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

United Russia Primaries 2021: How Electoral Technology Became Administrative

Since 2012, the United Russia party has opened and expanded the practice of pre-selection of candidates, so that primaries have begun to resemble real elections, albeit internal ones, with some inter-party competition and the appearance of 'new faces'. Holding public primaries also allowed United Russia to bypass strict campaigning and funding regulations, while promoting its candidates well before the formal election period. Since 2018, voters have also been able to participate in online primaries.

However, since 2016, while declaring the continuous 'openness' of the primaries process by formally allowing every voter to participate, the party has significantly reduced the eligibility criteria for potential candidates. The process of fielding candidates has become a formality, with results determined at the stage of candidate registration. Local power has been subjected to increased scrutiny by, for example, governors, who were newly appointed by the government and who used the primaries to change local legislative structures according to the criterion of loyalty.

As the party's ratings began to downslide in 2018 and 'administrative' candidates no longer needed to be promoted through its channels (rather, they had to distance themselves from United Russia), the use of the 'open' model of primaries began to decline. Already in 2019, some regions, including Moscow, switched to a more 'closed' model of primaries, where only members of United Russia and its affiliated organisations could vote.

The 2020 primaries, which were held entirely online due to the coronavirus pandemic, further limited the ability of new candidates competing against established party leaders to campaign. Since 2019, there has been an increased incidence of encouragement and pressure to vote on the employees of state bodies and state-owned companies in order to increase turnout.

As ratings of United Russia remained quite low in 2021, voters lacked incentives to participate in the primaries. The party itself was no longer using primaries to find new 'faces' or increase public support. Rather, United Russia lowered its public outreach and aimed to control the turnout, with the main method being mass pressure to vote exerted on officials and employees of state-owned enterprises.

The low transparency and inconsistency of the results do not allow experts to assess the real turnout either nationally or regionally. These apparent inconsistencies may signal manipulation of the voting results, which, however, does not seem to trouble the leadership of United Russia. The carefully vetted lists of candidate names have now been formally 'approved by the people'. The party only needs to rubber-stamp them at the next congress.


The evolution of primaries mechanism

United Russia started expanding and diversifying the regional primaries technology for the selection of candidates back in 2012; the legal term being 'primary intra-party voting'. Previously a semi-decorative procedure, it grew increasingly similar to real elections, with polling stations, electoral commissions, visual campaign materials, "kompromat" wars1, debated counting results, etc. The difference was that this was happening inside one party.

The reason for organising primaries is that elections of regional parliaments in Russia were moved to September since 2013, and federal parliamentary elections since 2016. It prompted parties and candidates to take care of their visibility in advance, before voters went out on vacations and to their dachas. Serving as a powerful news event, primaries would enable United Russia to start actual campaigning earlier than their competitors, with primary voting scheduled for late May, and the primary campaign for May and April. Naturally, a longer campaign is more expensive. Not surprisingly, other parties had neither money nor capacity to catch up with United Russia, effectively granting it an information monopoly during the primaries.

Apart from the number-one task to extend the timeframe of actual campaigning and creating additional publicity opportunities, large-scale United Russia primaries enabled it to fulfill several other tasks.

Task number two: the primaries campaign offers a good opportunity and free environment for authorities and political parties to test, select, and promote better candidates, compared to the extremely overregulated formal stage of campaigning, which is marked by multiple restrictions, i.e. payments only from electoral funds, copyright, etc.

Task number three: a possibility to search for new faces 'over the head' of local party bureaucracy which is institutionally interested in everlasting prolongations of their powers.

Task number four: mobilization and search for new supporters (activists).

Task number five is what some government-affiliated think tanks would occasionally refer to as "early detection of local conflicts" during the 2016 and 2017 United Russia primaries. However, this is not quite the case. First, major local clashes, including interpersonal ones, are well known, especially to the authorities of the regions concerned. Second, old conflicts are often joined by new ones, caused by the inability and often unwillingness of local administrations and other elites to seek compromise. In this case, primaries badly affect the image of the authorities, causing de facto alienation of new personalities.

