Edinaya Rossia is rich with resources. Administrative resources...
Governmental officials are so accustomed to using their official powers that they continue doing so even during elections. Better to say: especially during the elections. In that period, it is a honor – they violate the legislation not for their own gain, but for the benefit of their party.
On September 18, 2016 (if someone has forgotten), parliamentary elections will be held in Russia. In our country such events are normally remembered not for heated debates or eloquent statements of candidates – but for numerous violations and scandals. The Central Election Commission of the Russian Federation, jointly with the Commission for Human Rights in the Russian Federation, are preparing to start an audit in the Samara region due to possible use of administrative powers by its authorities.
Oh, the town of Samara...
Ella Pamfilova, the Chairperson of the Central Election Commission of the Russian Federation, noted the increasing number of complaints from territorial election commissions, various parties, and residents of the Samara region. Nikolai Merkushin, the Governor of the Samara Region, is allegedly trying to re-subordinate local election commissions under his authority over the head of the Central Election Commission. According to Pamfilova, “they (Samara regional authorities – the CrimeRussia) are trying to create a parallel framework for control and management of election processes”. Some people of Merkushin are cruising around the region, meeting heads of municipalities and chairs of election commissions, and “incline them to work by their own, independently from the regional and Central election commissions”. Pamfilova called this unlawful, illegal, and administrative command practices and threatened to initiate a criminal prosecution and submit a complaint to the President.
By the way, in June 2014 Merkushin was re-elected as the governor with an amazing score – 91.35% votes. Apparently, the head of the Samara region knows some secret techniques allowing to win elections.
Nikolay Merkushin was born in 1951. Was a member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Now is a member of the Superior Council of Edinaya Rossia (the United Russia) Party. In the period of 1995–2012 was the Head of the Republic of Mordovia, then became the Governor of the Samara Region. In 2014 was re-elected until 2019.
His older son Aleksander owns a large business and shares in banks. His younger son Aleksey is Deputy Head of the Government of Mordovia – the Minister of Targeted Programs.
Vasily Likhachev, the overseer of the Samara region in the Central Election Commission, notes other violations as well. For example, campaigning materials found in offices of regional officials call for support of the ‘well-known party’ – i.e. municipal authorities in the Samara region, in fact, participate in the election campaign, – Likhachev concludes.
The association of non-commercial organizations Movement for Defence of Voters' Rights Golos (Vote) confirms this. According to it, in the period of July 15 – August 10, 2016, the Samara region has become the leader by the number of reported violations – 41 incidents. To compare, Moscow is at the second place – 27 incidents.
Needless to say that most complaints are related to Edinaya Rossia (the United Russia) Party. 65 heads of the Russian regions, out of the 85, are members of Edinaya Rossia. It is obvious, therefore, who calls the shots.
“Great thanks to them from us, ordinary people!”
The third place by the number of violations – after the Samara region and Moscow – is held by the Altai krai. Vladimir Ryzhkov, a candidate from YABLOKO Party nominated in the Barnaul single-mandate election district, told media about the situation in the region. According to Ryzhkov, local authorities use administrative resources; his rival in the single-mandate election district is Daniil Bessarabov, Vice Governor and member of Edinaya Rossia (the United Russia) Party. Ryzhkov noted that the personnel of the regional administration are, in fact, now working in the elections headquarters of Bessarabov.
Following the report from Ryzhkov, an operative group of the Central Election Commission, including officers of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation (MIA) and Prosecutor General’s Office of the Russian Federation, was dispatched to Altai. Based on its inspection, one criminal and one administrative case have been initiated. Irina Akimova, the Chairperson of the Altai Election Commission, is facing the risk of dismissal.
The administrative resource is most frequently used by authorities in their liaison with media – which results in domination of one party in media controlled by the governmental structures.
For example, in the Altai krai a local newspaper has published 5 portraits of Edinaya Rossia candidate Bessarabov in a single issue. The TV is continuously showing episodes with Bessarabov – he opens children’s playgrounds, visits factories, and conducts conferences and meetings dedicated to vexed problems ( e.g. Development of the human capital – success for the Altai).
