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The Kremlin will not reschedule upcoming nationwide elections in September, but it might postpone Russia's constitutional plebiscite (again)

Source: Meduza
Dmitry Rogulin / TASS / Vida Press

Authorities won’t push back the date for Russia's nationwide elections, set for September 13, when residents of 18 regions will elect governors, 11 regions plan to vote on deputies for their legislative assemblies, and four single-mandate districts will pick their deputies for the State Duma in special elections. Media outlets reported that the elections might be postponed until December, or even fall 2021, but the Kremlin thinks the coronavirus situation by September will allow the voting to go ahead on schedule. Meanwhile, the plebiscite on Putin’s proposed constitutional reforms, originally slated for April 22, might get pushed back to the fall, or as late as December, when state officials hope voters will start feeling an economic rebound.

Regional elections on nationwide voting day will be held as scheduled on September 13. The Kremlin doesn't want to postpone.

Preparations in advance of the September 13 elections are continuing as planned. A political strategist working on the campaign of an incumbent governor, another person working in the leadership of one of the new political parties established this year, and two sources close to the president’s administration all verified these reports in comments to Meduza. A source in the presidential administration also confirmed the information. 

“Everything’s on schedule for September 13,” says Meduza's source in one of Russia's new political parties. 

RBC previously reported about a possible rescheduling of the September elections to winter 2020 or even spring or fall 2021. Russia’s Central Election Commission didn’t rule out the possibility of a postponement, but indicated that they haven’t discussed such a move. 

According to a source close to the Putin administration, since there’s no need for mass events or gatherings during the early stages of preparations for the regional elections, nothing is preventing getting those preparations underway in May and early June. Regional election committees are slated to officially call for the elections in mid-June, by which time it’s thought the worst of the epidemic will have subsided and most restrictions will have been lifted. 

The presidential administration has already put political strategists in place to work with United Russia incumbent gubernatorial candidates. In some regions, preliminary campaigning has already started. In the Kostroma region, for example, incumbent governor Sergey Sitnikov is vying for reelection under the slogan “the governor is an effective fighter against the pandemic.” The Kremlin’s planned replacement of some governors (a measure it also orchestrated last year) in the lead-up to the elections will likely take place during the holiday weekend of May 6-7 or in the initial days after the national quarantine is lifted. Executing the swaps in early May will give the new replacement governors time to build some popularity and conduct full-fledged election campaigns.

The United Russia party apparatus is also making preparations for the fall elections. The ruling party will hold its primaries digitally between May 25 and May 31, nominating candidates to run in the regional elections in September. Voting in the primaries requires getting authorized through a government services website. A source close to the federal leadership of the party noted that both the United Russia General Council and Executive Committee are worried about an inconsistent cohort of candidates winning out in the primaries. “Besides those excluded because of a criminal history, anyone can declare their candidacy in the primaries. So we have a quandary here — we can mobilize people to vote with money, with a petty sum of three to five hundred rubles. Victory becomes a reality in many of the contests. It can cost a couple of million rubles, or even a million in the State Duma district primaries. But in legislative assembly elections, winning a district or getting a good result in a run-of-the-mill place on the list can cost a lot less,” explained the United Russia source. By his account, because of the integration with the government services website, avoiding undesirable primary outcomes by manipulating the results of electronic voting would be very difficult. 

Party leadership is also concerned about “unpredictable voters who might support the wrong candidates.” “You never know, will the populace get energized about voting electronically?” wondered the source. By his account, party leaders decided not to publicize the primary election widely, in order to prevent a massive uptick in irregular, unpredictable voting. 

The vote on Putin’s constitutional reforms, on the other hand, might be delayed until December because of declining approval ratings during the coronavirus pandemic

Barring an emergency, the question of holding the nationwide elections on schedule this September is decided. But the timing of the plebiscite on Putin’s proposed Constitutional reforms is up in the air. Initially the plebiscite was set for April 22, but was cancelled due to the coronavirus outbreak. The Putin administration is considering a handful of new dates: sometime in late May or early June, June 12, or sometime in late June or early July.

According to Meduza’s information, under the most favorable conditions (with regard to the COVID-19 pandemic), voting will take place at the end of June. But political unrest and protests stemming from the economic crisis could get in the way. “Holding the plebiscite on a positive note immediately after ending the quarantine isn’t in the cards, and in June, discontent with the government will start to become more apparent,” explained a source close to the government. Conducting the plebiscite and the nationwide September elections together also won’t come to pass, says Central Election Commissioner Ella Pamfilova. 

Hence the idea for holding the plebiscite on December 12 (Constitution Day, a federal holiday in Russia): “By that time the economic situation may have started to improve,” said a source, stressing that December 12 is only one of several dates being discussed. 

“There’s nothing certain about the vote. Regional campaign offices — teams of Kremlin political strategists canvassing for the reforms and mobilizing the electorate — have suspended their work. And some have found new temporary gigs with gubernatorial campaigns. They’re working on social media sites with the help of local United Russia party members and administrators. But it’s possible that the vote could still happen at the end of June,” noted a source in the leadership of a legislative assembly in the Central Federal District.

Story by Andrey Pertsev

Translation by Rob Viano

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