Importantly, the primaries in Russia are formally seen as a 'simulation exercise'. Unrestricted by formal campaign regulations, they are free in choosing technologies or publishing political advertisements without any supervision of volumes, terms or conditions for the dissemination of campaigning materials. Candidates do not need to use formal electoral bank accounts or report on funds. The Russian electoral law contains no concept of 'primary intra-party voting'; it prescribes party congresses to nominate candidates nationally. Regionally, it is done by regional conferences or general assemblies, or by a party body authorised by a party charter, if a region in question has no registered party branch. Therefore, such party voting in Russia is voluntary; parties take its results into account as a goodwill gesture. There always is a risk that formal nomination can clash with choices made during the primaries, leading to a conflict. Moreover, people voting at primaries, conferences, and congresses are not the same. United Russia has repeatedly seen such differences; PARNAS, a core actor behind the short-lived Democratic Coalition, faced the same problem in 2015-2016, as it was implementing the same technology. The issue re-emerged in 2018 for the Moscow city conference of Yabloko when nominating a mayoral candidate. Unsurprisingly, neither PARNAS nor Yabloko were willing to repeat their primaries exercise.

In legal terms, such primaries are regulated only by general legislative provisions irrespective of participation in elections, such as personal data protection, etc.

The technologies of United Russia's primaries underwent continuous sophistication between 2012 and 2021. Initially, four models were introduced; regional political councils had to pick one, 60 days before the calling of the election the latest, i.e. approximately six months before the election day:

  • Model one: voting is open for all citizens of Russia eligible to vote in upcoming elections;
  • Model two: voting is open for all citizens registered as electors (citizens can register themselves; no authorisation of the organising committee is required to add them to the list) at local party branches; voting is held immediately after each meeting of primaries candidates with electors, or on a single voting day;
  • Model three: voting is open for all members of the Party or other organisations (namely, ONF-NFR, The National Front for Russia) that have concluded cooperation agreements with the Party or are members of theprimaries organising committee, while the organising committee approves the list of electors; voting is held immediately after each meeting of primaries candidates with electors;
  • Model four: voting is open only to party members approved by a regional political council as electors (as a rule, a very limited group of people).

Models one and two usually bear many commonalities: in both cases, primaries imitate real elections, with as many polling stations as possible, albeit fewer than at real elections, and usually located in the same premises as official Precinct Election Commissions (PECs). In Models one, two, and three, the political council decides to create an organising committee by defining its membership and empowering it for further procedures.

Ahead of the State Duma election in 2016, the party has adopted the 'Provisions on Procedures of Primary Voting for Candidacies to be Nominated by the United Russia Party to the State Duma of Seventh Convocation'. This regulation highly restricted candidate selection even compared to the current legislation. It excluded potential candidates with a criminal record, even expired or expunged, while the federal law only disqualified persons for up to 10 years since the expiry or expungement of conviction if they had been sentenced to deprivation of freedom for grave offences, or up to 15 years for especially grave offences. In addition to failure to submit a full package of documents or provision of false information in the application, someone can also be denied registration as a primaries' participant "if he or she is found to discredit the Party or damage political interests of the Party by their activities or inactivity". Therefore, the formal expansion of participation for voters was compensated by new significant restrictions on the access to primaries for candidate hopefuls. Even more exclusive than the electoral legislation, these regulations enshrined multiple opportunities for abuse and arbitrary decisions by registering bodies. As a result, outcomes of primaries could effectively be determined at the stage of candidate registration.

The Presidium of the General Council of the United Russia Party passed a new Regulation on Primary Intra-Party Voting on 7 February 2017, before the 2017 elections. It abandoned the system of four models and introduced the open model (the former Model one) as the only option at elections of regional parliaments. The document introduced a demand to establish counting stations in at least 20% of all precincts in an electoral district. The voter list is composed on the primaries' single voting day. Formally, only voters living in the 'counting station precinct' are eligible to be added to the list. Members of the 'precinct counting commission' have to use a database to check if the voters had not received a ballot previously. This procedure is obviously questionable, since the status of an electronic database would be unclear and the verification is hardly effective in preventing multiple voting because every counting station has its own list. Each voter can mark several candidates who are ranked in order of the total number of votes received.    

