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ReportCandidate AdmissionRussian Federation04 September 2023, 08:28
Collage: Ksenia Telmanova

Introduction

The elections of the heads of regions in Russia in 2023 is a combination of the real and the virtual - as if you are wearing augmented reality glasses, in which beautiful buildings are drawn onto ruins of a destroyed city. In many regions where elections are held, at first glance, it might seem like there will be pluralistic lections with real competition, but in the end, when it comes down to it, it becomes obvious that there is no competition and that the elections are rigged. The party system does not perform the function of representation in these elections, election commissions play along with specific candidates, while real candidates are eliminated and not allowed to participate in the elections. 

The illusory nature of the unanimous support of the party in power by the population is clearly visible in the elections in Khakassia - the only competitive election campaign for the election of the head of the region in many years. In the absence of a monopoly on administrative resources the outcome of the campaign becomes unpredictable, and the elections are filled with real content. 

Key Findings

  1. In the registration stage, about 24.2 percent of candidates were disqualified, which is slightly more than the previous year. On average, there were 4.5 candidates per region after registration. This is a very low number, and it shows that gubernatorial election competition is tightly controlled. Allowing more eligible candidates would offer a wider range of choices for voters.
  2. The party system is not able to satisfy the demand of voters for the representation of their interests. After candidate registration, only 12 out of the 27 parties registered by the Russian Ministry of Justice will take part in the elections of heads of Regions. Out of these parties, six will participate in only one or two election campaigns, two will be in five to eight campaigns, and just four parties will have candidates in over half of the gubernatorial election regions. A significant part of these candidates are coordinated with the "party of power" and will not be able to compete seriously. 
  3. This year, the ability to nominate oneself for elections has been greatly restricted. While it's occasionally allowed, there are very limited chances of actually being registered as a candidate. None of the ten individuals who tried to nominate themselves were successful. In essence, citizens have very limited opportunities to exercise their right to participate in elections.
  4. This year, both the CPRF and Just Russia - For Truth parties had one of their candidates disqualified during the registration process. For the CPRF, this happened in Altai Krai, where their candidate had a good chance of winning. "United Russia" and the Liberal Democratic Party, as expected, passed this stage without losses. 
  5. "The New People," in their second year as a party with representation in the federal parlimentn continue to pay minimal attention to gubernatorial elections. Last year, they participated in only three election campaigns, registering two candidates. This year, they presented six candidates and managed to register five.
  6.  In this situation, it's worth mentioning that the "Communists of Russia" party, often seen as a spoiler party, managed to get registered. They put forward nine candidates, and eight of them cleared the "municipal filter" hurdle. This suggests that "Communists of Russia" is becoming a key instrument for the authorities to counter the CPRF, which is considered the strongest opposition in the election by the party of power.
  7. The collection of signatures  municipal heads and deputies, to be registerd as a candidates, in the vast majority of cases, remains a bureaucratic formality involving active participation by state and local authorities, contrary to the law. At the stage of overcoming the “municipal filter”, evidence of a collusion of political actors was revealed, the condition of which is the refusal of the opposition from a real struggle for power. Some candidates have been outspoken about it, thanking the administration and their opponents for helping them overcome it. 
  8. Candidates who are not coordinated by the authorities are subjected to artificial, often illegal obstacles. One of the traditional and widespread forms of obstruction in overcoming the "municipal filter" is the excessive collection of signatures of representatives of local self-government by "administrative" candidates. As a result, scandals regularly arise with accusations that a current governor has collected almost all the signatures (and by law, a deputy or head of a municipality can support only one candidate).
  9. What's troubling is that election commissions, including the Central Election Commission (CEC), are directly involved in creating conditions that can distort fair competition.
  10. Despite theeverything mentioned above , there is notably a very competitive campaign in at least one region, Khakassia. However, the federal government has unjustly intervened in this region twice. The openness and high degree of emotional charge of this interference may indicate a fear of losing the candidate for governor supported by the Kremlin. The refusal to register a candidate from the Communist Party of the Russian Federation in the Altai Territory, bears witness to the same fear.

