Staunton, February 16 – In addition to all the other “administrative resources” Moscow officials have to control the outcomes of elections, two developments this week suggest that the upcoming Duma vote, if in fact it is not put off on one pretext of another, is likely to be especially meaningless.
On the one hand, the four parliamentary parties appear to have agreed not to contest each other in at least 40 single member districts to ensure that their leaders return to the Russian parliament. And on the other, the Federation Agency for Nationality Affairs wants to regulate all campaign speech lest as has been the case in the past it provoke new ethnic tensions.
But if these latest moves do ensure that the vote will go exactly as Vladimir Putin wants, they also have the effect of creating a situation in which ever more Russians are likely to see through the Kremlin’s stratagems and come out into the streets in protest as they did after the elections in 2011-2012.
Indeed, there is already reason to think that both of these moves will be resisted even before the vote takes place and that these fights over their implementation in and of themselves will create problems for the center far greater than leaving the situation well enough alone would have.
According to Moscow media reports, the leaders of the four parties currently in the Duma have agreed that in ten single-member districts, the leaders of the other four will not challenge the candidate of one of them so as to ensure that each will be able to ensure that its top ten leaders will be in the new Duma (polit.ru/article/2016/02/15/duma/).
That has sparked sharp criticism from Russian commentators like Pavel Svyatenkov who say that this does no honor to Russian democracy even though they concede that there are precedents for it in other countries (apn.ru/publications/article34693.htm) and what is more important threats by party leaders in the regions to torpedo the agreement (ura.ru/articles/1036267064).
These threats could destroy what little party unity there is and even lead to the kind of public disputes and fragmentation that will reduce still further the legitimacy of one or more of these parties and of any electoral outcomes that such arrangements may make possible in one or another part of the Russian Federation.
The other development this week affecting the upcoming campaigns was a call by Igor Barinov, the head of the Federal Agency for Nationality Affairs, to have the parties agree not to make use of nationalist slogans and, failing that, to allow his agency and the judicial system block campaign materials using them (nazaccent.ru/content/19447-v-fadne-razyasnili-iniciativu-ob-ogranichenii.html
And the Moscow commentator concludes with words that show just how difficult the task Barinov has set himself is likely to be. “Nationalist hysteria as a mass psychosis doesn’t exist in the country,” Vyzhutovich says. “But the temptation to exploit it” very much does. “And the closer to September the country goes, the stronger will be that temptation.”