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Published in Stream:
Russia Update: May 23, 2016
Press by
The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Hardliners Win and Lose in United Russia Primaries; Whistleblowers Against Fraud Dismissed, Beaten
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As we reported, the ruling United Russia party held primaries over the weekends in which some 9 million people took part, and a number of hardline party leaders found themselves losing, according to TV Rain's sources. Because of reports of fraud, United Russia may cancel the results of the primaries in some areas.

Russia recently began informally conducting "primaries" to see which candidates were more popular and help decide their ranking on party lists, which will determine the order in which they gain seats in parliament, if their party reaches the 5% threshold.

The "primaries" concept doesn't work like the American system, despite the word praymeriz adopted in Russia, because there is no law, established procedure, or schedule governing the process; indeed, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev doesn't think Russia needs a law on primaries because "not all the parties are ready for it," he said.

In part that's a reference to the expense and training involved in adapting a new system, but in part it's about not letting rivals to the ruling party gain an advantage. 

The opposition parties were the first to conduct primaries among themselves weeks ago, which they found beset by dirty tricks from local administrations trying to keep them out or outright physical attacks and specious arrests. The Democratic Coalition also fell apart on the issue of whether Mikhail Kasyanov, head of the Parnas party, would himself be willing to submit to primaries after a scandal involving exposure of his private life on NTV. While he had committed no crime, some party members felt the shame of public humiliation over an extramarital affair with another party member would cost him votes. Kasyanov believed he should not accommodate a situation induced by Russian intelligence.

President Vladimir Putin himself urged United Russia to have primaries and to keep them honest. They were not honest, however. As Open Russia, the movement founded by exiled businessman and former political prisoner Mikhail Khodorkovsky, documented and as the independent media reported, there were accusations of "carousel" voting (multiple votes at different precincts); forced voting (threat against factory workers that they would lose their jobs if they did not participate in mandatory bus rides to vote); dismissal of a whistleblower (she refused to go along with fraud); and beating of a critic exposing fraud. And this was just the primaries.

An RBC reporter who registered to vote in Moscow was easily able to vote at a district in Lyubertsy, a district in the Moscow Region suburbs, simply by showing up -- a phenomenon known as "carousel voting" because some United Russia or even administration officials take labor migrants, or factory workers, or retirees, or anyone else they can commandeer on bus trips around to multiple election precincts to cast votes in their favor. Sometimes the voters are paid a small sum for this favor.

An interesting result of even these rigged ballots, however is that some hardliners as well as party critics didn't make the cut. Aleksandr Khinshtein, a United Russia member who has been critical of corruption among some provincial leaders, found that when he ran in a different district than the previous one, it still didn't help him to overcome the bad press engineered by the target of his criticism, Gazeta and TV Rain reported.

Aleksandr Pushkov, head of the Duma's committee on foreign affairs, placed on US and EU sanctions' list for his role in the forcible annexation of the Crimea, lost the elections according to preliminary votes, said TV Rain.

According to Klub Regionov [Club of Regions], a Perm Territory publication, Pushkov got only eighth place in the primaries, not high enough to ensure him a seat. Valery Trapeznikov, another MP from Perm Territory who got 7th place, is also believed to be unable to gain a seat. Both deputies garnered only about 1,000 votes a piece, according to an Ekho Moskvy Perm source.

The Insider reported that Dmitry Skrivanov, a deputy of the local Perm legislature and a businessman, got 29,900 votes and Igor Sapko, mayor of Perm, came in second; third place was taken by another serving MP from Nizhny Novgorod Region, Aleksandr Vasilenko, representative of Lukoil. This suggests that "administrative resources," i.e. the advantage of incumbents to access advertising and campaign budgets, may have had an effect locally while figures most active and visible in Moscow and abroad, even if running in this provincial district, may not have benefited from.

It's not clear what the means yet as the final results will only be announced May 27.

United Russia solved the problem for Khinshtein by making him a deputy to the party leader Serge Neverov -- that way he doesn't need a seat in parliament to influence policy. Would he be placed on the party list due to that position anyway, ahead of those who won from votes in single-mandate districts or with positions on the party lists? That remains to be seen.

It is not known if a similar method could be used to keep Pushkov as head of the committee. Under Russian procedure, non-members of parliament can also be hired as consultants or aides to committee members.

Another hardliner who might not make the cut was Robert Shlegel, former press secretary and commissar of the nationalist movement Nashi, supported by the Kremlin at one time; he is a prolific commentator on Twitter. Both Pushkov and Shlegel have been recommended by their party to change the regions where they will campaign, a source in the Duma told RBK.

In Russia, you can get on the ballot without establishing residency in a region by getting a sufficient number of local signatures to a petition to be put on the ballot, a method that the late Boris Nemtsov, opposition leader, used to get elected in Sochi and later Yaroslavl.

But changing regions didn't help Khinshtein. Public opinion is increasingly arrayed against United Russia as the visible symbol of economic failures and corruption in many regions and any United Russia candidate has that image to contend with.

Despite these setbacks, the system is more or less working for the Kremlin. Vitaly Milonov, the hardline local legislator in St. Petersburg notorious for his anti-gay campaigns and putting the Soldiers Mothers out of business in his town when they became critical of silence on the Ukraine war dead, handily won the St. Petersburg primaries, said TV Rain. Yuliya Mikhalkova of the comedy show "Ural Dumplings" won as did Vladimir Burmatov of Chelyabinsk.

Photo journalist Ilya Varlamov who traveled to Chelyabinsk recently has had fun posting pictures of old buses with a United Russia ad saying "Chelyabinsk - the Place You'll Want to Live In!" that are rusting, out of order, or even being pushed by a group of people after stalling.

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2016-05-23 19:56:43

Another primary winner, according to Oleg Smolkin, head of United Russia's Executive Committee, is Dmitry Sablin, head of Fighting Brotherhood and aide to former general and war veteran Boris Gromov whom we have covered for his role in not only the war in Ukraine but in supporting the Sever Battalion whose members are suspected of assassinating Nemtsov. Sergei Zheleznyak, who has proposed restrictions on the Internet won the primaries, as did Gennady Onishchenko, former head of Rospotrebnadzor, the consumer watchdog agency, who earned himself a page of his greatest quotes on Snob for his various conservative comments and malapropisms.

These included: 

"Hamburgers, even if they don't have worms, are not the right choice of nutrition for the populatiom of Moscow and Russia. This food is not ours!"

Onishchenko blamed the reformist Tsar Peter the Great for a "300 year drunk" of the Russian people and said he was confident Russia would return to its "patriarchal" roots, and go back to reading the Domostroi (an ancient book of instruction for right living). But he gave up the fight against rodents, saying they were "older than humankind" and while humans were "still crawling on all fours" they had already become "corporate animals."

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick