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ReportPolitical AgitationRussian Federation07 September 2023, 10:02
Collage: Ksenia Telmanova

In charge

Governors Elections -2023 occur under the greatest forceful pressure on candidates, observers and voters in the last 23 years. The role of the “power factor” has increased immeasurably. Methods of managing election campaigns are also becoming more and more rude and straightforward. During the election campaign, several conflicting tendencies are noticeable:  attempts by the authorities to increasingly alienate the process of political decision-making from society; growing problems of citizens and their desire to have an alternative in elections; the desire of politicians to wait out turbulent times without falling under the rink of repression. The forced passivity of politicians who are worried about their well-being, freedom and, possibly, life - one of the obvious reasons for internal political stagnation. As a result, citizens have to choose not between a stick and a carrot, but between a smaller stick and a bigger stick.

Key Findings

  1. In a number of regions, the most meaningless, boring and inconspicuous campaign in the modern history of Russia is taking place. Formal opponents of the authorities only imitate participation in elections. This “lull” is a logical consequence of the reduction in the number of people wishing to nominate themselves. Apparently, this is the main consequence of the SVO for the electoral sphere.
  2. Another negative trend was a significant increase in the importance of the "force" factor in the elections. The "force corporation" is increasingly pushing "political administrators" out of managing domestic politics at all levels - federal, regional and local. Violence has become predominantly state-based and is directed at all categories of election participants : candidates, observers and voters.
  3. The merging of the state apparatus and the ruling party is intensifying. Internet resources, state and budgetary institutions relay messages about the official activities of the current governor, candidates from United Russia, and public events organized by the party. At the same time, heads of budgetary institutions They have practically ceased to be afraid to openly campaign for current leaders, deputies, and United Russia members.
  4. At the same time, the administrations are trying to complicate the already rare real opposition campaigns. candidates. They come up with more and more absurd ways to ban campaign events.
  5. Golos once again states a significant informational advantage of the current heads of regions over their competitors, which is created thanks to the media controlled by the authorities.
  6. Even election commissions were involved in campaigning activities. Often their information events are separated from campaigning and from the intention to control the will of voters by a very fragile line, and sometimes this line openly dissolves.
  7. Another distinguishing feature of the current elections is the compulsion of governors to be nominated by United Russia and their frequent use as "locomotives" of party lists. The period when the heads of the regions played the role of strong business executives - managers and technocrats, is probably becoming a thing of the past. Now the heads of the regions must be faithful "soldiers of the party" and the course chosen by the country's leadership.
  8. Online voting can be expected to be the most massive in the world history and, unfortunately, there have been massive reports of administratively dependent voters being forced to register in remote electronic voting systems ( DEG ). The danger is that voters cannot be completely sure that the pressurers will not have access to information about the fact of their participation or non-participation in voting, but also about what choice they made. Such coercion is more difficult to fix - it is almost invisible to an external observer.
  9. Unfortunately, the lack of competition and public discussion, which is typical for gubernatorial elections, has spread to the previously much more "live" elections of deputies at the regional and local levels.
  10. In general, this year's elections in many regions do not provide public discussion of problems and do not create conditions for public discussion and decision-making by citizens on the management of the territory in which they live.
  11. A striking contrast to the "frozen" political life in many regions are those territories where political competition persists. Standing apart in this year's list of such territories is Khakassia, where one of the most competitive election campaigns is taking place, demonstrating what happens when United Russia and the regional administration lose their political monopoly.
  12. It is elections like those in Khakassia that make it possible to determine the true cause of the abuse of power by administrative and media resources. One gets the impression that the “party of power” is aware if its its weakness and feels so insecure that it fears that without abuses it would simply not achieve the results it wants.
  13. 2023 campaigns cannot be classified as equal and free elections in any of the regions of Russia. Even the election campaign in Khakassia does not fully meet the standards of free democratic elections due to the presence of a “municipal filter”, interference in the campaign by the federal center and abuse of administrative resources by both main opponents.

1. Characteristics of regional and local election campaigns

The nature of election campaigns is mainly determined by the specifics of the region, so it is difficult to bring them to a common denominator. There are a number of regions where elections are practically invisible not only to voters, but also to long-term observers. Such campaigns traditionally include the vast majority of gubernatorial elections, in which competition is artificially limited with the help of a “municipal filter”.

