In 2018, Russia’s regional elections yielded many surprises due to the recent pension reform. This year’s voting is occurring in the same regions as in 2018, therefore also promising surprises. It will be extremely interesting to analyse the results in comparison with the data from five years ago. However, one significant difference between the 2018 elections and the upcoming 2023 elections is already noticeable: there is a clear decline in the willingness of political parties and politicians to participate in it this year. However, despite everything, Yakutia, Yekaterinburg, Novgorod, and some other regions are demonstrating the potential for intrigue.
A separate section of the report is dedicated to elections in the "SVO zone", where extremely negative trends are emerging in terms of the protection of voters’ rights. At times, there is even a feeling that the system of election commissions does not even know what exactly is going on there.
A total of seven parties and one self-nominated candidate were nominated in the four districts for the State Duma by-election. Only four "old parliamentary parties" — United Russia, CPRF, LDPR and Just Russia — For Truth — are participating. Yabloko and the Communists of Russia nominated candidates in two districts. Rodina party nominated one candidate, and in one of the districts a self-nominated candidate standing as a candidate. A total of 22 candidates were nominated, almost half as many as in 2021 in the same districts. Most notably, the New People party ignored the State Duma by-elections, although in 2021 the party nominated candidates in all four districts. The party obviously does not have strong candidates in these regions, and in 2021 it participated in the elections exclusively for additional support of the party brand.
"Old acquaintances" meet in two districts. In the Karachay-Cherkessky District, three of the five candidates ran in the 2021 elections. In the Lipetsk district, one of the candidates ran in the 2021 election. The remaining candidates did not participate in the 2021 single-mandate district elections.
Thus, there is a significant decrease in the willingness of political parties to participate in the Duma by-elections compared to the main elections in 2021.
2.1 Results of nomination and registration of party lists
For convenience of comparison, this section considers elections only in 16 regions. In them, similar campaigns were held in 2018. The main elections of deputies to regional parliaments are held in Bashkortostan, Buryatia, Kalmykia, Sakha (Yakutia), Khakassia, Transbaikal Territory, Arkhangelsk, Vladimir, Ivanovo, Irkutsk, Kemerovo, Rostov, Smolensk, Ulyanovsk and Yaroslavl regions, as well as the Nenets Autonomous District.
The formation of party lists has sometimes been subject to major scandals. The most notable case was the political crisis in the regional branch of A Just Russia — For Truth in Zabaikalsky Krai, which almost prevented the party from nominating a list for the regional elections. On 29 June, during the election campaign, the Presidium of the central council terminated the activities of the party’s regional branch and suspended the powers of the branch chairman, Nikolai Seleznev, and all members of the council of the regional branch. All 1,300 members were expelled from the party, after which 40 new members were admitted — who nominated candidates for deputies to the Krai’s legislative assembly. Alexander Mikhailov, one of the founders of the regional branch, suspected United Russia’s interest in the incident. In his opinion, the party has gained ratings over the past year thanks to the help of State Duma deputy Yury Grigoryev.
In the last election, the party branch performed above the Russian average, but behind the CPRF and LDPR, each of which really competed with United Russia, which got 28.3% of the vote (LDPR and CPRF — 24.6% each). "Esers" also got a result above the national average — almost 9%. The United Russia failed to take a majority in parliament even with the help of single-mandate constituencies, losing 11 out of 24.
An extremely interesting campaign for the election of regional deputies is unfolding in Khakassia. Vladimir Shtygashev, the 83-year-old chairman of the Supreme Soviet of the republic, has suddenly switched to the side of the Communists. He has headed the parliament for 30 years, was a member of United Russia, but left the "party of power" and joined the CPRF list, becoming number two. Also on the list is the well-known MP Oleg Ivanov. Igor Mamontov, who used to head the regional executive committee of United Russia, also joined the CPRF list of candidates. Vladimir Naidenov, mayor of Sorsk in Khakassia, also left United Russia. Only Nikolai Razumov, a deputy of the Supreme Council of Khakassia, switched from the CPRF to United Russia.
