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The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
Russian Parliamentary Election Round-Up: August 18, 2016

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The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
Russian Parliamentary Elections Round-Up: Open Russia's Baronova Registered; Shevchenko Disqualified

UPDATE: Russian state TV debates were held tonight and opposition candidate Maltsev from the Parnas party called for Putin's impeachment, and highlighted his ties with nationalists. See at the end. 

The Russian parliamentary elections are only a month away, but there has been little Russian mainstream media coverage of them this past month.

That's partially because the dramas involving the opposition's struggles to get on the ballot are mainly over (and largely lost with a few interesting exceptions). Also, other stories such as the Crimean border clashes, Olympics doping scandals, the Russian bombing of Aleppo and the downing of a Russian helicopter in Syria; Siberian anthrax and massive personnel shuffles within the Kremlin -- not to mention the American elections -- have overshadowed the heavily state-controlled election campaign. 

In fact, as our syndicated author Paul Goble of Windows on Eurasia writes in his "Baker's Dozen," the Russian state media has used the story of the US elections, and all the scandals and speculation around Republican candidate Donald Trump and his relationship to President Vladimir Putin, to distract from their own elections.

Goble also notes that Russians are simply indifferent to these highly-managed elections. Pollsters found that a party they invented garnered more support than real parties. 

Religion can be used positively or negatively in election campaigns, notes Goble. Muslim leaders have reported that the Kremlin is freezing Muslims out of party lists in the North Caucasus.

But to get supporters, Yabloko, which is a "3 percent party" unable to get the 5% threshold required to get entrance into the parliament in the last election (but, with 3%, still eligible for state subsidy) has supported the visit of the Dalai Lama to Buddhist areas of Russia to gain votes.

Investigations earlier this month shows that businesses who gave money to the ruling United Russia Party obtained government contracts led to increased cynicism about the elections, says Goble.

o Golos Exposes Lucrative Contracts for Businesses That Donated to Ruling Party United Russia 

As RBC reports, Golos, the movement to monitor elections whose NGO was liquidated by court order earlier this year, analyzed open source data to find that a third of the companies donating more than a million rubles to United Russia in 2015 obtained state contracts for more than the sum of their donation.

Golos called this "hidden financing" because it is not explicit; United Russia stopped using a previous method of having affiliated civic organizations donate money to them.

All told, there were 89 donor companies that made one-million ruble donations, and some of them got 10 times that amount back in state contracts.

o Prominent Journalist Running from Dagestan Denied Registration 

Maksim Shevchenko, a prominent TV journalist specializing in ethnic and cultural issues who was attempting to run from Dagestan, was denied registration by the CEC, Ekho Moskvy reported. The official reason is discrepancies in the dates of the lists of 17,500 signatures examined by the Interior Ministry. He believes the real reason is animosity toward him on the part of the police and government.

Shevchenko, who is also a member of the Presidential Human Rights Council, plans to appeal.

o Only 1/4 of Approved Parties to Run Candidates, and Many Likely to Dissolve After Elections

Experts at the Committee for Civic Initiatives (CCI), established by Alexey Kudrin, the former finance minister from 2006-2011 who was hired by Putin as an advisor again in a government-sponsored think-tank, said that they expect a number of parties to liquidate after the elections, RBC reported. 

The excessive number of restrictions on parties has meant that if a group didn't get their candidate nominated, they gave up, the CCI said in a report.

Experts Aleksandr Kynev and Arkady Lyubarev said that the rules created after the last election produce a monopoly of only a few parties and hinder the growth of new political projects.

Out of 74 parties that managed to get approved to nominate candidates, only 25 are going to make use of the achievement; of these, only 18 (24%) could get their federal party lists validated.

Among those parties who are not going to participate in the elections are some of the oldest parties in Russia, the Democratic Party of Russia and the Alliance of Greens. They held conventions, but found they had violated a requirement of the Central Elections Commission, that mandates that parties have to notify them of their conventions. So in the end, they did not submit their lists.