The Chita State TV and Radio Company has shown a story on August 17, 2016 about a monitoring group from Edinaya Rossia (the United Russia) Party that had started a survey of idle lands in the Zabaikalskii krai.
In Kostroma, the most active supporter for the authorities is Rus’ (Russia) TV and Radio Company belonging to the Administration of the Kostroma Region. On August 14, 2016 the company’s web-site presented election campaign visuals with headlines “ Great thanks to them from us, ordinary people!” and “ I love this land!” in support of Edinaya Rossia (the United Russia) Party and its candidates Vladimir Vasiliev and Aleksey Sitnikov.
Materials that include campaigning for a party or candidate are normally presented as regular news. Not only were regional periodicals caught on such violations, but federal media as well. For instance, on August 2, 2016 TASS Russian News Agency has published an article “Meeting of Onishenko and Moscow voters resulted in closure of illegal store”. And Vechernyaya Moskva (the Evening Moscow) newspaper printed on the same day an article “Gennady Onishenko published his election program”. According to Golos, none of these publications was paid from the election fund of Edinaya Rossia candidate Onishenko.
On August 14, 2016 Rossia-1 TV Channel, in its Vesti-Moskva (News-Moscow) Program, has broadcast an episode about pre-election battles in the capital of Russia. Edinaya Rossia candidates were shown in a favorable light: Petr Tolstoy defends the Zhulebino forest, while Gennady Onishenko struggles against energy drinks. On the other hand, their rivals Valery Rashkin (Communist Party of the Russian Federation), Nikolai Lyaskin (Party of People’s Freedom – Parnas), and Dmitry Gudkov (YABLOKO) were mentioned in a negative context.
Another technique already tested at many governors’ elections is junction of the whole region with the governor and his party. In the beginning of 2014 Aleksander Karlin, then-Governor of the Altai Krai, had presented a regional socio-economic development program Altai. Steps to Success.
In summer of the same year, right before the elections, a public canvass “What does success of Altai mean to us?” was conducted at the expense of the budget and presented as a social campaign. The authorities allegedly decided to find out what issues are most important for the residents: gas supply, energy self-sufficiency, transportation network, urban and rural development, science, investments, housing construction, human resources, or the family and unique features of the Altai? Large billboards were erected on the city streets – partially, at the expense of the budget – to inform people of the campaign progress.
Local residents, however, treated the governor’s questions with humor and posted their answers on social networks: “What does success of Altai mean to us? – A color bag from China!” or “What does success of Altai mean to us? – Larceny non-stop!”
Aleksander Karlin was born in 1951. Graduated from the Sverdlovsk Law Institute. In 1986 became a Senior Prosecutor in a Department of the Prosecutor’s Office of the USSR. Had been working on different positions in the Prosecutor General’s Office of the Russian Federation up until 2000. In 2000–2004 worked in the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation. In the middle of the 2000s worked in the Administration of the President of Russia. In this period he was noticed by Vladimir Putin who in 2005 suggested his candidacy for the Governor of the Altai Region position after the death of Mikhail Evdokimov, the previous governor of the region, in a car crush. In 2014 Karlin was re-elected for the third term.
It was absolutely clear why the regional development program had been artificially linked with the election program of Karlin: only Karlin, should he win, can guarantee translation of his promises into deeds. And these promises were pretty specific, including construction of a transportation bypass around Barnaul (Northern Bypass with the total length of 54 km, including a bridge across the Obi River) and Rubtsovsk, a high-speed train Barnaul–Novosibirsk, and construction of an international terminal in the Barnaul airport.
Karlin has won the elections of 2014 with 72.97% of votes. But his promises still remain promises: as of right now, there are neither bypass road around Barnaul, nor international airport terminal, nor high-speed trains to Novosibirsk.
This year, the whole situation is repeating itself: the logo of Katun-24 Regional TV Channel (belongs to the Administration of the Altai Krai) is identical to the Edinaya Rossia (the United Russia) Party logo used in the Altai krai.
Golos also reported other violations of campaigning regulations in the region: for instance, Edinaya Rossia logos were present at such regional-level public events as ‘Days of the Field’ and ‘Health’.