The CPRF and United Russia exchanged high-profile party withdrawals in the Irkutsk Region. Viktor Kondrashov, the CPRF candidate, former mayor of Irkutsk, and MP, withdrew from the election. The politician explained the situation by personal disagreements within the regional branch. Surprisingly, just a couple of days later, Oleg Borovsky, mayor of Irkutsk Sayansk, wrote a statement withdrawing his candidacy from the election. Vladimir Poskachin, the head of Verkhnevilyuisky ulus of Yakutia, did not run for the United Russia party. He left the party and went to the elections as a self-nominated candidate.
All these examples refer to regions where competitive campaigns could be expected and where the authorities are not very confident.
A total of 14 political parties out of 25 registered by the Russian Ministry of Justice nominated their lists on a proportional basis in the elections to the legislative assemblies of 16 regions. In more than half of the regions, only seven parties — five "parliamentary" parties, Communists of Russia and Rodina party — nominated their lists. Between one and four lists were nominated by the Party of Pensioners, REP "Greens", RPSS, PARZAS, Civic Platform, Party of Growth and Civic Initiative. Other parties, including one of the oldest — Yabloko — did not nominate a single list to regional assemblies.
On average, 7.1 lists per region were nominated. In 2018, this indicator was 8.7 lists per region. Thus, there was a significant reduction in formal competition already at the nomination stage. In Khakassia, Vladimir, Irkutsk, Rostov and Yaroslavl regions, only one certified list was not registered, and this refers to the weakening of parties that do not have privileges and have to collect voter signatures.
It should be noted that the "parliamentary five" — nominated lists in all 16 election campaigns, but the New People were denied to certify the list in the Nenets Autonomous District.
The second group consisted of the parties "Communists of Russia" and Rodina party.
Communists of Russia nominated lists in 11 out of 16 regions, but were denied registration in Vladimir and Irkutsk regions. In Vladimir region, the party itself withdrew its nomination, while in Irkutsk region the election commission found a high proportion of defective signatures. The election commission randomly selected 1,900 signatures submitted on paper. 307 signatures were recognized as invalid.
Rodina party nominated lists in nine regions, but in the Kemerovo, Smolensk and Ulyanovsk regions the party received refusals to certify the lists. In Ulyanovsk region, the list was denied certification by the regional election commission. In Rostov and Yaroslavl regions, Rodina failed to pass the registration process. As a result, the party’s lists were registered in four regions: Yakutia, Transbaikalia, Arkhangelsk Region and Nenets Autonomous District.
Among the "small parties", the Party of Pensioners (in Khakassia, Vladimir, Smolensk and Yaroslavl oblasts) and the REP "Greens" (in Arkhangelsk, Smolensk oblasts and Nenets Autonomous Okrug) passed the registration stage relatively successfully. Two lists — in Kalmykia and Irkutsk oblast — were registered by the RPSU. Civic Platform (in Irkutsk Oblast) and Party of Growth (in Kalmykia) registered one list each.
The "Party for Justice — PARZAS" and Civic Initiative failed to get their only lists through the registration filter. In Khakassia, 21% of signatures of the PARZAS party in support of nomination were recognized invalid. The leader of the Khakassia branch, Vyacheslav Tutatchikov, admitted that there were deficiencies in the quality of the submitted documents, but drew attention to the fact that the mechanism for collecting signatures through the State Services service did not actually work due to technical reasons (only 34 signatures were collected in this way).
Other candidates also confirmed the problems with collecting signatures through "State Services". This was mentioned by Sergey Morgachev, a deputy of the Ulyanovsk City Duma and self-nominated candidate. Nevertheless, he managed to register. The regional commission says that in recent years, this is the first time that a self-nominated candidate has passed a signature sheet check in the regional parliamentary elections.