1. Summarized Data of Candidate Registration Results

In the 21 regions where gubernatorial elections took place, a total of 124 candidates were nominated. The dropout rate during the registration process was 24.2 percent, which is a bit higher than the previous year. However, this number doesn't provide a complete picture because more experienced politicians usually avoid running unless they're confident they'll be registered. In the vast majority of regions, none of the candidates is able to overcome the "municipal filter". There are exceptions, but they are quite rare. This year, Khakassia was such an exception, but there the current head of the region comes from the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, who really managed to enlist the support of the required number of representatives of local elites in five years. 

 This year, almost all  the candidates who withdrew from the elections  did not even hand in their registration documents to the election authority, since they they  failed in collecting the required signatures. s. Two exceptions to this were Boris Nadezhdin from the Civic Initiative party in Moscow Region and Grigory Yeremeev from the DPR in Samara Region. They did not collect the required number of signatures, , but they chose to continue the election path any way, to draw attention to the restrictions imposed by the "municipal filter."

On average, each region had 4.5 candidates remaining in the electoral race after registration. This is about the same level as in recent years. This number is comparable to previous years.Only one region, Altai Krai, had six candidates registered this year. This repeated pattern from year to year is indicative of the managed nature of competition in gubernatorial elections.

All five parliamentary parties are represented only in Samara Oblast and Moscow, while the old "parliamentary four" are also represented in Krasnoyarsk Krai, Voronezh, Ivanovo, Kemerovo, Magadan, Moscow, Novosibirsk, Samara, Tyumen Oblasts and Chukotka Autonomous Okrug.

In total eighteen parties have nominated candidates, and of them 12 managed to get candidates registered. Six of those parties will join the race in just one or two regions, two in five to eight regions, and only four parties have candidates in more than half of the governor elections.. A significant part of these candidates are coordinated with the "party of power", they will not be able to compete seriously.

This year, none of the 10 candidates who nominated themselves were approved, which is the first time this has happened since at least 2018. None of the 10 self-nominated candidates was registered. This is the first time this has happened since at least 2018. Over the previous five years, at least one or two self-nominated candidates successfully passed the registration stage, as a rule, “administrative” candidates, who thus distanced themselves from the “party of power”. Thus, the institution of self-nomination this year was in practice abolished. 

 The CPRF lost one of its 20 candidates, Maria Prusakova in Altai Krai. In Amur Oblast, another CPRF candidate named Boris Beloborodov faced the possibility of not being registered, but he was eventually approved.

"Just Russia - For Truth" had one of its 15 candidates disqualified during the registration stage.

The party "New People" nominated six candidates, and lost one of them. Denis Terekhov couldn't get through the "municipal filter" in Krasnoyarsk Krai and publicly accused Vice-Governor Sergei Ponomarenko of this outcome. In its second year as a "parliamentary party," "New People" still seems to have limited enthusiasm for participating in gubernatorial elections.

The spoiler party "Communists of Russia" managed to successfully register eight out of the nine candidates they nominated. However, in Khakassia, a loud scandal broke out when the regional election commission refused to register a "Communists of Russia" candidate, with the CPRF claiming that he was still a member of their party. However, the federal Centre's desire to draw votes away from an unwanted Communist governor was so great that he was registered with the Russian Central Election Commission, which has no authority at all to register candidates in these elections.

Thus, if we do not count the dwarf parties, which put up only one candidate each, three parliamentary parties, plus the spoiler party "Communists of Russia", lost one representative each. "Communists of Russia" is becoming one of the main tools in the fight against the CPRF, which the "party of power" considers the most dangerous opposition. The level of favour created for the "Communists of Russia" is particularly visible in contrast to other second-tier parties, whose dropout rates ranged from 50% to 83%.