Items with Edinaya Rossia logo were distributed on ‘Shukshin Readings’ festival as well.
This is really convenient. The campaigning costs are covered not by the party, but by local administrations and official media.
In the period preceding elections, the number of various festivals, memorable dates, and other city events increases drastically. In Orel, doctors of a polyclinic were examining people right on the street. Their ‘altruism’ had a simple explanation: the Chief Physician of that polyclinic was running for the State Duma from Edinaya Rossia (the United Russia) Party. ‘First Legal Aid’ was offered to Samara residents. The people were serviced in a special car cruising in one of the election districts. The event was supervised by a Deputy of the Regional Duma running for the State Duma from Edinaya Rossia. The district TV has broadcast the story with this car under disguise of news. The Government of the Ivanovo Region has conducted a regional-level military and patriotic festival ‘Open Skies – 2016’ with active use of Edinaya Rossia logo.
There is a real boom of new children’s playgrounds this summer – and every such opening is broadcast by TV. According to the ‘Map of Violations’, most such propagandist events have been registered in the Moscow region. New playgrounds have emerged in Balashikha, Elektrostal, Shelkovo, and other towns. TV programs covering these events show Edinaya Rossia logo. Children’s playgrounds in distant regions are being opened in the same manner. “As the regional branch of Edinaya Rossia told our agency, following numerous requests and petitions from residents of Baikibashevo settlement ... the public meeting has approved a directive: Construct a playground for children in the center of the settlement,” – Bashinform Information Agency reports.
The trend to build playgrounds right before elections has begun several years ago. Some candidates perform such ‘coaxing of voters’ in a pretty original manner.
Vladimir Alekseev, a candidate from Edinaya Rossia in Chelyabinsk, after losing local elections in 2014, has dismantled all children’s playgrounds that he had earlier built during the campaign. Last year, another Edinaya Rossia candidate, Aleksey Zharkov, has dismantled a newly-built playground in Yadrin (the Chuvash Republic). Shortly before the elections to the Yadrin District Council, the playground had been opened with fanfare in one of the yards of the town. Newspapers wrote about it, local officials thanked Zharkov. But ultimately the philanthropist has lost the election, and the playground turned out to be a waste of money. Or was the dismantling a punishment for ‘ungrateful’ voters?
Another example: members of Edinaya Rossia (the United Russia) Party have revenged upon residents of a Buryat settlement. In fall 2015 they have dismantled not a humble playground – but a whole community center. Nugan settlement did not support Edinaya Rossia at the regional elections, and Andrei Samarinov, Head of the Tunkinsky District and member of Edinaya Rossia, has disassembled the community center and relocated it to a neighboring village.
The ruling party also manages to save on another expense item – state employees. Not only can they be used as voting units, but may also assist during the campaign. For instance, in the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia), signatures in support of self-nominee Andrei Borisov, former Minister of Culture of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) and now a movie director, are being collected not by volunteers or his election office staff – but by employees of the district municipal department of culture.
Konstantin Ryadnov, a Deputy of Samara Regional Duma, uploaded a video on his Facebook page showing Samara teachers campaigning for Edinaya Rossia (the United Russia) Party. The teachers admit that they are forced to do this because they are involuntary people and have to stand to attention. Campaigning materials for another Edinaya Rossia candidate in Samara are being delivered to state enterprises and institutions of the city for mandatory distribution.
Something went wrong
Immediately after the appointment of Ella Pamfilova the Chairperson of the Central Election Commission of the Russian Federation – instead of ‘magician’ Churov – rumors started circulating that these State Duma elections will be different from the previous ones. In the past, Ella Pamfilova was the Commissioner for Human Rights in the Russian Federation and had the reputation of an incorruptible and principled person.
Ella Pamfilova was born in 1953. Graduated from the Moscow Power Engineering Institute. Joined the politics in 1989 when she was elected a People’s Deputy of the USSR. Was the Minister of Social Security in the cabinets of Gaidar and Chernomyrdin (1991–1994). Then was elected a Deputy of the State Duma. Was the Chairperson of the Commission for Human Rights under the President of the Russian Federation (2002–2004). The Chairperson of the Council for Promotion of Civic Society Institutes Development and Human Rights under the President of the Russian Federation (2004–2010). During the last two years was the Commissioner for Human Rights in the Russian Federation.