It may be some parties were formed only to use the election process to gain visibility, perhaps for local power struggles or other causes, but it remains to be seen.

o Open Russia Candidate Baronova Registered -- Then Hacked; Opposition Quarrels Over Rivals

Despite all these difficulties, Open Russia, the movement founded by businessman and former political prisoner Mikhail Khodorkovsky managed to register Maria Baronova, Open Russia's project coordinator and freelance journalist, in Basmanny District in Moscow.  Baronova, a chemist who became active in the opposition in 2010, is an active blogger with 58,000 followers on Twitter.

Translation: Mariya Baronova is an officially registered candidate to the elections to the State Duma.

This was indeed a victory, given that Baronova experienced the same attempts at sabotage that provincial opposition candidates have encountered -- pro-government activists who answer the call for volunteers to collect signatures, then deliberately create fake or illegible signatures that can't be used and get the candidate disqualified. Nevertheless, one of 18 candidates supported by Open Russia, she collected 15,000 signatures.

But then soon after this success, Baronova's campaign manager, Polina Nevirovskaya, had her i-Phone hacked, and naked pictures of her and Baronova together were published by the notorious LifeNews at Life.ru, ostensibly from amateur photos submitted to the editors.

Global Voices covered the story with the headline, "Russia's Parliamentary Race Gets Another Erotic Tabloid Scoop," referencing the earlier scandal with salacious pictures leaked of Mikhail Kasyanov and Natalya Pelevina.

Nevirovskaya said that an old phone appeared to have been compromised. Life.ru smugly gave their readers tips on how not to be hacked like Nemirovskaya and Baronova were, noting a new exploit making the rounds of social media in Russia, whereby nefarious types ask people for help with their iCloud accounts and get people to log in from their phones with their name and password -- and take over the phone.

Baronova's candidacy sparked more in-fighting with other opposition figures, as she registered in the Central Administrative District in Moscow already crowded with other opposition candidates: Prof. Andrei Zubov, who was fired from Moscow State University for opposition the annexation of the Crimea, and others.

Alexey Navalny accused her of serving as a "spoiler" to prevent any opposition candidate from collecting enough votes, and urged Open Russia to remove her.

Translation: @gruppa_voina it's obvious: she is a spoiler for Zubov, who is the united candidate of Yabloko and PARNAS in the district where there is a high rating for these parties.

Open Russia replied that she had announced her plans to run before Zubov.

Translation:  @navalny @gruppa_voina Baronova announced her participation in elections in CAO first, and only later, after several months, did Zubov. Strange accusations.

In May, Gazeta reported that Lyubov Sobol, a lawyer for Alexey Navalny's Anti-Corruption Fund, had withdrawn her candidacy from this same district because she was unable to obtain the support of the Parnas and Yabloko parties.

As Gazeta wrote, the Central Administrative District, "the most protest-prone district of the capital," was the site of a clash of interests of all non-system opposition in Russian, and caused an original pact between Yavlinsky and Navalny not to attack each other to collapse. Yabloko had asked Sobol to run in another district, and also had another condition: she could not accept Khodorkovsky's support (which evidently Yabloko thought would cost them votes, not win them). Sobol decided both conditions were unacceptable.

The CAO become desirable by many opposition candidates because polls showed there are many critical of the government in this district who would be more likely to vote for them.

o Esquire Editor to Run on Party of Growth Ticket with Controversial Campaign Manager

Neither Global Voices, Navalny, nor Open Russia mentioned that there is yet another candidate competing against Baronova and Zubova in the same Central Autonomous District announced the same day: Kseniya Sokolova, editor-in-chief of the Russian edition of Esquire.

And to ensure even more social media turmoil, she has named as her campaign manager Lesya Ryabtseva, the controversial former assistant to Aleksei Venediktov, editor-in-chief of Ekho Moskvy, Meduza reports.

Ryabtseva left Ekho Moskvy after a number of disputes there regarding her involvement in a government-imposed "code of conduct" and slams on the opposition in blog posts, with some editors complaining that she was working for the Kremlin. She wound up releasing a tell-all story after she left, saying she had planned from the beginning, together with Konstantin Rykov, a prominent Kremlin propagandist, to infiltrate Ekho Moskvy and then discredit it.