During the 17th Congress of United Russia in Moscow on 22-23 December 2017, the Chairperson of the Party Dmitry Medvedev vowed: "the same procedure for all settlements with a population over 1,000, and the most open model possible, with all registered candidates participating". 2 The Presidium of the General Council of the Party changed the Regulation on primaries accordingly on 11 January 2018. Yet, the amendment affected only elections of deputies of local legislatures and self-government institutions3, but not gubernatorial elections, contrary to Medvedev's statement, which is quoted as referring to all elections. A single model of open voting was introduced, 'as a rule', for all settlements with a population over 1,000.

E-voting was also added as an option for primaries in 2018. To participate in e-voting, a voter had to apply at www.epg.er.ru, followed by verification of his or her data by IT system Vsya Rossiya ("Entire Russia"). The system had been populated by data via the collection of signatures for Vladimir Putin during the 2018 presidential electoral campaign. Apparently, about 11 million signatures were provided by citizens who also agreed to their data being used; out of them, 2 million 860 thousand who lived in regions covered by primaries in 2018, received a newsletter about the e-voting option. Someone not included in the Vsya Rossiya database had to visit a regional or local party executive committee and fill out a questionnaire to authorise the processing of their personal data. Enabled to e-vote through this procedure, citizens would get a text message with their login and individual password to vote electronically. Each voter could vote only once. E-voting was held between 28 May and 1 June 2018 and was therefore completed 24 hours before the offline voting at primaries' polling stations.

Since in 2018 the ratings of United Russia were rather low, the party needed to avoid excessive visibility. Local candidates largely distanced themselves from the party. The next primaries in 2019 (with the primaries' single voting day on 26 May) have moved away from the massive use of the open model so prevalent in 2017-2018. The provision for an 'as a rule'-open-model for settlements over 1,000 population has disappeared from the regulation on the 2019 primaries. E-voting was based on a Unified Public Services Portal, the federal state IT system. However, reportedly, three weeks before the primaries, access to the public system was not possible. Also, a two-factor authentication system was introduced on the go for people included in the database (those who were not listed had to attach a passport scan - a solution analogous to several previous e-voting projects).

In 2019, some online elections were abandoned by ad hoc decisions. Instead, a closed model was introduced , including only members of United Russia and its affiliated organisations (i.e., during the Moscow City Duma primaries).

The campaign in United Russia 2020 primaries continued to lose scale. Formally, the coronavirus pandemic was used as a reason to actually tone down the campaign. Opponents of pro-government candidates were severely restricted from the outset from campaigning, with voting itself taking place exclusively by electronic means between 25 and 31 May.


Transparency of the process and outcomes

For years, a single portal https://pg.er.ru/ was used to publish information about the primaries in United Russia, such as the names and data of candidates, the location of 'counting stations', etc. Previously, regional branches published this information in a non-systematic way, so that some data was simply unavailable. In fact, the organisers do not provide candidates with anything other than information support on the portal, and each candidate fills in the data on the portal themselves. The fact that many candidates are not interested in publishing information about themselves, such as bios or platforms, is indicative of their level of motivation.

Apart from the unsystematic and inconsistent information on candidates in primaries, there remains the problem of availability of other data, such as information on procedures and results. The decisions of the organising committees or the district screening commissions, e.g. concerning the registration of candidates, its refusal, or invalidation, are never fully published, let alone the appeal procedures. These gaps make declarations of openness look, to put it mildly, not very genuine.

Protocols with the results of voting in precincts or districts are not available, and there is even no aggregated data on turnout by district and territory within districts. Only occasionally does the portal's map show information on total turnout by election type, but it does not show absolute numbers of actual voters.

