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Feigning democracy The winners and losers of Russia’s 2022 regional elections
Story by Andrey Pertsev. Abridged translation by Sam Breazeale.
The official results of the regional and local elections held in Russia this weekend have started rolling in. And while the outcomes of these races are by no means indicative of the people's will, that doesn't mean that they won't have consequences — or that they can't be useful indicators of which way the wind is blowing. Meduza's Andrey Pertsev outlines the main results of the weekend's elections — and explains what we can infer from them.
14 of Russia’s regions had direct gubernatorial elections (while in Adygea, legislative assembly deputies voted to elect a head of the republic). In all 14 races, voter turnout was low. A higher portion (55 percent) of eligible voters cast ballots in the Tambov region than anywhere else, while the Yaroslavl region had the lowest turnout (24.9 percent). Turnout was lower than 30 percent in five regions. For comparison 43.8 percent of eligible voters took part in last year’s lowest-turnout gubernatorial race.
In six of Russia’s regions, voters elected regional parliaments. Turnout varied from 28 percent (in the Sakhalin region) to 59 percent (in North Ossetia).
Residents of 12 regions voted for municipal deputies — races that usually draw a lower turnout. Tver residents set a record this year: only 12.43 percent of eligible voters showed up to vote for City Duma deputies. On the other hand, in Moscow, the share of eligible voters who cast a ballot in this year’s municipal elections (34 percent) more than doubled from last time (14.82 percent in 2017). This was likely a consequence of Russia’s relatively new online voting system, which almost three quarters of voters used in this year's elections. Opposition activists warned repeatedly in the leadup to voting weekend that, like last year, the Russian authorities would use the online system to give their preferred candidates an unfair advantage.
According to official data, in all of the gubernatorial elections held in Russia this weekend, the authorities’ preferred candidates won. The region where the candidate from United Russia, the country’s ruling party, won the highest share of the vote (86.23 percent) was Buryatia, while the “party of power” did the worst (65 percent) in the Udmurt Republic.
United Russia candidates officially won more than 50 percent of the vote in five out of the six legislative assembly elections held this weekend (not counting single-mandate districts). The exception was the Sakhalin region, where United Russia officially received 47.2 percent of the vote (about 13 percent more than in last year’s election).
Russia’s Communist Party fared poorly in this year’s regional parliamentary elections. Their strongest race (14.69 percent) was in the Saratov region. They did almost as well in Sakhalin, while in all of the other races, they won about 10 percent of the vote.
The rest of Russia’s parties did even worse on average, with some failing to earn representation in certain legislative assemblies at all. For example, the party A Just Russia earned too few votes to make it into the Penza regional assembly, while the far-right Liberal Democratic Party of Russia missed the mark in North Ossetia. Outside of the Sakhalin region, the New People party didn’t make it into a single legislative assembly.
As for city council elections, United Russia had its worst showing (33 percent) in Kirov and its best (75 percent) in Kyzyl (the capital of the Tuva Republic). The New People party made it into four (Kyzyl, Barnaul, Kiro, and Kursk) of the seven municipal councils that were holding elections by party list. In Pskov, where popular opposition politician Lev Shlosberg leads the Yabloko party, that party won the 5 percent of votes required to hold a municipal council seat (though Shlosberg himself won’t occupy it).
Meanwhile, according to official counts, in races where deputies were elected in single-mandate districts and not by party lists, the ruling party won the overwhelming majority of municipal council seats. Single-mandate district races are generally seen as easier for government-backed candidates since they have access to the administrative resources required to run an effective campaign. In Tver, United Russia candidates won all 25 City Duma seats, while in Gorno-Altaysk, they won 20 out of 21 seats. In Omsk, they won 35 out of 40 seats, and in Yaroslavl, they won 34 out of 38 seats.
Residents of Neryungri, a town in Russia’s far-eastern Sakha Republic, elected Ilya Gudoshnik, a candidate from the far-right Liberal Democratic Party, as their new mayor. While his victory may look like an upset at first glance, Gudoshnik is a far cry from an opposition candidate; he works for a municipal recycling plant that answers to the Neryungri district administration, and local media was quick to emphasize his standing as a member of the establishment.
What about Moscow?
In the capital, about 1,500 single-mandate seats were up for grabs, and United Russia has already announced that it won almost 1,100 of them. That’s about the same number of winners the party claimed in 2017, but there’s an important difference: this year, a portion of the city’s government-backed candidates ran under the banner of the “My District” movement, a pet project of Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin. The movement hasn’t yet reported how many seats its candidates won, but it’s clear that pro-government candidates won more seats this year than in 2017.
In 2017, United Russia candidates failed to win a single seat in seven different districts, and failed to win a majority of seats in 25 districts (out of a total of 125 districts, just like this year). This year, either United Russia candidates or My District candidates appear to have won majorities in every district.
These results are no surprise. Most prominent opposition candidates, including incumbents, were disqualified from running this year for a variety of official reasons. Many were arrested for publicly opposing Russia’s war against Ukraine. As Meduza has previously reported, arresting inconvenient candidates was the authorities’ main strategy for winning this year’s regional and local elections.
Still, several dozen seats were won by candidates who were endorsed by jailed opposition politician Alexey Navalny’s associates. This year, the team’s “Smart Vote” initiative recommended 778 candidates: 285 from the Communist Party, 132 from Yabloko, and 187 who ran independently. Navalny himself called on Muscovites to “vote against war, corruption, and poverty.” Altogether, according to preliminary data, 73 of the candidates recommended by “Smart Vote” were elected.
This weekend’s elections were neither free nor fair. The independent election monitoring movement Golos recorded more than 1,700 election violations, most of which occurred in Moscow. Read more about Golos’s findings here.
The results of this weekend’s elections — Russia’s first since it launched its full-scale war against Ukraine in February — were largely predictable. The country’s mainstream parties tried not to pit strong candidates against each other, and many of the races were plainly rigged. The majority of opposition candidates who appeared capable of mounting a successful campaign were simply not allowed to run. At the same time, the authorities took advantage of the remote electronic voting system to ensure pro-government candidates won.
In the future, it’s likely that the Kremlin and Russia’s regional administrations will expand the use of electronic voting, turning Russia’s elections into a “black box” and completely stripping voters of their ability to influence electoral outcomes.
Abridged translation by Sam Breazeale
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