Rodina lost five of its six candidates: in Yakutia, Khakassia, Krasnoyarsk Krai, Pskov and Smolensk oblasts. Only Voronezh oblast registered a candidate from the party. The Party of Pensioners, which has shown good results in regional elections in recent years, failed to register its candidates in three of the five regions: in Altai Krai and Nizhny Novgorod Oblast, but lost its nomination status in Yakutia, Primorsky Krai and Smolensk Oblast. "The Greens will not be able to participate in Yakutia and Altai Krai, but successfully passed the "municipal filter" in Krasnoyarsk Krai and Orel Oblast. All other parties were able to register only one candidate each: the Rosta Party in Pskov Oblast, Civil Force in Nizhny Novgorod Oblast, and the Cossack Party in Primorsky Krai.

2. Overview of How Gubernatorial Elections Are Distorted in Competition and How Candidate Rights Are Violated

2.1 Challenges in Getting Past the "Municipal Filter”

In most regions of the gubernatorial elections, the stage of registration of candidates for the heads of regions did not attract much attention. As Golos's long-term observers in the regions note, the media mostly limited themselves to protocol reports that one or another candidate overcame the "municipal filter" or could not do it. The candidates themselves, in most cases, also did not try to inform their voters in detail about this crucial procedure, which could give many the impression that the “municipal filter” does not pose a serious problem.

The real reason for such a lull was the fact that the nominated candidates had been previously agreed with the curators of the elections from the administrative bodies. Almost everywhere the political parties needed the support of the local authorities and the approval of the party of power in order to  overcome the "municipal filter". As a result, the parties put forward not the strongest candidates, who later overcame the “municipal filter” without any problems.

In certain cases, candidates and parties openly admitted to such "collusion." For instance, LDPR candidate Alexander Gliskov in Krasnoyarsk Krai faced issues with collecting signatures but ultimately managed to gather the required number of signatures. He publicly expressed gratitude to Governor Mikhail Kotyukov for providing notary help and logistical support.

It is clear that the collection of signature is not something the candidates do themselves. It is organized by the local authorities. There has been direct admittance of this collusion, and there are also other facts, such as all the candidates submitting their signatures on the same day in number of regions and parties not even trying nominating their most popular local representative that could have stood a real chance. This means that the nomination process is totally under control of the executive organs and the Party of power, and that no real opposition candidate are allowed. 


2.2 Challenges Faced by Candidates in Passing the "Municipal Filter" Due to Administrative and Election Commission Obstacles

One of the traditional and widespread forms of obstruction in overcoming the municipal filter is the excessive collection of signatures  by administrative candidates.Despite the direct prohibition of such technologies by the Constitutional Court, candidates and the public actually have no possibility to control them. As a result, there are regular scandals with accusations that one of the incumbent governors collected almost all the signatures (and according to the law, a deputy or head of a municipality can support only one candidate).

Such a scandal came to light this year when Boris Nadezhdin, a candidate running for governor of the Moscow Region, filed a lawsuit, and he plans to take it to the Constitutional Court of Russia. In his lawsuit, he revealed that after reaching out to 467 deputies from 55 urban districts in the Moscow region, he found out that most of them had already signed for other candidates, mainly for Andrei Vorobyov, who was the current governor. Nadezhdin also got written responses from local leaders confirming that all members of the United Russia faction had endorsed Andrei Vorobyov, leaving no deputies unaccounted for. However, only 94 signatures were officially submitted in favor of Andrei Vorobyov, even though signatures from hundreds of deputies were collected and notarized.

In some regions, more familiar bureaucratic techniques - direct bans and threats of dismissal - were also used. For example, according to the CPRF, such threats were received by deputies in the Novosibirsk region: the administration of the Michurinsk Village Council in the Novosibirsk district allegedly threatened local CPRF deputies with dismissal from their jobs if they signed in favour of CPRF gubernatorial candidate Roman Yakovlev. 

