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The ones to watch Meduza breaks down the main intrigues of this weekend’s elections in Russia

Source: Meduza
Egor Aleev / TASS

From September 17–19, Russians are heading to the polls to cast their ballots in the 2021 State Duma elections. The first day of voting on Friday was marked by abnormally long lines at polling stations, reportedly due to pressure on civil servants meant to ensure high turnout right from the start. Allegedly, the authorities are gunning for United Russia to win 45 percent of the vote. But heading into the elections, the ruling party’s polling results were less than ideal. Will United Russia win its proclaimed “optimal” result? Meduza breaks down this question and other key intrigues surrounding the elections here.

1. Will United Russia fall flat?

The ruling United Russia party is going into this race with an unusually low rating — around 30 percent. Traditionally, the “party of power” does better in elections than opinion polls predict. Russian President Vladimir Putin and party leader Dmitry Medvedev have said repeatedly that United Russia should retain its 334 seats in the State Duma. But Sergey Kiriyenko, the Putin administration’s point man for domestic policy, allegedly declared 45 percent of the vote an “optimal result” for United Russia — and this isn’t enough to obtain this number of seats. That said, it is enough for United Russia to hang on to its constitutional majority (300 seats), but only in the event that four parties make it into the Duma and not five. And there is a chance that a fifth party may surpass the five percent threshold needed to win seats. Both the New People party and the Party of Pensioners have a shot — among those who definitely intend to vote, they’re polling just below five percent. At the same time, there’s a possibility that neither they nor the party A Just Russia will make it into parliament. In this case, United Russia will get even more seats. 

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2. Will the Communists prove themselves?

The Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) is almost certain to take second place. It’s ratings are currently around 15–16 percent; they began climbing in August and a Meduza source in the Putin administration directly linked this to the fact that the Central Election Commission barred the party’s former presidential candidate, Pavel Grudinin, from running for the State Duma. That said, there are still candidates running on the KPRF’s ticket who are inconvenient for the Kremlin — such as former Irkutsk regional governor Sergey Levchenko, former senator from Irkutsk and founder of the Buryat riot police (OMON) Vyacheslav Markhaev, and head of the Communist Party’s Moscow municipal committee Valery Rashkin. Although KPRF’s campaign itself can hardly be described as dynamic or opposition-oriented, the Tomsk region and Buryatia were exceptions to the rule. At the same time, in single-mandate constituencies, Team Navalny’s “Smart Vote” strategic voting initiative mainly endorsed KPRF candidates.

3. What will happen with ‘Smart Vote’?

There are examples from past elections where Alexey Navalny’s “Smart Vote” strategy had a serious impact on the outcome of the vote. But this happened in conjunction with low turnout (in the realm of 20 percent) and in relatively small constituencies. Both turnout and the number of eligible voters are higher in the State Duma elections, therefore, the impact of strategic voting may not be very large. But the ruling party could run into problems in cities like Moscow and Tomsk, for example, where “Smart Vote” has worked in the past. In the far-eastern Khabarovsk territory — where there were mass protests last year over the arrest of then governor Sergey Furgal — the gubernatorial elections could see a run-off vote, since the Kremlin’s appointee, acting governor Mikhail Degtyarev, isn’t especially popular. In St. Petersburg, where there are also elections to the legislative assembly, there’s an ongoing struggle between two Kremlin-backed candidates — Governor Alexander Beglov has found himself in conflict with the legislature’s speaker Vyacheslav Markarov (who also leads the local United Russia branch). This dispute could yield unexpected results. 

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4. Who will step down following the elections?

Meduza has been informed that there may be a high-level personnel reshuffle after the election results come in. The following senior officials may be replaced by other people: Putin’s Chief of Staff Anton Vaino (who broke the record for the longest tenure in this post), First Deputy Chief of Staff Sergey Kiriyenko, State Duma Chairman Vyacheslav Volodin, and Federation Council Chairwoman Valentina Matviyenko. Stay tuned, folks.

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