Poll worker displaying an empty ballot box before the opening of a polling station in Moscow, 18.03.2018. Photo OSCA PA, CC BY-SA 2.0

Political competition's peculiarities: outcomes of candidate registration for September 19 regional and federal elections

Author: Alexander Kynev

A shrinking number of parties eligible to stand for election

There has been a more than twofold decrease in the number of registered parties eligible to stand for election since 2016 in absolute figures (74 down to 32)1. Notably, the parties that have tried to nominate candidates in any way are even fewer than in 2016 in absolute figures (15 vs 25), while this indicator has grown in relative figures as a part of the general number of eligible parties only because the number of eligible parties has decreased.

This situation illustrates that the very procedure of registration via the signature collection is close to impossible to comply with due to the required number of signatures, deadlines for collection2, and the requirements of signature review, which are almost unrealistic to fulfill3.

In combination with the situation of candidate registration in majoritarian districts, this serves as illustrative evidence of a need for comprehensive reorganization and/or full abolition of this procedure via reduction of the number of signatures, a possibility for e-signatures, and adding electoral deposits as an alternative form of registration.

The de facto impossibility to participate in elections for parties deprived of the 'parliamentary benefit'4 strongly devalues the fact of their legal existence, making it a mere formality. This creates a vicious circle in which the system reproduces itself by welcoming only actors that are already 'in' and effectively barring new political players from elections unless their participation is initiated by the authorities rather than common citizens. Such massive non-participation of formally registered parties has one more important consequence: a further decrease in the number of registered parties, likely to continue in the years to come (unless the eligibility criteria for parties to participate in elections are liberalized).

A high number of eliminated State Duma candidates

In this ongoing campaign, the number of eliminated candidates is already well above that of 2016. Back then, 234 candidates dropped out. This time, 190 withdrew at the stage of approving the lists, 231 during the first three stages5, 244 by mid-August, and 321 by September 1. The Central Election Commission (CEC) has also requested the Supreme Court to eliminate 15 more because of their 'possession of foreign financial instruments.' Therefore, the total forecast on candidate dropout is at least 336. In fact, the number of candidates appeared lower than in 2016 already at the stage of nomination (2,296 vs. 2,438 candidates notifying district electoral commissions about their nomination).

Notably, with the CEC lawsuits to the Supreme Court of Russia because of candidates' 'foreign financial instruments' taken into account, the main obstacle for citizens to stand for elections during this campaign was their former record of criminal convictions and failure to get rid of the 'foreign financial instruments' in question.

In single-mandate districts, the candidate registration situation is similar to that of 2016. Parties with a 'parliamentary benefit' had almost all their candidates registered, while the denied registrations were few. The party deprived of the benefit (ROS – Russian All-People Union) saw none of its candidates registered. Very few self-nominees were registered (11)6. The number of registered candidates also decreased to 2,091 by mid-August and 2,037 by September 1. Some candidates withdrew their candidacies already after the registration. 7

Decreased competition at gubernatorial elections

51 candidates were nominated at gubernatorial elections in 9 regions (5.7 per region on the average), 39 registered (4.3). Out of all nominated candidates, 23.52% were filtered out. These indicators demonstrate the downtrend even in the formal competition: in 2020, the average was 8.1 per region at nomination and 5.05 at the initial registration.

On the other hand, filtering in 2021 was milder. In 2019, the filtering rate was 53.4% by the end of the race and 37.6% in 20208. A possible reason behind the decrease in filtering rate and the simultaneous downfall in the average number of candidates in 2021 compared to 2019 and 2020 is the decision of some candidates not to participate due to their awareness of the impossibility of passing the municipal filter9 without the administration's approval. Moreover, the list of election participants in 2021 includes two President-appointed acting governors representing systemic parliamentary opposition parties: the Liberal-Democratic Party of Russia's (LDPR) Degtyaryov in Khabarovsk Krai and the Communist Party of the Russian Federation's (CPRF) Russkikh in Ulyanovsk Oblast. Under such conditions, CPRF and LDPR are not motivated for a genuine competition in other regions, while Just Russia has never been active in opposing incumbents in gubernatorial elections.

At the gubernatorial election, self-nomination is de facto used only for administrative candidates. Dyumin, the governor of Tula, is the only independent candidate to be nominated and registered; he already was a self-nominee in 2016.