The budgets for the election campaigns of the gubernatorial candidates from United Russia speak for themselves. In mid-July, Sergei Sokol, nominated in small Khakassia, had an election fund of 35 million rubles (335 000 Euros). For the governor of the large and resourceful Novosibirsk region, it was slightly less - 34.2 million rubles. Viktor Tomenko (Altai Territory) had 17.1 million rubles in his account, Mikhail Kotyukov (Krasnoyarsk Territory) had 4 million, and Vitaly Khotsenko (Omsk Region) had 800 thousand rubles. This situation is generally typical for all gubernatorial elections, with the exception of the election campaign in Khakassia.

In Moscow, the nature of the campaign is about the same. Candidates are conducting "systemic", low-budget campaigns without criticism of the current government at the regional and federal levels. Sergei Sobyanin dominates the media, publicizing his activities as mayor and practically ignoring the election campaign.

In Moscow, the distribution of campaign newspapers is formally led by Leonid Zyuganov and Vladislav Davankov. But the first one relies mainly on the unmotivated asset of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, and this almost does not work. Davankov uses promoters, at the end of the month he set up up to several dozen distribution points near the metro. Socialist-Revolutionary Dmitry Gusev published a post about the preparation of his newspaper and its distribution only on September 1st. The main part of the campaign is media. Possessing Duma status, Gusev, Chernyshov, Davankov generate initiatives or proposals that are often picked up by the federal media.

The debates on the Moscow TV channels were also of poor quality and interest. Sobyanin and Zyuganov ignored them. At first, two or three candidates from the remaining ones went to them. But by the end of August, Chernyshov had to solo twice already, filling the allocated airtime with himself.

Unfortunately, the lack of competition and, as a result, the absence of a real public discussion, typical for gubernatorial elections, began to spread to the previously much more “live” elections of deputies at the regional and local levels. However, there are still a number of regions where the campaigns remain intense. These include, for example, Khakassia, Yakutia, the Krasnoyarsk Territory, and the Sverdlovsk Region.

Thus, in Yekaterinburg, the campaign is, as usual, very turbulent - even with the use of physical violence and a lot of “black PR”.

On August 14, unusual billboards were found in Yekaterinburg with the image of Mayor Alexei Orlov, deputies of the city duma and candidates from different parties. These posters are similar to campaigning, but they do not have imprint indicating from whose electoral account they were paid. The candidates, whose image appeared next to the mayor today, denied their involvement in the placement of posters. Whose hands the work of this agitation has remained unknown. They were soon removed. The United Russia party said they would complain about fake campaign billboards, but the situation repeated itself at the end of August.

The brightest campaign of this year is certainly taking place in Khakassia, where the "party of power" is acting in an unusual role of opposition to the communist governor Valentin Konovalov. Regional elite - "old-timers" of the party psychologically unprepared to try on the robes of the opposition, criticize the leadership or participate in political intrigues. The culmination of the campaign in Khakassia was on September 2, when United Russia's gubernatorial candidate Sergei Sokol unexpectedly withdrew from the elections due to health reasons.

Despite the fact that the campaign for the election of the governor of Khakassia has become the most competitive in Russia for many years, it still cannot be considered fully in line with the standards of free democratic elections due to the presence of a “municipal filter”, interference in the campaign by the federal center and abuse of administrative resources from both main opponents.

2. Violation of the principles of free elections during campaigning

2.1. Inequality of candidates and parties in the media

Golos once again states a significant information advantage of the current heads of regions over their competitors, which is created thanks to the mass media controlled by the authorities, as well as information resources of state and municipal authorities, budgetary institutions. The election campaigns of administrative candidates for heads of regions are based on the effect of their constant presence in the media field for any reason and without reason. The Governor is right here, nearby in all spheres of life in the region. Under these conditions, there is no need to remind that he is also a candidate in the elections.

A typical example is the mayor Moscow Sergei Sobyanin. As a candidate, he and his team pay very little attention to the topic of elections. In the information field of Moscow, a kind of permanent veiled report of Sobyanin is being kept on small points : how many clinics and roads have been repaired, how much housing has been put into operation, how many benefits have been paid, how many and what orders have been fulfilled, etc. All this is accompanied by new plans of impressive proportions. Information about this literally haunts Muscovites in public transport, in free newspapers in the metro, at the MFC, at the entrances of houses, on billboards.

And this also happens in almost all regions where gubernatorial elections are taking place.

During the election campaign, information websites of state, municipal, budgetary institutions, groups created by them in social networks they relay news messages about the performance of the incumbent governor, United Russia candidates, and about public events organized by the party.