Sokolova is considered opposition in a sense, however, although not from the traditional opposition parties of Parnas, Yabloko, Navalny's Party of Progress, etc. She represents the Party of Growth, a new business-oriented party. As an editor, Sokolova, who previously wrote for GQ and Snob, said upon assuming her new position, "I won't write about Putin's daughters" -- the very story that led to the firing of RBC's top editors. The Party of Growth -- and Sokolova -- might appeal to business people who are critics of the Putin regime but adverse to the outspoken opposition -- and willing to color within certain lines.

o Harassment and Disqualification of Open Russia Candidates in Provinces

As we noted above, the first hurdle opposition candidates face is getting the requisite number of signatures on the ballot without being disqualified for fraudulent or illegible entries.

Baronova, for example, encountered 95 attempts to submit batches of forged signatures, Khodorkovsky.com reported.

In St. Petersburg, three Open Russian candidates (Lev Dmitriyev, Daniil Ken and Sergei Kuzin) were denied the opportunity to set up posts to collect signatures (which candidates themselves must do by law). The election commission said they didn't follow the procedure to obtain permission, and ultimately only 4 out of 45 requests were approved.

In Tambov, a candidate backed by Open Russia, Vladimir Zhilkin was taken out of the race ostensibly due to his parallel membership in Just Russia, another party, which he denies.

In Chuvashia, Dmitry Semyonov is facing a criminal case on violation rules for rallies; as soon as he starts holding meetings with citizens, he is accused of violating the rules.

Candidates Olga Zhakova in Irkutsk Region raced false allegations of weapons' possession and Yegor Savin in Novosibirsk Region found someone created a fake account ostensibly to support him, but then put up illegal images.

Lawyers attempted to fight these types of cases but they don't know if they will be successful in time for the elections. 

o Open Russia Candidate in St. Petersburg Disqualified

Candidate Nikolai Artyomenko, supported by Open Russia, running for a seat for the legislature from District 7 (Kalin and Krasnogvardeysky districts) in St. Petersburg, said that the Territorial Elections Commission complained that a check of his signatures by the Federal Migration Service found 126 invalid and 2 illegible.

Although he had gathered 5,397 signatures, more than required to get on the ballot, under the election law, if the number of invalid signatures is over 10% of the overall batch of signatures selected for inspection, he will not be registered. In Artyomenko's case, the 10% figure was 127 signatures.

o Parnas Registered in St. Petersburg for Local Legislature Elections

In another victory for the opposition, Parnas, the party headed by Mikhail Kasyanov, managed to register in St. Petersburg for elections to the local legislature, Open Russia reported -- despite resistance from conservatives. Open Russia credited Yelena Pamfilova, the head of the Central Elections Commission, with intervening on their side.
Translation: It's almost unbelievable, but it's a fact. The list of the Party of People's Freedom has been registered for the elections to the legislature in St. Petersburg. @brewerov @nataliagraz - victory!

(Parnas is an acronym made up of two parties that merged: the Party of People's Freedom and the Republican Party.)

By contrast, as Navalny recalled in a post last month, a year ago, two members of his foundation's political council went on a hunger strike to try to get the Party of Progress registered - and had not been able to get it legalized since.

Thus he issued a statement saying the Party of Progress views the election as "dishonest, unfair, and on the whole incompatible with the definition of procedure." He said the results were "programmed in advance" and designed to "preserve the status quot: the usurpation of power of the United Russia party" with the silent support of its satellites from the so-called 'system opposition.'"

Nonetheless, Navalny did not call for a boycott, but urged people to vote for opposition candidates or any "decent" candidates in their district.

Vladimir Milov, an opposition member and former deputy minister of energy, put it more bluntly: that if people were criticizing the lack of choice in elections, they should be sending contributions to those independent candidates who managed to get on the ballot.

o Lev Shlosberg, Former Pskov Deputy, Running for Election to Duma from Yabloko

One regional candidate to watch is Lev Shlosberg, the former deputy of the Pskov Legislature who sounded the alarm about the Pskov paratroopers missing from their barracks at the start of the invasion of Crimea in February 2014. Shlosberg, a major critic of the annexation and the war, then published the hidden news of Russian paratroopers killed in Ukraine and buried in his district -- which led to a brutal beating that put him the hospital for some time.