The collection of signatures through State Services, an on-line tool that could help to avoid unauthorized actions by "experts of the Ministry of Internal Affairs", remains poorly functioning. The reason for this is not only technical problems, but also the inability to collect 100% of the required signatures, which nullifies its positive value.
Thus, there is a tendency to decrease the level of formal competition. The overall decrease in the dropout rate is due to the growth of the share of lists nominated by the preferential parties. They need to submit only a mandatory package of documents to election commissions. For such parties, the nomination of lists is a bureaucratic procedure that is not related to the voters.
It should be noted that the number of nominated and registered party lists is a formal indicator in itself — not all of them are real candidates for mandates, and some parties openly play the role of spoilers, like the Communists of Russia. Other parties of the "second" and "third echelon" are also guilty of similar technologies. In Voronezh Oblast, eight Vakhtins were nominated for election to the Council of People’s Deputies. In Irkutsk Oblast, the CPRF nominated Alexander Perevalov and the RPSU nominated Sergei Perevalov for the elections in District No. 1.
In single-mandate electoral districts, 16 parties nominated candidates in the elections to the legislative assemblies of 16 regions. In 15 regions (except Kemerovo Oblast), self-nominated candidates also initially filed for election.
In total, in these regions, mandates are being replaced in 436 constituencies. The seriousness of the parties’ intentions can be evidenced by the number of districts in which the parties "closed" the districts, because it is impossible to obtain a majority and establish political control without winning in most districts.
Apart from United Russia, the CPRF, LDPR and Just Russia, the participation of the other parties in the single-mandate constituency elections is very unequal. "New People" initially nominated candidates in all regions but tried to "cover" close to the maximum possible number of districts in only six regions; in another, the party nominated candidates in only two districts.
Communists of Russia nominated candidates in nine regions. But, as noted above, these candidates are often outright spoilers-single names of the real contenders. The Rodina party closed more than half of the districts in two regions, and in the other four nominated no more than 10 candidates each. "Civic Platform" fielded candidates in all 22 districts in Irkutsk Oblast and in only seven of 35 districts in Yakutia. An even but extremely small number of candidates was nominated by the Yabloko party — from one to three in five regions.
Only six regions recorded a substantial number of self-nominated candidates at the start of the elections. After the completion of candidate registration and during the course of the election campaigns, the number of self-nominated candidates decreased from 94 to 21 due to denial of registration or loss of nomination status. At the moment, there are no self-nominated candidates left for the elections in five regions. In general, "self-nominated" candidates are a disappearing category of candidates in regional elections.
United Russia suffered the greatest losses in Rostov Oblast, where its candidates dropped out in three districts. The CPRF — in Bashkortostan, A Just Russia — in Khakassia, Zabaikalsky Krai and Vladimir Oblast (three districts in each region). The LDPR’s losses are insignificant. "New People lost candidates in four out of 18 districts in Vladimir Oblast and three in Smolensk Oblast. In the same Smolensk region, the Communists of Russia lost candidates in five districts. "The Party of Pensioners" lost its only candidate in Bashkortostan, but its losses in the other six regions were insignificant.
The most significant losses were suffered by the Yabloko party, which nominated candidates in majoritarian districts in five regions. At the moment, the party’s candidates continue their electoral struggle only in Smolensk region. At the same time, in Ivanovo region, the party’s candidate Anton Komarov reported about police resistance to signature collection.
The most notable case is that of the Party for Justice! (PARZAS), which nominated candidates in 14 districts in Khakassia and one district in Yaroslavl oblast. Almost all of them then dropped out, losing their status as nominated candidates. Along with it, the Party of Cause and the Party of Social Defense ceased their participation in the elections. The Party of Growth, like Yabloko, continues to participate in regional elections in majoritarian districts in only one region. Unfortunately, the further they go, the more they are pushed into the category of small marginal parties within the existing political system.