The signature collection process was most vivid in Altai Krai, where the country's highest municipal filter of 502 signatures could not be overcome by the governor's strongest opponent, State Duma deputy Maria Prusakova (CPRF). Yury Afonin, first deputy chairman of the CPRF Central Committee and State Duma deputy, said that the authorities were creating obstacles to her overcoming the "municipal filter". At the beginning of the campaign, the Altai Territory Election Commission unexpectedly issued recommendations for notaries, according to which deputies and heads of local self-government had to present a certificate that they had actually been elected deputies or heads of local self-government. However, federal legislation does not require such certificates: a notary only certifies that the signature really belongs to a person, and the Kray Election Commission can check whether he or she has a mandate. After an appeal to the court, the recommendations were withdrawn.

In addition, the CPRF candidate claimed that in some municipalities deputies were subject to pressure from their superiors. For example, the head of the department for interaction with LSG bodies and organisational work of the administration of Pervomaisky district, Irina Point, allegedly demanded that the heads of village administrations provide information on which of the municipal deputies had signed in favour of the CPRF candidate for governor of Altai Krai, Maria Prusakova. As a result, Maria Prusakova failed to collect 502 signatures. Her nomination was supported by 346 deputies and heads.The most disturbing in this case is the direct involvement of the election commission organising the elections in creating additional, non-statutory obstacles to the collection of signatures necessary to overcome the "municipal filter".


2.3 Specifics of the Election Campaign in Khakassia and the Federal Centre's interference in it 

The election campaign for the election of the head of Khakassia in 2023 deserves a separate breakdown.

On the one hand, this is so far the only campaign for the election of regional heads that creates a sense of competition: the two main opponents are registered and actively fighting each other, and it is very difficult to predict the result a month before election day. On the other hand, even in this campaign, which could have been an exemplary one for the first time in many years, the federal authorities could not resist interfering in it. It is especially sad that the Central Election Commission was also involved.

Both main candidates, Valentin Konovalov from the CPRF and Sergei Sokol from United Russia, were able to overcome the "municipal filter" without apparent problems. The incumbent Communist governor, however, needed only two "third-party" signatures at the first level of municipal government, but benefited from the support of seven deputies from United Russia, four from Just Russia, one from the New People party, and five self-nominated candidates. Thus, he collected 17 of the 28 signatures outside his party. In this case, it is a demonstration of the existence of broad support among the elites, as 13 deputies and heads from the CPRF of the first level of LSG remained unopposed by the incumbent governor.

Two other candidates in Khakassia, Vladimir Grudinin from the Communists of Russia and Mikhail Molchanov from the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) clearly received the signatures of United Russia as part of the arrangements.

Olga Shirkovets, candidate of the Just Russia party, and Aleksei Khabarov, candidate of the Rodina party, failed to pass the municipal filter. According to Olga Shirkovets, she managed to collect only 40 signatures from municipal deputies, while the others she approached refused on the grounds that they had already supported another candidate. Aleksei Khabarov said in his interview that according to preliminary estimates he could get 50 signatures, but it is not known how many were obtained in the end.

A big scandal broke out around the registration of Vladimir Grudinin from the Communists of Russia. On 10 July, the Khakassia branch of the CPRF party appealed to the regional election commission about the nomination and registration of Vladimir Grudinin, who long before the events had made a statement about leaving the CPRF and was now nominated by the Communists of Russia party. The CPRF claims that Grudinin is still de jure a member of their party. 

On July 15, in a meeting of the Election Commission's working group in Khakassia to check Vladimir Grudinin's candidacy documents, which included his resignation from the CPRF, Grudinin provided a resignation statement from the CPRF. However, during the review, it was found that the handwriting in Grudinin's application to join the CPRF was different from the handwriting in his application to leave the party. A handwriting expert examination confirmed that the writing in both applications was done by different people.

Figure 1: Handwriting experts’ analysis of Vladimir Grudinin’s signatures

It's not unusual for candidates to be denied registration if they have unsettled relations with a previous political party. Normally, a candidate needs to submit a formal withdrawal statement from the party, with a receipt stamp showing the date. In Grudinin's case, he didn't provide such a document, which raised reasonable doubts about whether he had actually left the CPRF.