More comprehensive turnout data was made public only once in 2016, revealing a number of obvious turnout discrepancies between neighbouring precincts and districts with similar populations, as well as anomalies involving simultaneous voting for the same candidate in several ballots, such as when voting for a list and a candidate in a district. In 2017, the lack of complete data made an independent analysis almost impossible, as even the total number of voters was not clear. Initially, the announced results provided the numbers of votes cast for candidates, then only their overall ranking, and finally the percentage of votes received by candidates, but the absolute number of votes was no longer available. More detailed data was only published for certain regions in other sources, giving a fragmented picture.      

Compared to 2018, when the portal published aggregated data on turnout in the primaries by region, in 2019 this information became completely unavailable. Only the regional branches of the party published their data on an individual basis. Since then, only data on the absolute number of votes received by candidates has been published, making it impossible to determine the turnout in a given territory, as voters can mark any number of candidates on their ballots. Unlike in 2018, when e-voting data was made public on every counting commission in a territory, as of 2019 there is no publicly available e-voting data, either aggregated or by territory. Data on some campaigns did not appear on the portal at all.

Aggregated data about candidates by region or by type of election constitute another essential problem. On one hand, the 'total counter' is always available, showing the total actual number of candidates across the country; however, in the absence of regional breakdown, it is impossible to differentiate the outcomes by region. Although one could transform available lists of candidates into a self-made database manually, this simple comparison would demand tremendous effort and extensive time.

Formally, the website is required to publish recordings of candidate debates. In reality, however, candidate pages contain no hyperlinks to such recordings. They are either not uploaded to the website, or at best contain a simple YouTube link. As the accessibility of recordings remains a problem, a very low number of views of almost all debates comes as no surprise. Traditionally, debates follow a formalistic scheme: no dynamics, obviously prearranged scenes, and no actual discussion, as debaters just deliver a speech and respond to questions of the host and, if any, the audience. Low interest in such events is something to be expected.


Use of public resources

The problem of using public resources for United Russia primaries was a subject of regular public discussions during the first years of large-scale primaries. The ambition to tie the procedure of primaries to borders of existing precincts and even to recruit members of precinct electoral commissions to work in the 'counting commissions' automatically led to an issue of setting up so many counting stations. Consequently, primaries were conducted in places most convenient for voters, usually at the PEC members' workplace (as a rule, these having been educational establishments).

In response to harsh criticism against using public resources, United Russia had to search for other solutions in some regions. The Chairperson of the Central Election Commission (CEC) Ella Pamfilova announced at the commission meeting in May of 2016 that CEC would ensure that the premises where United Russia primaries are run simultaneously with early voting are not shared with real elections. However, as the CEC secretary Maya Grishina clarified, the very fact of using voting premises for the selection of candidates is not a violation, just like hiring members of PECs for primaries. Still, the CEC denied the use of the same ballot boxes for primaries; this being federal property, which the CEC never authorised for use, assured Nikolay Bulayev, the Deputy Chairperson of the CEC4.

2017-2020 campaigns were no longer marked by such public outrage. The party claims it legitimately rents and pays for premises, while other parties have no objections. Even if this is not the case, no information is available on any of the party opponents having ever checked or appealed against it. What is undebatable is the fact that the practice of using public institutions as premises for counting stations of United Russia primaries remains omnipresent.


Conditions for regional political competition

Even though the most open voting model was increasingly used in the years 2012-2018, in some of the regions where it was applied, the campaign was in reality largely simulated, formalistic, and the outcome was often pre-determined. The actual competition level at primaries was very uneven across types of elections and regions. Campaigns in most regions of Northern Caucasus, Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, Mordovia, as well as oblasts of Penza, Rostov, Saratov, etc. could be labelled as 'orchestrated'. The most competitive primaries took place in Perm Krai (legislature and Perm City Duma, 2016), Arkhangelsk Oblast (regional assembly and city duma, 2018), Irkutsk Oblast (legislature, 2018), Ivanovo Oblast (regional duma, 2018), Buryatia (People's Khural, 2018), Yakutia (Yakutian State Assembly and Yakutsk City Duma, 2018), Yaroslavl Oblast (regional duma, 2018), and some others. To mention some relatively competitive campaigns, one can also refer to primaries before the election of the State Council of Udmurtia in 2017, Krasnodar Krai legislature in 2017, etc.