On average, 5.6 candidates per district were nominated. By August 28, this had dropped to less than 5.2 candidates.
For example, in Bashkortostan, Rustam Khafizov, a member of the regional parliament, was initially nominated as a CPRF candidate in Chernikovsky single-mandate constituency No. 4. His wife, also incumbent State Assembly deputy Liya Khafizova, was nominated as part of the party list in the same territorial group. On July 14, Khafizov said that "the party is under tremendous pressure" regarding his nomination. Khafizov made it clear that he refused to be nominated by the CPRF and "put his political career on pause." On July 23, Khafizov announced that he was finally withdrawing from the election campaign.
In the Zabaikalsky Krai, seven people were excluded from the lists of the privileged parties (parties that do not need to collect signatures for registration because of their previous electoral results). The most striking case was the exclusion of Marina Savvateyeva from the CPRF list. Savvateyeva is the most recognizable human rights activist in the city — she is a professional lawyer, a veteran of the democratic movement, and a participant in numerous initiatives. In 2019, the court has already twice removed her candidacy from the election.
In the Irkutsk Region, Viktor Kondrashov, a member of the Legislative Assembly and former mayor of Irkutsk, has decided to withdraw his registration. He was registered as a candidate from the Irkutsk regional branch of the CPRF. He said: "Backstage games, non-public negotiations and agreements, reliance on family ties. Unfortunately, this is the practice of the Irkutsk regional committee of the CPRF today [...]. It was probably better to go to the polls by self-nomination, but the time is gone, and I made, in my opinion, the only correct decision."
In this way, as in the situation with party lists, there are cases of pressure on the leadership of regional branches and on candidates in order to prevent those who could seriously compete with weak United Russia candidates, as well as local non-systemic public figures and activists, from participating in the elections.
The presence of foreign financial instruments also remains a ground for denial of registration, and candidates are sometimes unable to get rid of them because of the sanctions imposed.
The highest level of formal competition (6.4) was in the Nenets Autonomous Okrug, with Irkutsk Oblast (6.2) and Ivanovo Oblast (6) slightly behind. And the lowest (4.5) — in Bashkortostan, Buryatia, Zabaikalsky Krai, and Vladimir Oblast. The dropout rate amounted to 7.6%, but this figure was achieved due to the fact that initially the overwhelming majority of candidates represented parties with a "parliamentary privilege", which do not need to collect signatures. And among the parties that do not have the privilege, the Communists of Russia spoilers nominated the majority of single-mandate candidates. Among self-nominated candidates, the dropout rate, on the contrary, increased significantly compared to 2018 — from 65% to 77.7%.
3.1 Results of nomination and registration of party lists
A total of 11 political parties nominated their lists on a proportional basis in the elections to the legislatures of the capitals of 12 regions. Compared to the elections to regional legislatures, the configuration of the parties participating in the elections to city councils is more in line with the times before the last State Duma elections. The parties can also be conditionally divided into three groups: "the Big Duma Four" (United Russia, CPRF, LDPR and Just Russia — Patriots — For Truth). Except for the Socialist Revolutionaries, they nominated lists in all 12 election campaigns. All of these parties passed the nomination stage without problems. The second group included New People, the Party of Pensioners, and the Communists of Russia. They nominated lists in more than half of the cities. The third group — "small parties" (Rodina, Yabloko, REP "Greens", Party of Cause) They nominated lists only in five, three, two and one city respectively. Of the parties that tried to register by signatures, the Party of Pensioners, Communists of Russia, Yabloko, and REP "Greens" did not suffer any losses, nominating one list each in the regions where they have no privileges.
The average level of formal competition is currently 6.75 listings per city — slightly higher than in 2018 (6.25). The dropout rate was only 3.6% compared to 24% five years ago. But the sharp decline in the number of parties willing to participate in the elections is noteworthy — instead of 99 lists in 2018, only 84 were nominated — 15% less.