Initially, Ulyanovsk Oblast and Khabarovskiy Krai had the most candidates nominated (8 each); this is also where most candidates were denied registration. These are the regions where acting governors represent systemic opposition, CPRF and LDPR, while the chances of Degtyaryov to be elected against any opponents look ambiguous. The fewest candidates (3) were in Chechnya.

Fewer lists of candidates nominated in regional legislative elections

In total, 324 lists were nominated to 39 regional legislatures (8.3 per region on the average), 275 registered (7.05 on the average). The filtering rate between the nomination and registration was 49, or 15.12%, well below 25.7% in 2020 and the lowest since 2013.10 However, the average number of nominated lists per region has decreased since 2020 and even 2019, a fact obviously caused by the general trend towards fewer registered parties and many parties being pessimistic about their prospects to have their lists registered, as 8.3 nominated lists per region are the lowest indicator throughout the 2012-2021 period. 11

Comparing 2021 to 2016 – the year of the previous regional elections – in the same 39 regions, the number of nominated lists has decreased from 370 to 324 between 2016 and 2020, while the number of registered lists went up from 269 to 275. Illustratively, a number of parties with the 'parliamentary benefit' in some regions have decided not to nominate their lists in these regions.12 The fact that parties do not bother to use their benefits is a good example of only nominal existence of many regional branches of political parties; rather than independent political actors, these frequently are nothing more than a legal entity that a regional administration uses (or does not use) if need be.

Out of 324 lists, a total of 204 were nominated via the benefit procedure (all of them were registered, except the Party of Growth's list in Moscow Oblast, where many candidates' documents were found problematic). 13 Out of 120 lists that needed to collect signatures, 72 were registered, or 60%, 5 were denied approval, 26 denied registration, and 17 just failed to submit documents for registration.

Therefore, the registration via signature collection remains permanently problematic. After a temporary improvement in 2020 thanks to the emergence of new parties established in spring 2020, the situation is back to the old normal, whereas denied registration via signatures is a rule rather than an exception.

Higher rates of parliamentary parties' participation in regional legislative elections

As before, the parliamentary parties are the most active participants in regional elections. United Russia, CPRF, and Just Russia ran at all 39 elections of regional legislatures. Like in 2016, LDPR did not participate in the election of the parliament of Chechnya.

New People and the RPPSJ proved the most active among the non-parliamentary parties. While New People nominated more lists (32), only 22 of them were registered. RPPSJ nominated 30; 26 were registered, and 4 were denied registration. Notably, almost nowhere did these two parties avoid submitting registration documents.

The rest of the parties join elections of regional parliaments in much fewer cases. RPPSJ and New People are followed by Rodina/Homeland (23 lists nominated, only 10 registered), the Communists of Russia (22 nominated, 17 registered), Yabloko (16 lists nominated vs. 14 registered), and the Party of Growth (10 vs. 9).

We believe that the level of activity of a party at regional elections is the best indicator of its regional network's condition and whether it actually works in regions and has local leaders with political ambitions, something that directly influences its chances at federal elections. Hence the regional campaigns are the best channel for improving performance at federal races for non-parliamentary parties, such as the Russian Party of Pensioners for Social Justice (RPPSJ) and Novye Lyudi/New People. At the same time, these parties have better chances at regional polls compared to federal ones since there are much fewer lists on ballots (the maximum is 11 in Karelia and Samara Oblast, and 10 in Permskiy Krai and Chuvashia), so voters are less divided.

To remind, New People it into all 4 regional parliaments where its lists were registered in September 2020, while RPPSJ ended up in legislatures in 7 out of 9 regions where it was on ballots, with support frequently on par with Just Russia. As federal elections increase voter turnout, if held together with the regional ones, they create a certain horizon of opportunities for opposition parties and candidates. Some voters that vote for opposition parties at federal elections that are not represented at regional elections, are supposed to reallocate their support in their favor.

Some parties hardly participate in regional elections, such as the Russian Party of Freedom and Justice (only 4 regions), 'Greens' (6 regions), and Green Alternative (6 regions; registered only in 4). All attempts to nominate lists of the Party of Social Protection ended in failure to submit registration documents.

