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By James Pearce,
The News Hub,
1 September 2016

Russia`s upcoming elections: all you need to know

With elections to the State Duma just around the corner, how do the Russians elect their officials and what will it mean?

This year, Russia turns 25. Beyond the criticism of Russia flying around in the press, we in the West always seem to forget something. Firstly, Russia is a democracy. There are elections at the ballot box of state officials. There is a constitution.

Russia is a unique 25 year old, however. Though limited democratic reforms came 1905-1914, Russia has no history of being a democratic country. There is no non-imperialist history and no tradition of free speech. Therefore, the country is continuously learning the democratic game and as it always has, wants to maintain a unique and distinct version.

With elections looming, the outcome will tell us more about the direction Russia is heading than any headline about its president.

When?

September 18th, more than 100 million eligible voters will go to the polls. Turnout is often low, with this year expected to be around 48%.

How does it work?

The State Duma will be elected on a single day across Russia`s 9 time zones, electing 450 members to a term of 5 years. Russia uses a parallel voting system. Half the seats are elected via proportional representation from a party list with a 5% threshold. The other half are elected in a first past the post system in single member constituencies.

Who?

Russia`s two houses are made up of four main parties. In order of size, they are United Russia (238 seats), the Communist Party (92), A Just Russia (64 seats) and the Liberal Democrats (56 seats).

There are 77 minor parties in Russia, 24 of which are participating in this election. However, no others are expected to take seats or even come close to breaking the 5% barrier.

What do they stand for?

It ought to go without saying what the Communist Party (KPRF) are about. Combining communism and left wing nationalism, this election cycle their focus has been on health and education. These two sectors have suffered since the end of the USSR, and particularly in recent years due to a lack funding and corruption. Moreover, a lot of nostalgia remains for the Soviet style education, health and welfare system, giving them an easier platform to build on.

A Just Russia (JR), was initially a merger of far right Rodina Party, the Pensioner`s Party and the Russian Party of Life. These days, their platform boasts to be individualistic or libertarian socialism. Their pledges are to have a strong welfare state with less economic inequality while still maintaining a market based economy and individual property rights. They also call for progressive taxation over Russia`s current 13% flat tax rate.

The Liberal Democrats` (LDPR) name shouldn`t fool you. This far right statist party wants to see the restoration of Russia as a great power, favouring a mixed economy, are anti-communist and `wild capitalism`, and also focus on the `civilisation` aspect of Russia. The LDPR argue that Russia needs to follow its own special path based on nationalistic values. Its longtime leader, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, recently called for foreign languages to be banned in schools, citing that foreign influence `corrupts` youths.

United Russia (UR) is the party of Dmitry Medvedev and formerly Vladimir Putin, who quit the party after being elected president (which is the norm in Russian politics). A brand of moderate conservatism, UR strive to bridge all the gaps between all the peoples of Russia while upholding a state lead market economy. They view themselves as the protectors of Russia`s traditions and statehood. Much of their appeal comes from the popularity of current president, Putin, who brought Russia back from the brink of collapse and international humiliation.

What do the polls say?

While one Russian NGO predicts no major shakeup, the predicted changes are reflective of the current mood of Russian society. UR looks set to take the most seats again, some analysts predicting as much as 70%. The LDPR appear to be gaining traction and may push the KPRF into third place. This is likely due to their ability to appeal to voters` national pride amidst the international situation since 2014.

The KPRF`s support has declined in recent years, with a large portion of their support base coming from older sections of the population. Russia`s growing demographic issues do not paint a pretty picture for future elections, either.

JR, who polled well in 2011, have had trouble replicating previous success or moving the needle in a positive direction. JR may even fail to break the 5% mark needed to gain any seats.

The latest poll by VTSIOM had UR at 43.8%, way ahead of the LDPR in second place with 10.6%. The KPRF and JR polled at 8.4% and 6.6%. Prior polls from various organisations show no great variation on these numbers. The battle for second place between the LDPR and KPRF will likely draw the most attention.

Polling centre, Levada, estimates that the four main parties accurately reflect the political preferences of about 80% of the population. The same poll revealed those who do not intend to vote either don`t trust the candidates (31%) or view elections as `useless` (30%).


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