A distinctive feature of the current elections is the compulsion of governors to be nominated by United Russia and their frequent use as "locomotives" of party lists. At the same time, some governors still tries to visually distance itself from the party, refusing to use its brand book, logo and name. But the period when the heads of regions played the role of strong business executives - managers and technocrats who take care of all the inhabitants of the region, is perhaps a thing of the past. Now the heads of the regions must be faithful "soldiers of the party" and the course chosen by the country's leadership.

In most cases, opponents of the current leaders only imitate the existence of an election struggle, since the outcome of the elections is predetermined.

Representatives of the authorities do not disdain various camouflage pre - election technologies. So, in the Novosibirsk region, the propaganda newspaper of Governor Travnikov was distributed within a special issue of Evening Novosibirsk ( published by the regional administration at the expense of the budget ). Both newspapers were issued with the same circulation (400,000 copies), decorated in the same style. Travnikov's APM was printed in the same printing house where Vecherniy Novosibirsk is printed. The usual circulation of the newspaper is about 10,000.

Unfortunately, electoral commissions and public chambers, which should carry out informational functions, were involved in campaigning. Quite often, these informational events are separated by a very shaky line from agitation and from the intention to control the will of the voters. And sometimes this line is frankly erased.

For example, in the Samara region, members of the commissions interviewed voters according to a "questionnaire", which contains questions not only about the elections, but also concerning the private information of the citizens of the place, their political preferences. The entire survey process must be conducted electronically with an audio recording, but there is no warning and consent to this in the "Questionnaire".

A non-trivial situation has developed in Khakassia, where the representative of United Russia, Sergei Sokol, acted as an opposition candidate in relation to the head of the republic, the communist Konovalov. Sokol had no opportunity to rely on the regional administrative resource, and therefore resorted to the support of federal politicians. In support of Sokol, Russian Presidential Aide Maxim Oreshkin, and Alexander Kharichev, head of the Department for Ensuring the Activities of the State Council of the Presidential Administration, spoke out .

In general, the situation in Khakassia clearly demonstrates what happens when United Russia and the regional administration lose their political monopoly in the region. For objective reasons, the positive agenda shifted to government information resources, while the federal and numerous local mass media controlled by United Russia were forced to turn their editorial policy around 180 degrees - the tape of articles laudatory in the old days addressed to the leadership of the republic was replaced by permanent criticism. But all this, apparently, did not help Sokol to reverse public sentiment in the republic, a tough campaign cost him a lot of effort - and on September 2 he withdrew from the elections due to poor health.

This year, an extremely negative trend is attracting attention. Previously, the heads of budgetary institutions were afraid to openly agitate for the current heads, deputies, and United Russia members, since it is an obviuos violation of the electoral legislation. It seems that in these elections all caution has disappeared. The authors of these publications know that there will be no sanctions, and by demonstrating loyalty and devotion, they count on future preferences for them or their institutions.

2.2. Creation of artificial interference in the conduct of campaigning

In 2023, the practice continues when independent and opposition candidates face significant restrictions in their ability to conduct an election campaign. Almost all regions report damage to campaign materials of opposition candidates and parties, refusal or obstruction in holding campaign events, prohibition to place banners or the removal of already placed banners.

In the Novosibirsk region, in Tashar, Moshkovsky district, several local residents hung banners on the fences of their houses in support of the Communist Party candidate in the election of the governor of the Novosibirsk region, Roman Yakovlev. Resident Igor Kolmakov found the banner torn and cut. The election banner of Roman Yakovlev was also cut up in the Ubinsk region of the region.

In Yekaterinburg, according to media reports, a real “ banner war ” has unfolded in a number of districts with the involvement of various “authoritative” structures.

In Krasnoyarsk, LDPR deputy Oleg Panchenko discovered campaign structures and banners stolen from him earlier in the courtyard of the administration of the Leninsky district of Krasnoyarsk.

Administrations are coming up with more and more absurd ways to ban public campaign events. In a number of regions, local authorities remembered the “Covid restrictions” and banned rallies by opposition candidates.

So in Novosibirsk mayor's office denied independent MP Anton Kartavin several pickets where he wanted to report to voters for his work. Officials motivated the refusal by the fact that 10,000 people could come to the meeting : “It is impossible to hold a meeting on the street with such a number of voters without violating public order and the safety of the participants in the meeting. ” The city administration drew a conclusion about such a possible number of participants from the fact that 45% of voters out of 21 thousand registered in the district voted for Kartavin in 2020. At the same time, according to the logic of the mayor's office, the turnout in the elections, apparently, was 100%. In fact, 1,869 voters cast their votes for Kartavin in the elections.

