 198, where they will compete not only with Galina Khovanskaya, traditionally supported by the authorities (“United Russia” has not put up its candidate), but also share the protest electorate with Marina Litvinovich, nominated by “Yabloko”.
In addition, self-nominated candidate Yevgeny Cheltygmashev (constituency 35), a member of the regional parliament from “United Russia”, received registration in Khakasia, which will oppose the “United Russia”-nominated former speaker of the Irkutsk legislature Sergei Sokol and regional communist deputy Valery Starostin.
In Samara Oblast (district 160), Aleksandra Kuzminykh, a pensioner with a secondary technical education from Kurumoch village, who had also participated in the previous State Duma elections, was registered as a self-nominated candidate. According to the Electoral Commission, as of August 13, she had spent 5 rubles 40 kopecks from her election fund—which was enough to collect about 15 thousand electoral signatures.
According to part 9 of Article 21 of the Federal Law "On Basic Guarantees of Electoral Rights and the Right to Participate in the Referendum of the Citizens of the Russian Federation", the CEC of Russia exercises control over the observance of citizens' electoral rights. For this purpose, it is vested with a number of powers, including the resolution of electoral disputes. The Commission is obliged to be impartial with respect to the candidates and to adhere to the principle of equality of their rights.
In practice, however, a fundamentally different approach is recorded. This is especially noticeable when candidates are denied registration due to their possession of foreign financial instruments.
On 24 July, the Russian CEC expelled Pavel Grudinin from the KPRF federal list. The decision was taken on the basis of information received from the Prosecutor General's Office that Grudinin had foreign financial instruments or accounts in foreign banks. The candidate and his nominating party pointed out that the information referred to by the Prosecutor General's Office had not been properly certified, while Grudinin was in possession of documents confirming that he had disposed of these assets when he was nominated. CEC Chairwoman Ella Pamfilova said that the Commission's decision is based on the General Prosecutor's Office data, and it has no right to "conduct investigations and make assessments”. At the same time, at the CEC meeting, a lawyer of the candidate's ex-wife was given the floor without any grounds, to confirm the data of the General Prosecutor's Office.
In late July, the CEC similarly denied registration to Dmitry Bulykin, a candidate of the “Rodina” party. On 16 August, Bulykin was reinstated by decision of the Supreme Court. Ella Pamfilova commented on the restoration of the candidate's rights as follows: "We are interested in having candidates registered... The CEC, in taking a decision, is obliged to base its decisions on the conclusions of the relevant agency, officially presented at the CEC's request. And we only welcome the Court's decisions to reinstate this or that candidate taking into account the additionally revealed circumstances".
In both of these cases, the CEC of Russia demonstrated a unified but unprofessional approach: in case of doubt, the election commission, forgetting the function of protecting the electoral rights of citizens, deprives them of these rights, pushing them to appeal to the court, while understanding that even if a candidate is restored, part of his or her short campaign period is lost.
The CEC often seems to evade the task assigned to it by the legislator to make decisions on the admission of candidates to elections, shifting the responsibility either to the state authorities or the courts. This has another effect: in the dispute between the state bodies and candidates, the Commission a priori takes the side of the state bodies, although the very creation of an independent body for elections should be aimed at limiting the ability of the executive authorities to influence the outcome of the elections in their own interest.
Unfortunately, the virus of this approach has spread to lower-level commissions. Thus, the chairman of the Chelyabinsk Oblast Election Commission Sergei Obertas does not consider it to be a big problem that mass court decisions have cancelled the refusals to register candidates for deputies. "Pamfilova said that the commission acts strictly in accordance with the law. If someone is denied registration, the CEC recommends to appeal to the courts, as the courts have more authority. We proposed candidates to apply to the courts in the same way," Obertas noted.
The commissions bear no responsibility for the actual obstruction of citizens in the exercise of their electoral rights. Another striking example is the denial of registration to the candidate of the Party of Growth Sergey Kapchuk, who was removed from the elections on the party lists by the CEC of Russia, and in the single-mandate district by the relevant DEC, on the grounds that he was convicted in 2019 for "Fraud". The commissions did not take into account that the case had been revised and its category changed from grave to medium gravity. The candidate had to be reinstated in the party list through the Supreme Court (the decision was made on 12 August), and in the single-mandate district through the Seventh Court of Cassation (the decision was made only on 20 August). As a result, Siarhei Kapchuk lost 10 days of the election campaign.