On the eve of the start of the election campaign, some parties underwent serious reshuffling. Andrei Nikitin, head of the LDPR cell in Tarmany (a district of Tyumen), moved from the LDPR in the Tyumen Region to New People, taking the entire party’s staff with him. Before that, Yevgeny Shulgin, the coordinator of the LDPR cell in Leninsky District, left with his team to join New People. Also in Tyumen, former City Duma deputy Dinar Abukin moved from the CPRF to the Communists of Russia and became the head of the party list.
We should note several high-profile scandals in the elections of deputies of city parliaments outside administrative centers.
Thus, the court removed the CPRF list from the elections to the city council of Svobodny, Amur Region. At first, the election commission registered the list, having "failed" to notice the absence of information about the candidates’ incomes. However, later the LDPR drew attention to the situation, and the court satisfied the corresponding claim. The CPRF list in the city of Kotlas in Arkhangelsk was withdrawn in a similar manner. The election commission allegedly failed to notice any irregularities in the Communists’ documents, after which the Rodina party filed a lawsuit. This scheme, which allows election commissions "not to get their hands dirty" in the withdrawal of parties and candidates, has been common for several years. Election commissions do not notice obvious mistakes and do not allow them to be corrected, and one of the competitors then goes to court with a lawsuit to cancel the registration.
Another high-profile scandal occurred in the Pskov region, where after the registration stage was over, the leader of the Pskov branch of the Party of Growth made a statement that the conference of the regional branch of Yabloko on July 16 had been held with serious violations. At this party conference, Yabloko nominated candidates and party lists for the municipal elections in the Pskov region. In the opinion of the Party of Growth, the lists of candidates for the elections had no right to be approved by the new leader of the party’s regional branch, Artur Haiduk, because the record that he had become the head of the Yabloko regional branch appeared in the Unified State Register of Legal Entities only two days after the party conference. As a result, the registrations of all Yabloko lists in the municipal elections in the Pskov region were canceled.
In single-mandate electoral districts (majoritarian part), 11 parties nominated candidates to the city assemblies of 11 administrative centers. In 10 cities, self-nominated candidates also stood for election. The largest number of them was nominated in Yekaterinburg — 43, i.e., in almost all districts. In Krasnoyarsk 12 self-nominated candidates were nominated, in Volgograd — 11 for 18 constituencies, in Yakutsk — 9 for 15. According to the results of registration, the total number of self-nominated candidates almost halved (from 116 to 69).
A total of 207 constituencies are contesting mandates in these 11 election campaigns. In all electoral districts, only United Russia nominated candidates. LDPR "closed" 95-98% of constituencies, Just Russia — For Truth — less than 85%, having failed to nominate candidates in Yakutsk. New People party closed only 52.2% of districts. Communists of Russia (51.2%) nominated candidates in seven regional capitals. Yabloko focused its efforts on Yekaterinburg (all districts closed) and Novgorod (16 out of 20), while the Party of Pensioners (37.2%) focused on Krasnoyarsk, Belgorod, and Novgorod. Rodina party (24.1%) — in Krasnoyarsk (all 18 districts) and Ryazan (16 out of 20). REP "Greens" nominated only one list of majoritarian candidates — in Krasnoyarsk, but in all 18 districts. The Party of Cause limited itself to nominating only three candidates in 15 constituencies in Yakutsk.
According to the results of registration and during the campaign, the situation did not change much. The parliamentary parties did not lose any candidates in the majority constituencies. Rodina dropped all candidates in Novgorod and Ryazan, and the number of districts closed by the party in Krasnoyarsk was halved. The "Party of Cause" stopped participating in the elections at the registration stage, losing all three candidates in Yakutsk. Yabloko lost its only candidate in Ryazan, but retained quite effective teams in Yekaterinburg and Novgorod.