2.3 Forceful pressure on candidates, voters and observers

According to the law, the participation of a citizen of the Russian Federation in elections and referendums is free and voluntary. No one has the right to influence a citizen in order to force him to participate or not to participate in voting or to prevent his free expression of will.

The Constitutional Court draws attention to the fact that the interests of citizens and the state are not identical and may conflict. The Constitutional Court of Russia points to the inalienability of the right of citizens to exercise control over compliance with the procedures for expressing will. Such representation is intended to guarantee the legitimacy of the decisions taken during the voting in the eyes of both their supporters and opponents.

However, observers in the last month of the election campaign have faced the most powerful pressure in Russia 's recent history. On August 17, 2023, a criminal case was initiated under Part 3 of Article 284.1 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (Organization of the activities of a foreign or international non-governmental organization, in respect of which a decision was made to recognize its activities as undesirable on the territory of the Russian Federation) against Grigory Melkonyants, co-chairman of the Golos movement, and other unspecified persons.

Searches were conducted at a dozen addresses in different regions of current and former participants in the “Golos” movement. Equipment, cash, bank cards, foreign passports and other documents were confiscated. After the search, Vladimir Zhilkin ended up in an emergency room - they stepped on his spine and also beat him on the head. Vladimir Yegorov was arrested for 15 days for "disobedience" to the police. In the evening, law enforcement officers stopped and searched the car on the highway member of the Golos Council Denis Shadrin. Earlier, searches had already been carried out on August 17, and equipment, a passport, cash and documents for the NGO he runs were confiscated.

Grigory Melkonyants himself, after a night spent in a temporary detention facility, was arrested and is currently in a pre-trial detention center.

The undesirable organization whose activities in Russia were allegedly organized by Grigory Melkonyants, according to the investigation, is ENEMO - the European Network of Election Monitoring Organizations. The Golos Association, was a member of ENEMO, but The Golos Association was liquidated by a court decision in 2020, which is one year before ENEMO was declared undesirable.

Immediately after ENEMO was labelled an undesirable organization, the Golos movement made a public statement that it had no interaction with ENEMO. ENEMO itself has never held any events in Russia or observed Russian elections.

There is no doubt that the real purpose of this attack on Golos is to interfere with public observation on the eve of the start of the presidential campaign in Russia and in the upcoming September 10 regional elections. Some high-ranking officials do not hide this. Vasily Piskarev, Chairman of the State Duma Commission for Investigating the Facts of Interference of Foreign States in the Internal Affairs of Russia, stated bluntly that the reports and expertise of Golos, that is, the opinion of Russian citizens about internal Russian affairs, are the reason for the persecution.

All this fits into the trend of recent years to limit as much as possible the ability of people to control elections. It certainly suggests, that some government officials doubt that they have real support. It is difficult to imagine a position that would discredit the forthcoming presidential elections more than this outright fear.

Candidates also faced state-organized pressure. Most systemically, this problem affected candidates from the parties of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation and Yabloko, but not only them.

Yabloko experiences the most problems in Veliky Novgorod, where the elections of deputies of the city duma are held. Five years ago, Yabloko gained more than 5% here and gained seats in the local parliament. During the current campaign, the police confiscated part of the circulation of the Yabloko newspaper from the party office; On August 17, a search was carried out in the apartment of candidate Xenia Cherepanova. On August 27, while distributing propaganda newspapers, the police illegally tried to detain candidate Dmitry Lysov three times. Another candidate, Oksana Sergeeva, was penalized because of a photograph with a white - blue - white flag (a symbol of the Russian anti-war movement). Note that according to Russian law, such violations results in losing the right to stand for election. In fact, the authorities are trying to disqualify candidates from the elections.

Representatives of other parties also face problems.

The head of the City Duma of the Sovgavan of the Khabarovsk Territory Olga Glebova reported on pressure and threats to "kill" or "imprison". According to her, the threats came from political strategist Anna Syrevich after Glebova refused to comply with her demands and leave the party Just Russia - For Truth.

Not only observers and politicians face pressure from law enforcement agencies, but also voters who campaign for certain opposition candidates.

There are also reports of the use of force against candidates and their supporters, both by unknown persons and by officials. The situation looks especially alarming in Yekaterinburg, which, unfortunately, is already becoming a tradition - the same thing happened in the previous elections of deputies to the Yekaterinburg City Duma five years ago.