Shlosberg recovered, but pro-regime legislators eventually engineered his expulsion. He decided to become deputy of the Yabloko party and run in the federal elections to the State Duma, reports Novaya Gazeta.

He said opposition sentiments still persisted in Pskov as people were unhappy with low wages and government expense on failed projects and corruption. Some people even migrated to Moscow. He faces 11 rivals in his district in Pskov Region but his hope is that the third of residents there who have "escaped from state TV" and now have satellite TV could become his electorate.

o Violent Incident Reported in Cheboksary

On August 13 in Cheboksary, Dmitry Semyonov, an activist in support of an Open Russia candidate, was attacked and hit over the head during a demonstration against illegal sale of liquor by all-night cafes. He has been hospitalized. A reporter was also beaten and had water poured on his video camera; his name was not given.

Locals have protested against the practice because it leads tomore drunks in the courtyards of residential buildings.  

While not specifically tied with an election meeting, the beating of an election activist at a meeting about an issue the candidate was supporting was still of concern.

o State Censor Blocks Sites Boycotting Elections 

Roskomnadzor, the state censor, blocked five sites calling for boycott of the elections, RBC reported.

o Less Observers Likely to Participate

Rules for observers were made more strict as we reported even before the opening of the campaign season. Now activists are conclusing that as a result, there are likely to be fewer than in 2011, RBC reports.

Olga Rozanova of the movement Sonar said there were likely to be three to four times less observers than in the 2011 Duma campaigns and in the 2013 mayoral elections.

Some people who voted for Navalny, who garnered 30% of the votes, felt he could have won if there had not been various obstructions to his campaign. They became disillusioned in the system after this.

In recent elections, pro-regime groups have been critical of independent observers such as Golos, who have found a lot of violations of electoral law, and tried to discredit and discourage them.

Even so, new volunteers are coming from movements to save various monuments of architecture that have been more active in recent years. Yelena Barkova, who runs a group against the construction in the Druzhba Park in the north of Moscow, said last year such groups organized into a campaign linking 70 initiative groups that have challenged the urban development policies of the Moscow authorities. She believes several hundred observers will come out of these groups.

OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights as well as the Parliamentary Assembly will monitor the September parliamentary elections, but one country will be missing.
Translation: Ukraine will not be represented in the mission of observers in the elections in Russia.

o Russian Sociologists Don't Expect Major Social Explosions Before Elections

Russian analysts are not expecting any major social tenses or protests before the elections -- but do expect them after the elections, Interfax reported.

Pensioners, who make up 31 million people out of Russia's population of 143.5 million, have been increasingly impoverished in the economic crisis. And at least 41% Russians reply to surveys that they believe they are living in poverty, and that they have had to economize on clothing and food and cannot cut any further.

Yet Grigory Dobromelov, director of the Institute for Applied Political Research said, "The population has grown accustomed to this, there will be no social protest."

Boris Kagarlitsky, director of the Institute for Globalization and Social Movements, believes that pensioners can be the most vocal of voters, and are far more active than young people. He said the authorities would likely demonstrate "the maximum of social orientation" regarding pensioners and the pension system in particular. It remains to be seen if there will be this sort of governmental gesture before the elections.

UPDATE ON TELEVISED CANDIDATE DEBATES ON STATE TV

Gazeta.ru reports late this evening that the first debates for the September parliamentary election were held on state TV, and erupted in scandal as the Parnas candidate called for President Vladimir Putin's impeachment and an ultranationalist turned out to be in this supposedly liberal party's support group.


Experts believe Maltsev was let on the air -- a very rare occurrence for the opposition -- to show "the low electoral potential of the enemies of the government."

Fourteen parties took part in the debates. In the first round, Aleksandr Burkov from Just Russia; Gennady Smigin, leader of Patriots of Russia; Oksana Dmitrieva, a leader of the Party of Groth; Rifat Shaykhutdinov from the Civic Platform and Grigory Yavlinsky, former head of Yabloko who plans to run for president.

Each speaker was given 30 seconds for a brief presentation and outline of his views on economic problems Russia faces, and then had to answer questions from the moderator.

Burkov led off by saying that in Russia, "speculators and oligarchs live well and pensioners live below the poverty line," proposing a progressive income tax.

