How Putin wants to control parliament

Yesterday, today and tomorrow, Russian voters can vote for a new parliament called the State Duma. Due to the corona pandemic, elections will be spread over three days. The results are largely fixed: the United Russia (VR) party will retain the majority in parliament. VR is the party that supports President Putin.

Now it has 343 of the 450 seats in the State Duma, a majority that allows the party to determine everything. President Putin wants to keep it that way, because this parliament is still there if he can be elected president again in 2024. Parliament almost always does what the Kremlin wants, the VR party is the guarantee.

But in the polls, VR is now at an all-time low: even at the official center for opinion research, VR stands at about 30 percent. So to end up above 50 percent Sunday night โ€” or a two-thirds majority like Putin would rather see โ€” requires a lot of art and fly work.

Putin outside shot

United Russia was founded in 2001 by Putin‘s supporters; many ministers are members of it. What is remarkable is that Putin himself is not a member, perhaps to distance himself from the party that has such a bad image.

Russians often see local and regional politicians as responsible for the problems and economic crisis in the country. Putin can remain out of gunpoint as president, including blaming the lower level officials.

That strategy is bad in the parliamentary elections: United Russia is much less popular than the President. There are, of course, the well-known ways to improve the overall atmosphere in the country: Putin recently gave pensioners a one-off premium of around 115 euros. Earlier this month, military personnel, police officers and firefighters received a salary increase or a one-off allowance.

A lot will depend on the rise. Many Russians don’t feel that the elections can change much about their situation. To increase turnout, there are sometimes strong pressure on voters. Many reports have been published in recent days about people who are forced to vote by their employer.

Opposition

There are almost no real opposition parties. In addition to United Russia, there are three other parties in the State Duma: the Communists, the ‘Liberal Democrats’ and the Just Russia party. The โ€œliberal democraticโ€ LDPR is anything but liberal, the views are extremely nationalistic. Just Russia has a social democratic program. But both the LDPR and RR belong to the so-called โ€œsystem oppositionโ€: parties funded by the government in exchange for their support in parliament.

The Communists are independent of the government, but some analysts consider them to be a form of โ€œintended oppositionโ€: the government shows that there may be a different sound without ever becoming dangerous. With their supporters of around 17 percent, they are not a real threat to President Putin.

Many independent opposition candidates have been dropped from the electoral list in recent times, including because they had supported Putin‘s opponent Aleksej Navalny. Navalny has been in a criminal camp since the beginning of this year, and he has to stay there for another 2.5 years. His organization has since been banned, employees are being prosecuted. Other opposition groups have also made the work impossible.

Control

And then the election itself: the Russians are encouraged to vote online. That’s safer in times of corona, but it makes independent control of voting counting much harder. To make online voting popular, there are big prizes to win: voters have a chance to win money, cars and houses. And to lead by example, Friday was seen on television how both President Putin and Prime Minister Misjustin cast their voice by computer.

There

is also less control when counting polling stations this year. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is not sending observers for the first time this year. Russia only wanted to allow 60 observers across the country, which, according to the OSCE, is completely insufficient to carry out proper control. And the Russian independent organization Golos (Stem) will not be able to do its job this year either. The organization was declared a โ€œforeign agentโ€ two weeks ago, leaving them virtually no longer able to do their job.