The nomination and registration process at regional polls were traditionally the most scandalous in Saint Petersburg (where Rodina and Tatyana Bulanova14 unsuccessfully appealed against the denials), Ingushetia (where authorities actively counteracted the campaign of Partiya Dela/the Party of Business and later refused to register its list), and Krasnoyarskiy Krai ('spoilers'15 were nominated against LDPR, and Gliskov was disqualified from the State Duma election).

Higher number of majoritarian candidates nominated by parliamentary parties

In the entire universe of candidates, the share of dropout between nomination and registration has decreased from 20% in 2020 to 13.5% in 2021. To a large extent, it is explained by a dominance of candidates delegated by parties with the registration 'benefit.' Notably, the filtering rate of the self-nominees at regional elections 2021 has increased from 67% to 74% compared to 2020. It is yet another indication of the inadequacy of the system of registration via signature collection as it is now.

Thus, 21 parties initially tried to participate in single-mandate districts at regional elections; candidates of 18 parties were registered. The remaining 14 parties nominated nobody even in these elections.

The four parliamentary parties remain absolute leaders by the number of candidates nominated in majoritarian districts. In total, they nominated 3,094 candidates or 71.2% of all nominated candidates; 3,056 were registered, or 77.28% of all registered candidates.

They are followed by self-nominees. New People has become much more passive; having ranked fifth in 2020 in majority-vote districts immediately after the parliamentary parties (self-nominees excluded), it is down to the seventh position now. RPPSJ is up to the fifth rank, having well improved its dropout rate compared to 2020. Yabloko is ranked sixth, followed by New People, Homeland, and the Communists of Russia. Other parties' participation is insignificant.

As always, self-nominees suffer the worst rate of filtering between nomination and registration. Out of the relevant parties, New People demonstrate the highest level of dropout, like in 2020. They enjoy some improvement, though: compared to 91% dropout in 2020, the rate is down to 77% in 2021. Apparently, the phenomenon of this party can be explained by either poor performance of their lawyers (and absence of the benefit almost everywhere, making them collect signatures), or by unfriendly attitude towards the party on the side of regional administrations, which are used to cooperation with traditional partners.



1 The number of organizations eligible to participate in elections is still higher than in 2007 and 2011 (assuming that the more such organizations, the more possibilities for citizens to find an appropriate one for nominating their candidacy), yet lower than at all other elections of the State Duma, starting with the first one in 1993. Notably, elections of 1993-2003 were the most competitive by the number of organizations who used their right of nomination.

2 Which has fallen on the mass summer vacations period since 2016.

3 The verification rules and technical criteria lean towards demanding a high level of literacy of citizens rather than their clear political will

4 The right to nominate lists and candidates to the State Duma without collecting signatures.

5 There were 232, but the Supreme Court returned Kapchuk on the list of the Party of Growth.

6 Which is even fewer than 23 in 2016.

7 As pointed out in the previous report of the Liberal Mission, some of them had good chances of winning.

8 After the withdrawal of two candidates in Irkutsk Oblast to support the acting governor Kobzev.

9 The requirement for candidates for the post of governor to collect signatures of a certain percentage of deputies of municipalities and heads of municipal entities in order to be eligible. The mandatory percentage varies from region to region and is between 5% to 10%. – REM

10 The filtering rate was 2.4% at the 2012 election and 10.5% in 2013; it grew dramatically in 2014 up to 22.03% and reached its peak of 39% in 2015, hitting the previous record of 34% set by December 2, 2007, election. Subsequently, the filtering rate was 27.1% in 2016, 21% in 2017, 26% in 2018, and 30% in 2019.

11 In fact, the average of 8 lists per region is comparable to the best period of 'controlled multiparty system' in the 2000s, whereas the maximum of lists on ballots, 8.1 per region, was in March 2006. When the drastic contraction in the number of registered parties occurred between 2007 and 2011, there were usually 4 or 5 lists on ballot sheets of legislature regional elections.

12 In total, eight potential lists had not been nominated.

13 Between 2014 and 2020, there were 18 cases of disqualification of party lists that had been nominated via the benefit procedure (without signature collection).

14 A famous singer running for the State Duma with the Rodina/Homeland party – REM.

15 Candidates or parties with similar ideologies whose appearance would lead to the splitting of votes of the electoral base - REM


Source: Liberal Mission Foundation. A full report may be found here (RU).