In many cases, new governors have used intra-party voting to radically reshuffle local legislatures in an attempt to replace old regional elites with more loyal MPs. These loyal MPs represent the lower levels of the regional establishment. Being previously unknown to the public, they become personally dependent on the new authorities.

Illustratively, only 12 mandate holders were re-nominated for participation in primaries to 46-seat Council of People's Deputies of Kemerovo Oblast in 2018; many associates of the former governor Aman Tuleyev were denied access to the polls. Out of 40 deputies of the previous convocation, only 6 won primaries, none of them from the former governor's team. Some of them lost primaries; others did not participate, while the rest were asked to withdraw their candidacies. Lists of candidates to legislatures of Voronezh and Chelyabinsk Oblasts were also significantly updated in 2020. Still, governors had to come to terms with the domination of long-standing local 'political generals' in regions with stronger traditional elites, the brightest example being Novosibirsk Oblast in 2015 and 2020, and the traditional list in Magadan Oblast. Old political elites also dominated in regions where governors had retained their positions, such as in the 2015 and 2020 elections in Kostroma Oblast and, by the time of the elections, Belgorod Oblast. The scale of renewal of legislature membership can to a certain degree serve as an indicator of the governor's real influence.



From a formal statistical point of view, 10,519,863 voters were reported to have voted in United Russia primaries that took place on 22 May 2016, or 9.6% of the total number of voters in Russia5. Notably, state propaganda announced completely different figures before the voting day. The Russian Public Opinion Research Centre (VTsIOM) presented findings of its study focusing on the primaries during its 19 May press conference, reported TASS. The survey had put a potential turnout at the Party primaries at 32%6.

According to party representatives, the total turnout at the 28 May 2017 primaries reached 1.24 million, or 9.22% of the population in the regions where the primary voting was held7. The announced turnout ended up higher than at the State Duma primary elections in almost all regions, with the highest indicators observed in Saratov Oblast (14.9%) and North Ossetia (13.2%). The lowest primaries turnout was reported at elections to the Duma of Cherkessk (1.54%), Omsk City Council (2.85%), Pskov City Council (2.88%), and Duma of Tver (3.33%).

According to United Russia Central Election Commission, the total turnout in primaries of 3 June 2018 constituted over 2.8 million, or 11.14% of the population of regions covered by the primaries8. Notably, 217,289 voters had registered on the e-primaries website, 166,673 passed the verification, and 139,930 voted electronically, or 0.54% of the total number of voters and 4.74% of the total voters turning out on 3 June. Where e-turnout was high, voting at polling stations was also active. For instance, while e-primaries in Rostov Region produced one of the highest turnouts, 1.38% or 44,739 voters, the region also had one of the best physical turnout indicators: 17.12%, or 554,592 voters. Khabarovsk Krai (15.77%), Republic of Buryatia (15.63%), Tyva (15.73%), Kalmykia (16.6%), Nenets Autonomous Okrug (19.13%), and Rostov Region (17.11%) were named among the turnout leaders.

Primaries on 26 May 2019 were not marked by many scandals. Where reported, scandals and incidents were reported mostly at a local level (the level of a district or a precinct). Nevertheless, reports indicated administrative pressure behind the voting (predominantly vis-à-vis employees of public enterprises), incentivizing of voters (de facto bribing), and other technologies to maximise turnout at the primaries. According to the official information, the total turnout in the 2019 primaries amounted to 10.41% of the population of the regions covered (more than 1.6 million). Within this, the average turnout at primary voting for State Duma candidates amounted to 7.39%, compared to 10.83% for candidates to regional legislatures, and 8.28% for nominations to councils of administrative capitals of the regions.

In 2019, more than 53 thousand voted electronically9. It shows that the turnout was below the level of May 2018, yet above that of May 2017 and May 2016. As news agency REGNUM reported, voters were the most active in Tyva (19.57%), Karachay-Cherkessia (18.22%), and North Ossetia (14.29%)10.

