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Please love us again? United Russia and Putin ramp up efforts to win back voters with pension-reform amendments, ahead of September 9 regional elections

Source: Meduza

In what appears to be timed to win back voters ahead of Sunday’s regional elections, United Russia unveiled two populist initiatives on September 6 that seek to mitigate some of the damage done to the party’s reputation by unpopular draft legislation that will raise the country’s retirement age. Andrey Turchak, the acting secretary of the party’s General Council, proposed allocating money seized in corruption prosecutions to Russia’s Pension Fund, claiming that officials have confiscated more than 1.2 billion rubles ($17.3 million) in such cases over the past six years.

But that’s not all! Turchak also introduced new legislation inviting State Duma and Federation Council members to agree to forego their increased pension payments. “This is a personal decision for every deputy and senator, it’s their personal responsibility, and it concerns their attitudes toward their constituents,” Turchak said.

In July 2018, the State Duma published information revealing that deputies who serve between five and 10 years are entitled to additional monthly retirement payments worth 46,626 rubles ($670). Those who serve more than 10 years can claim bonuses of 63,581 rubles ($915). In early 2018, the average monthly pension in Russia was just 13,323 rubles ($192).

Nobody outshines Dear Leader

Not to be outdone by the former governor of Pskov, Vladimir Putin immediately stole back the spotlight on Thursday, introducing amendments to Russia’s Criminal Code that would impose felony penalties on employers who lay off or refuse to hire staff solely because they are nearing retirement age. The draft legislation proposes fines as high as 200,000 rubles ($2,880) or up to 360 hours of community service.

In a national address on August 29, President Putin finally weighed in on Russia’s debate about pension reform. The president did what many expected and watered down some of the most controversial aspects of the government’s plan, arguing that women’s retirement age should be raised only five years, instead of the proposed eight years. He also stressed the need for several tax breaks, benefits, and legal protections. Read more about the details of Putin's proposals here.

United Russia's struggles

In late August, sources told the magazine RBC that the Kremlin had agreed to let United Russia call itself “the president’s party” in campaign ads ahead of elections on September 9 in certain regions across the country where the party is struggling to maintain voters’ support. According to the state-owned pollster VTSiOM, nationwide support for United Russia dropped 13 percent between early July and late August, falling to 35.3 percent. In Russia’s 2016 parliamentary elections, the party used 12 quotes from Vladimir Putin in billboard advertisements.

The Russian social networks Vkontakte and Odnoklassniki, however, recently rejected new advertisements from United Russia, where it claims to be “the president’s party.” A source in one of the political party’s regional offices told the website that Group, which owns both networks, demanded documentation that President Putin supports United Russia, though there’s no law requiring such evidence. “They insist on their right to reject any promotional materials. For, the silent agreements reached inside the president’s administration aren’t an executive order,” the source said.

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