September 20, 2021

Europe

RUSSIA: Implications of United Russia’s expected victory

BY Andrius Tursa

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( 3 mins)

The State Duma election resulted in a widely anticipated victory of the ruling United Russia (UR) party, which is on track to retain a constitutional two- thirds majority in the 450-seat lower chamber of parliament. However, the vote cannot be considered as free and fair, while UR’s election result masks the waning popularity of President Vladimir Putin’s regime. No major changes in the cabinet or its policy direction are expected after the vote.

With 90% of votes counted, President Vladimir’s party is the clear leader in the federal constituency, having received 49.7% of votes. However, its final score will likely be lower than the 54.2% it got in the 2016 election. The Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF) stands in firm second place with 19.6%, which is a significant improvement from the 13.3% received in the previous vote. The far-right Liberal Democratic Party of Russia ranks third with 7.5%, just ahead of the Just Russia-For Truth with 7.4%. The political newcomer New People party has 5.3% and is likely to enter parliament too. As in the 2016 vote, UR is set to dominate the single-mandate constituencies, winning in 196 out of 225 (or 87%) districts.

The presidential party will likely achieve its main objectives in the election. UR is set to secure another constitutional majority in the State Duma, while the remaining parties in parliament will remain largely supportive of the UR’s policy agenda. Voter turnout at 45.2% was only a few percentage points lower than in 2016. There are no signs of post-election protests and large-scale demonstrations; they appear unlikely in the coming days due to the lack of influential organizers and apathy among voters.

However, few outside Russia’s political establishment would consider the election to be free and fair. To achieve the desired result, the Kremlin had to resort to a heavy-handed crackdown on political opposition, independent journalists, and civic activists for months ahead of the vote. There are thousands of unofficial reports of irregularities during the three voting days, while turnout dropped to the lowest point in the country’s modern history. Despite the authorities’ attempts to shut down the Smart Voting platform, it appears to have boosted CPRF, which seems increasingly critical of the ruling party. Finally, the raging Covid-19 pandemic – which has forced the president and his entourage into self-isolation since 14 September – is another (rather symbolic) sign of the waning sense of inviolability of the Putin regime.

UR’s overwhelming victory will likely be treated as a signal of public trust in the government’s performance. As a result, Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin and key ministers in his cabinet will likely retain their posts. However, a minor cabinet reshuffle could be expected as the elections offer an opportunity to reflect on the government’s performance and make marginal adjustments.

After the State Duma vote, political attention will inevitably shift to the 2024 presidential elections. President Putin is unlikely to announce his plans early. Unless the incumbent provides any hints about the timing and intended method of his eventual departure from the presidential post, any meaningful political renewal in Russia appears unlikely, at least in the near-to-medium term.

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