August 31, two men attacked Natalya Zobnina, a candidate for the Yekaterinburg City Duma from Yabloko. They threw tomatoes at her and sprayed gas in her direction. The candidate's campaigner also had to fight off the attacker on another day .

Another Yabloko candidate in Yekaterinburg, 20- year-old Elizaveta Kazantseva, received threats on social media on August 5. They demanded that Kazantseva stop the election campaign. Members of her team received similar threats. At the same time, unknown people cut to shreds four advertising posters for Yabloko in Yekaterinburg, in the district where Kazanzeva is running for office.

Unfortunately, we have to admit that the "force" factor is becoming more and more significant in the elections. Violence against candidates, observers and voters involves not so much unknown persons, but first of all, state law enforcement agencies, which are increasingly interfering in the normal course of elections.

3. Coercion to vote (mobilization of voters) and bribery

Free expression of will and the absence of pressure on voters is an indispensable requirement for any democratic election campaign. Therefore, Russian election legislation equally prohibits both direct coercion to vote and bribery of voters. Nevertheless, reports of voter bribery came from Yakutia and Yekaterinburg.

So, a resident of the Darkylakh district of Yakutsk appealed to the district election commission with a complaint about an attempt to buy her vote. She blamed the representatives of the management company for this, who offered her a coupon with a 15% discount if she voted for two candidates from United Russia. In Yekaterinburg, an employee of the HOA offered 500 rubles, for every voter who is ready to vote for the candidate from the United Russia party Anna Gurariy - she explained that the money will not go into the hands of the residents, but personally to her, and she will make a children's swing in the yard on her own with the money received.

Separately, it is worth mentioning the massive cases of coercion to participate in remote electronic voting (DEG).

In the EDG -2023, reports of coercion of administratively dependent voters became widespread for registration in the DEG system. Such coercion is even more dangerous than traditional coercion, since voters cannot be completely sure that those who exert pressure will not have access not only to information about participation in the vote, but also about what choice they made.

Russians' trust in various electronic services is quite low. There has not been and is no mass request for the introduction of electronic voting. It's all a myth, replicated by the Russian Central Election Commission and the presidential administration.

This is how we explain the massive corral of state employees. The authorities have had no problems in recent years with the organization of control over turnout. They were always the first to "respond" to the innovations of the CEC, declared concern for the convenience of voters. However, traditional ( paper ) voting systems made such administrative - corporate mobilization visible. Now, with the introduction of the DEG, this unfavorable picture for election administrators will disappear.

The independent media and the "Map of Violations" received numerous reports about forcing voters to register in the DEG system and transferring confirmation of this to the relevant curators, about forcing them to participate in e-voting testing. In Moscow, leadership of the capital's state unitary enterprises turned out to be dissatisfied with the low participation of employees in testing the DEG, they demand to check their personal accounts on and ensure that 80 % of all employees of each department vote electronically.

An excel file that accidentally ended up in a chat for selling clothes gives an idea of how the mechanism for mobilizing voters to participate in the DEG among teachers in the Moscow region works. The table takes into account which of them registered with the DEG. The table contains personal data of teachers, including addresses and mobile phones, and also contains a column “location of the computer for registration”. Each cell indicates the same place – The teachers’ room. Thus, to facilitate control, teachers had to not only register on the DEG, but do so during working hours and from the school computer.

In addition to purely administrative mobilization techniques, candidates in power have traditionally used quasi-plebiscitary techniques to stimulate and control the turnout of a loyal electorate. However, it appears that this year material incentives for voters (lotteries of prizes, gifts, tickets) will take place on a much more modest scale. So the Moscow project "Million Prizes" will be held in economy mode: without cars and apartments. At the same time, the format of this year's action is more reminiscent of not even organizing a lottery on voting day, but a banal bribery of voters for the very fact of participating in electronic voting. The claimed 2.3 million prizes represent 30.15% of the total number of voters, which is approximately the same as the turnout in the previous Moscow mayoral elections in 2018 (30.9%). Considering that a part of the voters will vote by paper method, the gain for electronic voters becomes virtually guaranteed. Unlike Moscow, most of the regions do not have such financial resources, so the main emphasis there, apparently, will be on direct administrative coercion to vote under the threat of disciplinary sanctions. This is not the time to flirt with voters.

In general, the Golos movement believes that the EDG-2023 election campaigns cannot be attributed to equal and free elections in any of the regions of Russia.

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