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PART 1: United Russia

According to sociologists, the same four parties represented in the parliament now: United Russia, the Communist Party of Russian Federation (CPRF), the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), and Just Russia will probably be elected again in 2021. How are these four parties organized? What is their support base in regions?

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Kaluga. A Holiday. Image - flickr

During the United Russia primaries, experts detected possible falsification of the results and instances of interference in the electronic voting process. According to some analyses, 99% of votes for the first 22 candidates on the United Russia party list were falsified while the amount of falsified votes for candidates in single-mandate constituencies reached 80-95% of the votes cast.

Arrest by the police. Image - Wikimedia Commons

According to election observers, recent amendments further limiting citizens' passive suffrage constitute a "fifth wave" of depriving Russians of their right to stand for election since the collapse of the USSR. New restrictions have a particular impact on politically active citizens.

Programming, computing and information concept. Image - Peshkova, Getty Images Pro

In May, the Russian Federation has tested a new system of remote electronic voting. The Movement in Defense of Voters' Rights "Golos" observed the testing phase, took part in the voting, and shared their conclusions and recommendations in a respective report.

"I have the right to choose!" Photo - EPDE.

Opportunities for independent citizen election observation and civil society space in general have been shrinking steadily in Russia over the past decade. Recently, further restrictions have been adopted that limit the ability of citizens to independently monitor electoral processes.

May 1st Demonstration of the Communist Party, 2012. Image by _TMY2892/flickr

Over the past 14 years, the authorities have blocked 120,000 candidates from participating in elections of various levels, depriving millions of Russian citizens of the right to choose their representatives.

A demonstration in Moscow. Image - by Andrey, Pxhere.

Russia has finally outlawed Alexey Navalny's political and anti-corruption movement. Here's how the crackdown affects activists, journalists, and ordinary supporters.

Plenary meeting of the State Duma. Image - Wikimedia Commons

The President of Russia approved the law prohibiting those who are "involved" in the activities of an extremist organization from running in elections.

Electoral headquarters of Alexey Navalny. Photo - Wikimedia Commons

On June 9, the Moscow City Court, based on the charges by the Moscow Prosecutor's Office, recognized the Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK), the Foundation for the Protection of Citizens' Rights, and the headquarters of Alexei Navalny as extremist organizations. Now, many citizens are under a threat of pressure and persecution.

Vladimir Putin at the United Russia Congress (2011-11-27). Image - Wikimedia Commons

Between May 24 and 30, United Russia held its preliminary selection of candidates for 2021 State Duma elections. Nearly 12 million citizens participated in the party's primaries. Yet, a more careful examination shows an increasingly controlled and non-transparent process, aimed at having the public formally 'endorse' a carefully vetted list of pre-selected candidates.

Meeting of Central Election Commission Chair Ella Pamfilova with OSCE / ODIHR Director Matteo Mecacci. Photo - CEC

Between 2003 and 2018, OSCE/ODIHR published 139 recommendations on how to improve the conduct of elections in Russia. In the run-up to the State Duma elections in 2021, Russia has fully implemented just over 10% of them. Some have been tackled more promptly than others.

Man using computers. Photo by: Lisa Fotios from Pexels

Ahead of the State Duma election on September 19, 2021, Russia just tested its remote electronic voting system. While the Central Election Commission of the Russian Federation (CEC) is preparing the report about the results of the test, election monitors say Russia's electronic voting system is a black box.

Alexei Navalny. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The Russian authorities are expected to orchestrate a result in the upcoming State Duma elections that will give United Russia a clear majority of seats. This does not mean, however, that the manipulation of the electoral process by the authorities is complete. In a limited number of competitive districts, true opposition candidates including candidates who are associated with Aleksei Navalny have a real chance of winning if they are allowed to run. In recent weeks, steps have been taken to block these 'undesirable' candidates from participating.

Central Election Commission (CEC) of Russian Federation during April 21, 2021, meeting. Photo by: CEC.

On March 19, 2021, the new composition of the Central Election Commission (CEC) of the Russian Federation was revealed. Out of 15 members, eight new people joined the CEC. In particular, the new Commission has been 'reinforced' by bureaucrats from the Presidential Administration, the State Duma, and the Civic Chamber (a consultative civil society institution closely linked to the government).