On Jult 19th, a working group of the election commission held a meeting regarding the registration of Grudinin. No substantive decision was made.

The next logical step would have been to go to court, but the story took an unexpected turn. On July 25th, a working group of the Russian Central Election Commission gathered to discuss the involvement of the Khakass Communists of Russia in the elections. This group concluded that the Khakass Election Commission's failure to act on Vladimir Grudinin's registration was against the law. They instructed the regional Election Commission to make a substantial decision on this issue by July 27th.

On 26 July, the RF Central Election Commission held a session,  one of the issues raised was the complaint of the Communists of Russia against the inaction of the Election Commission of the Republic of Khakassia. Ella Pamfilova, chair of the commission, put open pressure on the members of the regional commission, which is the formal organiser of both the elections of the head of state and the elections to the Supreme Council of the Republic, threatening to dissolve its membership. In addition, Ella Pamfilova accused the Khakassia government of using administrative resources to block a favourable decision on the registration of the Communists of Russia candidate list. In response, Svetlana Chekunova, a member of the commission with the right of advisory vote, expressed dissatisfaction with Pamfilova's statement: "I believe that this is a political show. What's more, it is a severe pressure on the commission members. What Ella Alexandrovna said, announcing the names to the whole country, is nothing but a public flogging, pressure from a higher commission".

On 27 July at the meeting of the election commission of the Republic of Khakassia the data of another expert examination were presented, also testifying that the statement of Grudinin's consent to run as a member of the list and the statement of withdrawal from the party was signed by different individuals.

Figure 2: A document illustrating findings from the handwriting expert's examination

Finally, towards the end of 27 July, it became known that the registration of Grudinin as a candidate for the position of head of the region had been carried out by the Central Election Commission, i.e. bypassing the decision of the commission organising the election. The CEC justified its right to this decision by the fact that it is a higher commission. 

According to federal legislation, it is the Election Commission of the Republic of Khakassia that organises the election of the head of the region. At the same time, the CEC of Russia has the authority to consider complaints about the actions of regional election commissions in regional elections. The legal uncertainty arises here: whether the CEC of Russia can independently register candidates in regional elections or not.

It should also be noted that the Russian CEC in this case made a decision that contradicts not only federal legislation, but also established practice, and effectively assisted in the registration of an outright spoiler, although it constantly publicly censures the practice of spoiling. On 9 August 2023, Russian CEC chairwoman Ella Pamfilova emotionally resented the nomination of eight namesakes in a small election in the Voronezh region: "Again, like a phoenix already with new feathers, the problem of doppelgangers arises in a new colouring. You and I have made incredible efforts, amendments were adopted to somehow anathematise these dirty political technologies. No, they still find loopholes. This has manifested itself now, I will tell you, in the most heinous way in the Voronezh region". In 2021, she made similar remarks about the high-profile nomination of the namesakes of the famous St Petersburg MP Boris Vishnevsky. However, in the case of Grudinin's highly controversial registration in Khakassia, the anger was directed in the opposite direction.

The federal centre's unlawful interference in regional elections did not end there. On 4 August, it became known that Alexander Kharichev, head of the Department for Ensuring the Activities of the State Council of the Presidential Administration, who is considered the Kremlin's supervisor of all gubernatorial elections, had urgently flown to Khakassia. He made accusations against the regional branch of the CPRF and the current executive authorities in Khakassia about boycotting and obstructing the activities of the republican election commission. He also stated that a crime had been committed: a slanderous attack on United Russia candidate Sergei Sokol. Kharichev's speech was broadcast on the TV channel "Vesti - Khakassia". Such a statement is very unusual for an official who almost never appears in front of the public and is accustomed to resolving issues behind the scenes. It is likely that the situation of the United Russia candidate was so bad that the presidential administration had to take unconventional steps.

Author of the report:

  • Andreychuk S.V., PhD in History, Co-Chair of the "Golos" movement.


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