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Russia’s “elections” in Mariupol

Russia’s 2023 regional voting Small victories for the ‘systemic opposition,’ Moscow keeps its mayor, and violations abound in a dress rehearsal for Putin’s reelection next year

Source: Meduza
Russia’s “elections” in Mariupol
Russia’s “elections” in Mariupol
AP / Scanpix / LETA

This past weekend, the Russian authorities held “elections” for governors and local representatives in dozens of regions of Russia and in the occupied territories of Ukraine. This was the last major set of elections before Russia’s 2024 presidential race, and the Kremlin took advantage of the chance to test the methods it plans to use to ensure Vladimir Putin’s reelection next year. Meduza special correspondent Andrey Pertsev gives an overview of the elections’ key outcomes.

The ‘elections’ in Ukraine’s occupied territories

Russia’s ruling party, United Russia, reported strong results in Ukraine’s occupied regions. According to Russia’s Central Election Commission, the party saw its biggest success in the occupied parts of the Zaporizhzhia region (83 percent), the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic” (78 percent), the self-proclaimed “Luhansk People’s Republic” (74 percent), and the Kherson region (74.8 percent).

Representatives of the commission did not report any procedural violations in these “elections,” which were held under the conditions of war and occupation. The head of the agency, Ella Pamfilova, had the following to say about the results: “People who have lived through so much in these years take [election integrity] very seriously, and these elections are very important to them, just as they are to the rest of our new subjects in the Federation.”

She added that her “colleagues” in the regional election commissions in the annexed territories see things with “different eyes”: “When you know how much these people have been through, [you understand that] they’re better than us; we still have a long way to go to catch up with them.”

Russia’s gubernatorial races

According to the official results, in nine of the 21 regions that held gubernatorial elections, United Russia candidates received more than 80 percent of the vote. The highest proportion of votes went to the acting governor of the Smolensk region, who won 86.6 percent of reported votes.

The only governor to win an election with less than 70 percent of reported votes was Valentin Konovalov, the governor of Khakassia, who received 64 percent. However, as Meduza previously reported, Konovalov was effectively a protest candidate, representing the Communist Party in a race against United Russia’s candidate, State Duma deputy and war veteran Sergey Sokol. By August, it was clear from polls that Sokol would be unable to win. In response, the Putin administration developed a variety of proposals for overcoming the situation (including invalidating the final results), but Sokol withdrew from the race several days before the vote, citing health problems.

The highest voter turnout was recorded in the Kemerovo region, where, according to the Central Election Commission, more than 81 percent of eligible voters cast ballots. The Altai region saw the lowest voter turnout: just 31 percent of those eligible came out to vote. The Novosibirsk and Omsk regions saw only slightly higher turnout.

United Russia’s results show a definite trend (with some minor exceptions). In Central Russia, candidates from the “party of power” won more than 80 percent of the vote in seven out of nine cases. Three out of five candidates in the Far East won 72 percent of the vote. In Siberia, three out of six candidates won roughly 76 percent. According to a source close to the Putin administration who spoke to Meduza, these results align with the key performance indicators sent to the regional administrations in advance. Ideally, United Russia candidates were supposed to win more than 80 percent of votes in Central Russia, more than 70 percent of votes in Siberia, and more than 75 percent of votes in the Urals.

What we were watching

As Moscow holds ‘elections’ in Russia and beyond, a few races could prove problematic for the Kremlin

What we were watching

As Moscow holds ‘elections’ in Russia and beyond, a few races could prove problematic for the Kremlin

What about the parliamentary elections?

United Russia had its best performance in the Kemerovo region, receiving 69 percent of votes (Bashkortostan and the Rostov region saw similar results). Additionally, the ruling party nearly doubled its official results compared to the last election in the Zabaykalsky region (from 28.6 percent in 2018 to 54 percent this year) and in the Irkutsk region (from 27 percent to 54 percent), while it saw a 30 percent increase in the Ivanovo region (from 34 percent to 65 percent).

The party lost party-list votes in just one region: Khakassia. United Russia received just 36 percent of the vote there, while the Communist Party won 39 percent. Nonetheless, United Russia still managed to take control of the local parliament due to single-mandate candidates and will occupy 34 out of 50 seats.

Meduza has already written about how one of the Putin administration’s goals for this election was to reduce the number of seats held by the Communist Party in as many regions as possible. According to sources close to the Kremlin’s political block, this would make it easier to control the party in case of economic difficulties in Russia. Indeed, in about half of the territories that voted, the Communist Party conceded second place, most often to the far-right Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (except for Yakutia, where second place went to New People, whose list was headed by former Yakutia Mayor Sardana Avksentieva).

“If it weren’t for the national republics (Kalmykia, Bashkortistan, and Buryatia), the Communists would have been knocked out [of second place definitively],” a source close to the Kremlin’s political bloc told Meduza, adding that the Kremlin has been unable to get its desired results for LDPR in these republics because politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who founded the party and spent decades as its face, consistently used nationalist rhetoric throughout his career, alienating many national minorities.

What about Moscow?

In Moscow, incumbent Mayor Sergey Sobyanin received 76.4 percent of votes with 42.5 percent turnout. According to the official results, 3.3 million people voted in the election, and 2.7 million voted electronically, either remotely or through electronic terminals at polling centers. As Meduza has previously reported, the Moscow authorities relied on electronic voting (DEG) systems, which can provide whatever official result they want. Election law expert Andrey Buzin has called this form of voting “fundamentally unmonitorable.”

According to official data, second place went to Leonid Zyuganov, the grandson of Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov (8.1 percent); third place went to LDPR candidate and State Duma Vice Speaker Boris Chernyshev (5.6 percent); and fourth place went to New People party member and State Duma Vice Speaker Vladislav Davankov (5.3 percent).

Were there other elections with notable outcomes?

Yes. The Yabloko party won party-list seats in the Yekaterinburg and Veliky Novgorod city parliaments, and its candidates won in single-mandate districts in two other cities.

This year, Yabloko candidates campaigned under the slogan “For peace.” In Yekaterinburg, the party was recommended by Alexey Navalny’s Smart Vote project. Navalny’s team also recommended voting for 25 candidates in single-mandate districts (most were running on the Yabloko ticket, but some represented the Communist Party, the LDPR, and New People). Not one of the single-mandate candidates recommended by Smart Vote won their race.

Were there any violations?

Of course. This is Russia we’re talking about. The independent voter-protection movement Golos has already published a report on service outages and anomalous electronic voting results in the weekend’s elections. Additionally, experts recorded instances of violence being used against election monitors and opposition candidates, among other violations. As usual, the Central Election Commission acknowledged only a few of these irregularities.

Should we expect the presidential election in spring 2024 to go similarly?

Yes, or at least that’s what the Putin administration hopes. The Kremlin’s approach to elections hasn’t changed for years: It cuts off strong opposition candidates, mobilizes public employees and workers at pro-government companies to vote for establishment candidates, and falsifies election results. As Meduza has already reported, the Kremlin has chosen older and relatively unpopular candidates to serve as Putin’s “sparring partners” in the upcoming race. The Russian authorities hope this will be enough to help the president win a record-setting percentage of the vote.

Article by Andrey Pertsev

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