Hot potato Nearly a fifth of Russia’s new State Duma deputies owe their jobs to secondhand mandates
On Tuesday, October 12, the new convocation of Russia’s State Duma convened for its first session. Roughly a fifth of all lawmakers — 88 of 450 deputies — received their seats from higher-ranked candidates on party lists, winning the jobs because others didn’t want them. The candidates who decided against joining the parliament include four of the five figures who led United Russia’s federal list, 50 governors, many regional deputies, several famous actors and athletes, and multiple public sector managers. Nine of the Duma’s seats weren’t filled until the winning candidate and the next two people on the party list all declined. Another three seats passed from hand to hand four times, and one spot didn’t find a willing recipient until round five.
There were three waves of elected parliamentarians turning down mandates in the new State Duma.
The first wave
The first wave of renunciations was the biggest. This is when four of United Russia’s five general-list candidates decided to keep their existing jobs and decline their Duma seats: Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s chief Covid doctor Denis Protsenko, and Elena Shmeleva, the head of the Sirius Educational Center (a presidential initiative by Vladimir Putin). Of the party’s headliners, only Children’s Rights Commissioner Anna Kuznetsova will actually join the next parliament. Presidential envoys Yuri Trutnev and Vladimir Yakushev, as well as 50 governors who led United Russia’s regional tickets, also declined their mandates.
Outside United Russia, multiple elected candidates also declined their Duma mandates: there were three in the Communist Party (Oryol Governor Andrey Klychkov, Novosibirsk Mayor Anatoly Lokot, and Moscow Oblast Duma Deputy Speaker Konstantin Cheremisov), two in the New People party (Sergey Kusmakov and Denis Shitov), and one in LDPR, Kirill Pravdin, whose seat went to Boris Paikin, one of the Liberal Democrats’ biggest sponsors (a construction-business mogul in St. Petersburg before he joined the State Duma’s current convocation). Cheremisov’s mandate also passed to an incumbent deputy: former Sports Minister and Boxing Federation head Boris Ivanyuzhenkov.
It wasn’t just the federal-list headliners who declined their mandates but also many high-profile public officials and athletes whose names appeared on United Russia’s party lists. As a result, the next State Duma won’t include legendary cross-country skier Yelena Välbe, Metallurg Magnitogorsk ice hockey sports director Sergey Gomolyako, Tolyatti Mayor Nikolay Renz, Voronezh AIDS Center Head Physician Irina Tulinova, Moscow Hospital No. 54 Head Physician Maryana Lysenko, Hermitage Museum Director Mikhail Piotrovsky, Rostov Regional Hospital Head Physician Svetlana Piskunova, 2020 “Teacher of the Year” Mikhail Gurov, or many other prominent United Russia candidates.
By law, a declined Duma seat passes to the candidate named next on the party list. If that individual also turns it down, the mandate passes again to the next listed candidate, and so on. This is exactly how Russia Today pundit and convicted “unregistered foreign agent” Maria Butina won her ticket to the parliament: United Russia’s party-list headliner in the Kirov region (local Governor Igor Vasiliev) declined his mandate and passed it to Butina in the first wave of declined seats. Several candidates from the world of big business also won Duma seats after governors decided not to accept their mandates. For example, Samara Governor Dmitry Azarov’s seat went to Leonid Simanovsky (a former co-owner of the natural gas producer Novatek), and Tver Governor Igor Rudenya passed a mandate to Sergey Veremeenko (who previously co-owned International Industrial Bank and several other companies).
Other governors passed Duma seats to their own lieutenants, like Sverdlovsk Governor Evgeny Kuivashev giving his mandate to Sergey Bidonko, and Bryansk Governor Alexander Bogomaz giving his to Nikolai Shcheglov. Several prominent public figures entered the parliament according to this same scheme: Leningrad Regional Governor Alexander Drozdenko’s seat went to Olga Amelchenkova, the head of the Volunteers of Victory movement, and Voronezh Governor Alexander Gusev’s seat passed to Igor Kastyukevich, the head of the All-Russian Popular Front youth organization.
In some regions, the Kremlin handpicked certain “outsiders” for number-two spots on party lists to ensure that they’d receive the local governors’ declined seats. This is how Anton Nemkin, the director of the Digital Valley Sochi Foundation and a former FSB officer, won a mandate in Perm, and how “Leaders of Russia” finalist Tatiana Dyakonova got her Duma seat in Lipetsk. Neither Nemkin nor Dyakonova has any ties to these regions. Some governors also passed their mandates to incumbent members of parliament, allowing these lawmakers to remain in office.
The second wave
A dozen of the declined Duma seats (passed over mainly by sitting governors) went unclaimed again by second-tier candidates (mostly high-profile state employees and regional assembly deputies whose names appeared second and third on local party lists).
In Chelyabinsk, for example, the head of the city’s veterans’ hospital, Tatyana Vasilenko, passed her mandate to Dmitry Vyatkin, who was already serving in the State Duma. Olga Shvetsova, the Tyumen Regional Duma’s Social Policy Committee chairwoman, gave her seat to Sergey Lisovsky, who represents the Kurgan region in Russia’s Federation Council. In the Samara region, local Social Policy Minister Regina Vorobyova gave her mandate to Vladimir Gutenev, an incumbent Duma deputy with close ties to the state-owned military and defense conglomerate Rostec. Vasily Vasilenko, the deputy speaker of Rostov’s regional parliament, turned down a mandate from “2020 Teacher of the Year” Mikhail Gurov, passing it to his political strategist, Alexander Borodai, the former prime minister of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic.
The third wave
There were naturally even fewer seats left unclaimed after they’d been offered to a second round of candidates. In this third wave, the deputy speaker of Irkutsk’s Parliament, Kuzma Aldarov, passed his mandate to “Leaders of Russia” finalist Marina Vasilkova; Orenburg Parliament Chairman Sergey Grachev gave his Duma seat to Orenburg Mayor Vladimir Ilinykh (whose lieutenant’s office the police recently raided in connection with suspicious financial activities); and film star Vladimir Mashkov received a mandate from Theater of Nations director Marina Revyakina, who got it from Mariana Lysenko, the chief doctor at Moscow’s City Clinic Hospital no. 52.
Mashkov declined to join the parliament, however, and kicked Lysenko’s mandate down the list. This Duma seat would prove to be the most declined in all the parliament, finding a willing recipient only after four passes: After Mashkov, the seat passed from Pushkin Museum director Evgeny Bogatyrev to the head of the Moscow branch of the Russian Student Brigades, Yulia Drozhzhina, who finally accepted the job.
“In Moscow, based on the party’s actual rating hovering around 25-28 percent of the vote, [inside United Russia] they figured the list would only win 30 or so percent, which meant five candidates should win mandates after the first three declined their seats. The order of the party list in the regional group was modeled on these forecasts. But the percentage turned out to be higher and [United Russia] won six seats in Moscow. Neither Revyakina, Mashkov, nor Bogatyrev had any intention of joining the Duma, so the mandate went to Drozhzhina, who was only on the list to round it out,” a source close to the party’s leadership told Meduza.
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After Russia’s previous parliamentary elections in 2016, just 30 candidates declined their mandates, but the practice was more common in the past. In 2011, within United Russia alone, 89 candidates passed on Duma seats. In 2007, more than 100 elected candidates decided against collecting their mandates and going to work in Russia’s parliament.
Translation by Kevin Rothrock