The 2020 elections were characterised by a reduced role for primaries, which may have been related to the coronavirus pandemic. Taking place between 25 and 31 May, voting in the primaries was held in an electronic format. Despite the lower turnout, United Russia declared it a success and highlighted the increase in online voting rates. Compared to 0.35% voting online in the primaries a year earlier, 5.07% did so in 2020. According to official figures, over 970 thousand voters out of 1.2 million registered in the system took part in the primaries' vote. Noticeably, no ranking of regions by turnout was publicised. What we know is that the leading regions by the absolute number of voters were Chelyabinsk Oblast (138 thousand), Voronezh Oblast (92 thousand), and Novosibirsk Oblast (82 thousand). In Cheboksary, 129 candidates ran and 23 thousand electors voted, or 6% of the Cheboksary population.


2021 primaries

With United Russia's ratings problematically low, the 2021 primaries were no different from those in 2020 in terms of the lack of any real incentive for voters to support the party. Objectives such as gaining media publicity, recruiting new faces, or attracting new supporters were basically out of the question. The campaign was very quiet and limited in scope. Out of 85 districts, voting took place exclusively online in 43, including Moscow, and in 42 in a mixed online and offline mode. The 2021 primaries became an example of transforming the electoral procedure into a simulation exercise of administrative voter mobilisation or outright contriving of results. Media coverage was dominated by numerous testimonies of public sector workers forced to vote.

The publicly available final figures do not provide information on voter turnout by region and precinct. Officially, 11.7 million voters across Russia voted during the primaries (compared to 10.5 in 2016), 6 million of whom claim to have voted online.

Experts point to a number of cases that may be the result of influencing the outcomes of primaries in the regions:

  • Regional and district leaders win everywhere by huge margins, leaving other candidates with a negligible share of the vote; 'middle-ranking' candidates are almost non-existent;
  • Previously, little-known candidates led in many regions, while well-known politicians and sometimes incumbent MPs performed poorly;
  • In many cases, there is no correlation between the results of the same candidates running both in single-mandate districts and on party lists.

For example, MP Nikolai Valuyev received 82,455 votes in constituency 77 in the Bryansk region; this constituency covers almost half of the region, which consists of only two constituencies. A simultaneous vote for a place on the regional list only gave him the eighth place or 20,979 votes. Experts underline the fact that the politician with federal recognition was defeated by a scarcely known Irina Agafonova, the chief physician of the first polyclinic of the city of Bryansk, who received 147,202 votes. It seems that suddenly everyone in the Bryansk region must know this rather shy chief doctor.

Natalya Kaptelinina, a little-known project manager of a private company Step By Step, is miles ahead of rivals over the regional list rankings in Krasnoyarsk Krai with 36,485 votes. However, in her Central constituency in Krasnoyarsk, where she is a councillor and should enjoy at least some popularity, she is three times less popular than the leader Alexander Drozdov (4,725 vs. 13,134), who is only in fifth place on the scale of the Krai.

This kind of dominant perfect political awareness of local citizens smells very suspicious. Who would believe that they have such opposite preferences for the same candidate in different types of elections? In practice, this most likely suggests two things. Either the results in each election were pulled out of a hat without proper coordination, or the voters followed certain instructions very closely without thinking that this might cause a strange discrepancy between the rankings of the same candidate appearing on two parallel ballots.

It must be admitted that these quirks do not seem to trouble the leadership of United Russia. Curiosities aside, the 'people' have formally approved the formal lists of predetermined candidates. Now only the party congress remains to seal the people's choice.

Author: Alexander Kynev

1 Use of compromising material against political competitors

2 http://ER.ru/news/162923/

3 http://er.ru/news/163244/

4 https://www.vedomosti.ru

5 http://er.ru/news/142630/

6 http://pg.er.ru

7 https://rns.online and http://www.er-duma.ru

8 http://er.ru/news/168463/

9 https://er.ru/news/181703/

10 https://regnum.ru

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According to the CEC data as of 9 July 2021, 4,370 elections and referenda are scheduled for 19 September 2021, including elections to the State Duma, nine gubernatorial elections (new heads will be elected in three more regions), 39 elections to regional parliaments, and 11 elections of representative bodies of regional centres. Here's an overview of legal regulations and peculiarities of these races.

