Russian Election: Russia’s Ruling Party Stifles Opposition and Retains Majority

Facade of the State Duma of Russian Federation in Moscow.

On 17-19 September, Russians headed to the polls to elect representatives to the Russian Parliament. The election, however, was tainted by the Russian government’s systematic oppression of the country’s civil society, independent media and political opposition. With multiple political opponents detained, prosecuted or forced to leave the country, the pro-Putin party United Russia is on course to retain its two-thirds majority in the parliament’s lower chamber, the State Duma.  

“The election in Russia was neither fair nor just and should not be considered a democratic election. The Russian authorities have done everything in their power to silence critical voices and suppress political opposition. The country’s legal system makes it virtually impossible for civil society and independent media to operate. Civil Rights Defenders is very concerned about the developments,” says Ana Furtuna, Eurasia Director at Civil Rights Defenders.

Earlier in 2021, the State Duma adopted a series of bills that expanded the government’s powers to label organisations as ‘undesirable’ or ‘foreign agents’ at their discretion, supposedly to prevent ‘foreign interference in domestic affairs.’ Since then, the bills have been used to suppress critical voices and restrict Russian civil society and independent media. Following a familiar pattern of systematic oppression of civil and political rights, the election itself was tainted by a lack of transparency, silencing of dissent voices and prosecution of political opponents.  

Leading up to the election, multiple political opponents had either been detained, prosecuted or forced to leave the country, including opposition leader Alexei Navalny who is currently imprisoned in Vladimir. At least 67 observers, election commission members and political candidates were detained during the election. Authorities also hand-picked which candidates were allowed to run for certain political positions.

Being deprived of the right to participate in the election, the opposition movement created an initiative called ‘Smart Vote’ that listed which political candidates had the highest chance of winning against candidates from the United Russia party. In response, the authorities made efforts to prohibit that the list was spread by banning Smart Vote’s website and, according to reports, threatening to prosecute employees at Apple and Google if they did not delete the Smart Vote app in their application stores. Both corporations deleted the apps, and so did Twitter, Facebook and Youtube.

For the first time in the country’s history, the legislative election was held over three days, with a possibility to vote online in seven regions, including in Moscow. According to The Movement for Defence of Voters’ Rights, GOLOS, it was impossible to monitor potential election frauds during online voting. GOLOS was allowed to send observers to the polling stations, but it recently obtained a status of ‘an unregistered group-foreign agent’ which gave authorities an argument to not process their reports. Altogether, it gave the Russian government more opportunities to control the election process.

The election took place in the absence of international observers. The authorities invited 60 international observers from OSCE institutions, which was far too few to conduct reliable observations in the country, which had almost 96 000 polling stations open for three days. This makes it difficult for the international community to consider the process and results as legitimate.

In June 2020, a constitutional referendum enabled President Putin to potentially stay in power until 2036. The State Duma, at the time led by 343 deputies of United Russia, supported these constitutional amendments unanimously. According to the preliminary results, United Russia is on course to retrain its majority once again, receiving more than 300 mandates of 450. If these results are recognised as official, the repressive trend in the country is likely to continue.

The final election results have not yet been announced. 

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