Pamfilova has immediately dispelled doubts about her role at this post by making an unprecedented move – annulled results of an early local voting in Balashiha. A day before this she had a meeting with candidates from non-systemic opposition who complained on numerous violations of voters’ rights. The new voting will be conducted on the single voting day – September 18, 2016.
The ruling party has also promised to combat falsifications. Sergey Neverov, Deputy Chairman of the State Duma and Secretary of the General Council of Edinaya Rossia (the United Russia) Party, hinted all officials intending to use their administrative resource that those who rely on it would lose the elections. Only those actively working with the voters will become leaders. To demonstrate its adherence to democratic values, Edinaya Rossia has even conducted a long-forgotten primaries procedure. However, on the second thought, the party members have changed their mind and annulled the majority of the primaries results.
Now Edinaya Rossia has to overcome the existing system – the one that was created by the party itself and used to be pretty useful for it in the past. In addition, the governors, who have held their position for long years and passed through many elections, apparently, simply can not abstain from using the administrative resource. They agree that playing democracy is an important thing, but know for sure that the center also needs the desired results from them.
Aleksey Chesnakov, former Deputy Secretary of the General Council of Edinaya Rossia (the United Russia) Party, has explained that the party was originally created as an appendix to the governmental bureaucratic apparatus – and of course, the party bosses had never directly instructed local branches to use the administrative resource. According to Chesnakov, all incidents related to illegal campaigning techniques are results of a primitive understanding of mobilization needs at the local level: the party is interested to make the process transparent, but the issue is in mere executors.
The past years of overindulgence have depraved local officials. Ella Pamfilova, the Chairperson of the Central Election Commission, even had to warn all Russian governors that it is illegal to establish campaign headquarters on the basis of local authorities. “It is especially unacceptable when such campaign headquarters work in the interests of a single party – you know which one,” – Pamfilova told colleagues on August 1, 2016.
Pamfilova had to make this special statement due to a situation reported by Golos activists, who had found on the official web-site of the Administration of the Town of Krasnoznamensk in the Moscow region a document listing members of the “Headquarters for Preparations to the State Duma Elections”. The document – later removed from the web-site – stated that Aleksander Kondrashtin, Head of the Administration of Affairs in the City Administration, was simultaneously the Headquarters Director, while Galina Klimentieva, Head of the Executive Committee of the local branch of Edinaya Rossia (the United Russia) Party, was his deputy in the Headquarters. Earlier an election headquarters established on the basis of the local administration was shut down in the Perm region. In addition, the prosecutor’s office made a warning to the head of a rural settlement in the Krasnodar krai for a similar violation.
So, it is unclear how can governors – members of Edinaya Rossia ensure excellent – and simultaneously clear – elections results for their party with such a lackluster campaign. Apparently, the governors can not understand this, too.
Most probably, no miracles would happen, and results of these elections will be similar to previous ones. Violations are being reported, but the process is ongoing. The North-Caucasian republics will demonstrate unbelievable loyalty again; results in other regions might be slightly lower than in the past – but this won’t affect the overall distribution of powers.
It is worth noting that democratic elections are possible only subject to certain conditions in the period preceding the voting. These include fair competition between the parties, equal access to media, ban on budget funding, fair courts, exclusion of the above-mentioned administrative resource, etc. Still, it is not a coincidence that the media are now actively discussing that the Kremlin is interested in clear elections. Why is it so? In the past, the Kremlin never needed this. Perhaps, to avoid a repetition of events on Bolotnaya square? Or demonstrate to the world how democrati it is? Re-confirm the support by the majority of population – and simultaneously show the opposition – which probably won’t pass the election threshold – its negligibility? Or everything together? But in addition to the reasons listed above, there is one – probably, the most important – factor. Clear parliamentary elections, as well as the presidential elections in 2018, would allow the current authorities to become fully legitimate. No one would be able to say that they don’t have the legal right to be in power. And this is crucial for the current leaders of the country. Because under the increasingly crisis conditions, the legitimacy is the only way for the authorities to justify their existence.