In general, the electoral situation at the municipal level looks more interesting and competitive than at the regional level. "Small parties" have a more rational approach to local elections, which require less financial and other expenses to pass the barrier of collecting signatures, respectively, they are more likely to hope to pass the registration stage with less effort than at the regional level.
4.1 Legal peculiarities of conducting elections in the "SVO zone"
The Russian authorities decided to hold municipal and regional level elections in the Ukrainian territories under Russian control in the "SVO zone". On 29 May 2023, amendments to the electoral legislation were adopted to allow the holding of elections and referendums under martial law. Such elections should be announced by a decision of the CEC of Russia upon the proposal of the head of the region.
Previously, the legal regime of martial law was recognized as incompatible with the holding of elections or referendums. Obviously: free expression of will is impossible without respect for human rights, freedom of expression and freedom of the press, freedom of movement within the country, and freedom of assembly and association of citizens for political purposes. All these rights and freedoms may be restricted when martial law is declared.
At the same time, in the case of the territories in the "SVO zone", elections are held simultaneously with military actions, which leads to several serious consequences.
First, the actual rather than declared borders of the regions where elections are held and then the elected bodies will have power are uncertain. It is very likely that the borders of these territories in the foreseeable future will not coincide with the borders of the territories where the elected bodies will exercise power. And even if we set aside the question of international legal status, there is still an obvious question about the legitimacy of the mandate received because of the mismatch between the boundaries of the territories where voting is actually held and the boundaries of the territories where the powers of the elected bodies will be exercised.
Hence, the second important consequence: the impossibility not only to compile voter lists in advance, but even to determine their number. It becomes impossible for political parties that do not have the "parliamentary privilege" to participate in elections. Other parties cannot be registered, because due to the lack of data on the exact number of voters they cannot collect signatures in support of nomination — it is not clear how many signatures there should be. Thus, the possibility of citizens to nominate their candidacy appears to be extremely limited.
Third, a significant part of the residents of these territories do not have a passport of a citizen of the Russian Federation. The CEC of Russia has already stated that residents of these territories will be able to vote using Ukrainian documents, passports of the DNR and LNR, and other identity documents. It is unclear on what grounds the decision was made, as it directly contradicts the federal legislation.
Fourth, a serious impact of holding elections in a military conflict zone was the allegedly large number of people who were forced to leave their homes. In this regard, the possibility of establishing extraterritorial polling stations was introduced into the legislation. They are established under a light procedure that does not provide for political party representation in these commissions, making it almost impossible to observe the observance of voting and counting procedures. The possibility of establishing such polling stations is envisaged not only in the combat zone, but also for other elections. In other words, the extraordinary nature of elections held in the "SVO zone" is beginning to spread to "peaceful" regions. Let us recall that Golos warned about the inevitable spread of the worst practices back in February 2022. Unfortunately, this forecast is coming true.
For a long time the election commissions organizing elections in the mentioned territories, contrary to the law, did not publish data on nominated and registered candidates. Throughout the campaign, there is a feeling that election commissions sometimes do not make decisions themselves, and even do not always learn about them in time.
At the time of writing, the report published data on the nomination and registration of party lists in the elections of regional deputies in Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhya and Kherson regions, as well as municipal elections in Donetsk, Luhansk and Melitopol. At the same time, the summary tables also indicate the registration of party lists in Genichesk, the formal center of the Russian-controlled part of the Kherson region. However, the names of candidates are still not available on the election commissions’ portal. In Donetsk and Luhansk regions, lists of five "parliamentary" parties have been nominated and registered for both levels of elections, while in Zaporizhzhya and Kherson — four. All lists have only a common part, without division into territorial groups.
The data provided by the CEC shows that even "parliamentary" parties in most cases are unable to form truly representative lists — even the first three lists include wives, guardians and pensioners. In many cases, the top of the lists of all parties, except for New People, are budgetary workers and representatives of administrations — it looks like the lists were formed centrally, and those who will receive mandates at the end of the elections have largely already been determined.