Vyacheslav Maltsev, the candidate from the opposition group Parnas chaired by former prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov stole the show by openly called for Putin's impeachment.

Departing from the official topic of the debates -- the economy -- Maltsev, who holds the second place on the Parnas list and has been embroiled in controversy over his nationalist and antisemitic statements made a political statement:

 

"The situation is like it always is: the boyars are guilty, but not the tsar. If the tsar doesn't know what is going on in the country, then such a tsar should be put in the loony bin."

Maltsev was invoking a theme throughout Russian history where the tsar (or General Secretary or President) would give power to a select group of nobility (or Party elite or Kremlin officials and oligarchs) who would then later abuse their powers and overturn the leader.

The moderator urged Maltsev to get to economic issues but didn't stop him. In reply, Maltsev said the entire economy revolved around "Putin's will," and that he had drawn Russia into war with its "fraternal people, Ukraine". He also criticized the Syrian operation, saying Moscow is fighting the Sunnis on the side of the Shiite coalitions, in his view.

A number of Parnas leaders including Vladimir Kara-Murza and Ilya Yashin have condemned Maltsev's statements in the pastand urged that he not be included in the list.

Yavlinsky seized the occasion, as the speaker right after Maltsev's fiery interventions, to say he was "shaken" by what he had heard and said that economic problems could in fact be solved if the slogans "don't lie and don't steal" were followed.Gazeta noted that he sounded like he had borrowed the slogans of anti-corruption campaigner Alexey Navalny.

He said the main problem today is the rise in prices and the fall in income and policies should be changed to address these troubles, calling on television viewers to vote "not for us, but yourselves."

Shaykhutdinov used his airtime to denounce Maltsev for calling "for revolution." Maltsev retorted that he wanted in fact to "save Russia from revolution" -- and said he would do so along with a politician who was in the audience -- Dmitry Dyomushkin, a notorious nationalist and leader of the annual "Russian March."

A member of the audience told Gazeta that each candidate was allowed to bring 15 supporters. He didn't know how many people Parnas had brought in total, but he saw Maltsev with 5 men, including Dyomushkin and a skinhead.

Grigory Ovsey, a member of the Parnas Moscow suburban branch shruggled off the scandal and commented, "In order to win the elections, you need vivid, talented people and not sad 'professional economists'". He said party membership picked up after Maltsev's appearance. A source in the party said Maltsev prepared his own remarks.

Konstant Kalachev, head of the Political Experts Group said Maltsev's rhetoric was an attempt to look "the most oppositional out of all the oppositional forces":

"Voters will sense the smell of tires burning on Maidan. That will lead to the well-known 'rally-round-the-flag effect.' There will be no risk to in the short term for such rhetoric.

But in the long-term, there will be a negative effect. The black-and-white picture of the world imposed by the authorities begins to get complicated. Why is Maltsev allowed on the air, on a channel where bad people never speak as is well known? Does that mean he's good? Then how come he is criticizing Putin? Does that mean it's allowed to criticizing Putin? In general, there's a mix-up in people's heads. For the government, this is bad, this is how perestroika started."

Putin will be happy to show that he allowed the opposition on the air, but then they only got 1.5% of the votes. "To be able to say that, two or three broadcasts can be tolerated," said Kalachev. The Kremlin would also be able to demonstrate how democratic they are with such a show.

We could add that in an alternative universe, Kasyanov could have been the one speaking, and as the former prime minister might have had more respect and more long-term effect. He didn't speak likely because NTV had exposed his extramarital affair with another Parnas member some months ago, which led some opposition leaders to demand that he step down from the top of the party list. His decision to remain at the top of the list then caused the other opposition groups in the Democratic Coalition to leave, breaking up the opposition's temporary unity.

Hence, NTV had already succeeded in splitting and demoralizing the opposition by tonight, and lowering its chances of gaining the necessary votes, when Kasyanov then decided to recruit Maltsev, who has a large number of YouTube followers, to gain more visibility and to put himself in the background so as not to rile viewers or his scandals.

That strategy has only backfired and is hardly likely to propel Parnas past the 5% threshold.

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

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