Participants of Just Russia rally take off their uniforms 5 minutes after the start of the Yekaterinburg rally on May 1, 2019. Image by Wikimedia Commons


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?

A screenshot of a live broadcast of the voting process. Image by 'Golos' Movement.

In 2021, the Russian Central Election Commission decided to scrap open video broadcasts from the polling stations – a feature of Russian elections since 2012. The Movement in Defense of Voters' Rights 'Golos' has appealed to the President to help overturn this decision.

Map of Violations, Golos website. Screenshot - Aug. 12, 2021

This is the second overview of reports of possible violations of electoral legislation gathered via the 'Map of Violations' by the Movement for the Defense of Voters' Rights 'Golos' between August 2 and August 8.

May 1st, 2009. LDPR Rally. Photo by Photobank Moscow-Live / flickr


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?

The Rt. Hon. Sir Alan Duncan represented the UK at the 23rd OSCE Ministerial Council in Hamburg, Germany, 8-9 December 2016.
OSCE Flags. Photo by Alex Hammond / FCO. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights and the Parliamentary Assembly will not deploy international election observation missions to the 2021 State Duma elections due to major limitations imposed on the institutions. Announcing the decision, ODIHR Director noted that the ability "to independently determine the number of observers necessary for us to observe effectively and credibly is essential to all international observation."

Reporter's notebook. Photo by 2008 Roger H. Goun. CC BY 3.0

On 28 July 2021, the Central Election Commission adopted a new media accreditation procedure that restricts media access to observe and report on the electoral process. The new rules violate the freedom of media editorial policy and may significantly reduce the transparency of the election process.

Map of Violations, Golos website. Screenshot - Aug. 5, 2021

This is the first overview of reports of possible violations of electoral legislation gathered via the 'Map of Violations' by the Movement for the Defense of Voters' Rights 'Golos' between June 22 and August 1.

May 1st Demonstration of the Communist Party, 2012. Photo by Photobank Moscow-Live / flickr


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?

Ballot stuffing, elections March 18, 2018, Lyubertsy. Image - Golos

Less than two months before the elections, the Russian Central Election Commission (CEC) decided to scrap open video broadcasts from the polling stations, which have been the feature of Russian elections since 2012.

1st of May Demonstration in Moscow. 2010. Image - Photobank Moscow-Live / flickr

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?

Ballot box for voting on Constitutional Amendments 2020. Photo - Wikimedia Commons

Since the last State Duma elections in 2016, lawmakers have introduced 19 amendments to the election law. In the year leading up to the State Duma elections in September 2021 alone, seven significant legislative amendments have been introduced, six of them in less than four months before the start of the campaign.

TV reporter, Bryansk. Photo - pxfuel

After almost a decade of crackdowns on big players, the landscape of critical journalism in Russia is dominated by local or smaller niche projects. But if the 2020-2021 trend of relentless attacks on media, journalists, and bloggers continues, many of these small projects are not likely to survive into the autumn. The regime makes it pretty clear that it no longer intends to tolerate any dissent.

"1941- ssshhh!" - Image by James Vaughan / flickr

The laws on "foreign agent" and "undesirable organizations" continue to hamper the work of affected organizations, stigmatize and damage their reputation, and isolate the civil society from international cooperation and support. What are these provisions and how are they being applied?

Vladimir Putin Speech at State Duma plenary session 2020-03-10. Image - Wikimedia Commons

The Russian State Duma's seventh convocation is coming to the end of its five-year term. And according to a new report from iStories and Znak.com, dozens of its deputies haven't said a word in a parliamentary session since they were elected in 2016. Others haven't put forward a single bill. Be that as it may, this hasn't stopped these lawmakers from collecting high salaries and planning to put their names on the ballot for the State Duma election coming up in September.

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).