We should once again note the viciousness of the provision on depriving citizens of the right to be elected in connection with their having foreign bank accounts or financial instruments at the time of entering the pre-election race. The necessity of introducing this norm was once justified by the importance of protecting the sovereignty of the Russian people, but in reality, the very mechanism of checking compliance with these legal requirements opened up almost unlimited opportunities for foreign interference in Russian elections: authorized Russian bodies lack the necessary tools for independent control of compliance with this law and are forced to rely on official responses of foreign powers. This means that Russian citizens can be denied their electoral rights as a result of an intentional or unintentional error on the part of the responding foreign authority.
Another vicious practice worth noting is the neglect by election commissions of their own regulations and legal provisions. Such practice includes publishing documents after the deadline or refusing to publish them at all, amending them retroactively, not informing members of commissions about meetings, and refusing members of commissions to familiarize themselves with election documentation or delaying this process. This practice has become systematic in a number of election commissions.
For procedural violations of this level, any of the candidates would simply lose the opportunity to be registered. For example, on 12 August, the Irkutsk Oblast Election Commission did not satisfy the complaint of Vitaly Shuba, who demanded that he take voter signatures for registration for the State Duma elections. Previously, the Bratsk City Election Commission had refused to register the self-nominated candidate for election to constituency 96. The reasons given was that Vitaly Shuba allegedly brought sheets with 14 thousand signatures in his support with a delay of two minutes (18:02).
The "Golos" movement has already noted in one of its previous reports that the repressive norms adopted over the past year and a half have been actively used to limit the participation in elections of incumbent opposition politicians in the interests of the authorities. We wrote that the wording of the grounds for deprivation of passive suffrage is so broad that it will become a tool for its arbitrary and opportunistic use. Moreover, in this matter, the role of election commissions, responsible for the registration of candidates, is reduced again to the old-format "personnel department", which does not make decisions independently, but simply puts the already sent resolutions into separate folders of "personal files". The real decision-making actors in the registration of this or that candidate are the law enforcement agencies, which have actually taken over the function of primary filtration of candidates undesirable to the incumbent authorities.
This results in absurd grounds for refusal, the most striking example of which is the refusal to register Lev Shlossberg of “Yabloko” as an election candidate: involvement in the activities of the FBK** was imputed to a person who not only had no relation to the organization, but also harshly criticized it and its founder Alexei Navalny (see Appendix, Card No. 22). However, the other refusals do not look any more justified (we the unlawful and unconstitutional nature of this law itself).
An illustrative case occurred in Nizhniy Novgorod Oblast, where the regional election commission voted unanimously to deny the registration of Natalia Rezontova as a candidate in the 129th electoral district of the State Duma. The commission's decision was based on the answers to her inquiry sent from the Ministry of Justice and the regional Ministry of Internal Affairs. The institutions stated that they had conducted checks, on the basis of which they considered that Rezontova was related to extremist organizations and couldn't use the passive suffrage. At the same time, the relevant bodies did not cite a single fact proving the candidate's connection with banned organizations (this is roughly the way the commissions act: not treating critically the expertise of handwriting experts and the data of the Ministry of Internal Affairs when checking signatures).
The majority of such withdrawals of candidates from elections at the federal level occur after court decisions. (At regional and local elections, the frequency of denials of registration by election commissions themselves on the basis of insubstantial references from law-enforcement agencies is higher). However, it is noteworthy that many court decisions recognizing a person to be "involved" in the activities of banned organizations (and relevant appeals to courts) arise precisely as a reaction to the nomination of an election candidate and are blatantly used precisely to restrict competition (see, for example, Appendix, Cards No. 24-26). At the same time, the grounds for establishing a person's involvement in the activities of organizations banned in Russia appear to be blatantly far-fetched: participation in a rally against repression, demands to release politician Alexei Navalny, expressions of support for FBK** or other political structures on social networks, and so on. Virtually any public positive statement by citizens about Alexei Navalny or his supporters becomes taboo and can lead to a loss of voting rights.