It is unlikely that United Russia, the party dedicated to President Vladimir Putin's, will lose its control of the State Duma. This lower house of the parliament elected by the people, is not expected. It is unclear whether the party will maintain its two-thirds majority, which allows it to amend and change the constitution. There are also questions about whether anemic turnout will affect the party's reputation. And whether Alexei Navalny, the opposition leader 's Smart Voting initiative will prove to be viable against it.
Andrei Kolesnikov from the Carnegie Moscow Center said that there is not much intrigue in these elections... and they won't leave a special mark in political history."
However, Putin on Thursday encouraged Russians to vote. He said in a video message, "election (the Duma)'s new composition" was undoubtedly the most significant event in the lives of our country and society.
The election appears to be genuine competitive because 14 parties are fielding candidates for half the Duma's seats. These seats are selected by party list. The three parties that are not affiliated with United Russia, which is expected to win the required 5% support to gain a seat, rarely challenge the Kremlin.
The Kremlin wants to control the new parliament. It will be there in 2024 when Putin's current term ends. He must then decide whether he would like to run for reelection, or if he prefers another strategy to remain in power.
Half of the seats are elected in constituencies. Independent candidates and those from smaller parties like the liberal Yabloko might have better chances. This is where the Smart Voting strategy of the Navalny team could be effective.
This program does not endorse ideology to weaken United Russia. It simply advises voters which candidate is stronger in a single-mandate race and recommends other candidates.
It is essentially a defensive strategy.
Kolesnikov stated that voting to harm United Russia was not a meaningful goal and not a goal for choosing another candidate who you support ideologically. It proved to be a powerful tool in its first use in 2018, when it won 20 of the 45 seats on the Moscow city council. Then, a year later, United Russia lost its majority in three major cities councils.
It's not clear how widely this service will be used in the coming year, as authorities have blocked access to its website. Although the service is still available via apps, Russia threatened to impose fines on Apple and Google for removing the apps from their online stores. Last week, the Foreign Ministry summoned U.S. Ambassador John Sullivan protested against election interference by American "digital titans".
The latest attempt to neutralize Navalny operation was to block the website. This was Russia's most prominent and determined opposition group, capable of calling large protests across the country.
Navalny was himself jailed after returning from Germany in January. He had been recovering from nerve-agent poisoning and was sentenced to 2 1/2 year imprisonment. Navalny's Foundation for Fighting Corruption was later banned by a court. The network of Navalny’s regional offices were also declared extremist organizations. This verdict barred anyone associated with these groups from running for public office and led to long prison sentences.
Russian authorities also blocked 50 websites that his supporters or team ran for spreading extremist propaganda.
Russia added Golos, an independent monitor of votes, to its list as a foreign agent in August. While this does not hinder its work, it strongly suggests that Russia should be suspicious.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (whose election-monitoring missions have been widely considered authoritative) will not send observers to the parliament vote because Russia placed excessive restrictions.
Nine Russian regions will elect governors in addition to the Duma elections, while 39 regions will choose legislatures. Voters in 11 cities will also be able to choose city councils.
To reduce the number of people at the polls due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Elections Commission increased voting to three days. It concluded on Sunday. Critics claim that the decision increases the risk of ballot manipulation. Ella Pamfilova, head of the Commission, denies this accusation. She says there will be "total surveillance" at polling stations and ballots will be kept in secure containers.
The election is also surrounded by ethical concerns. The state-funded pollster VTsIOM found that more than 10% of workers claim they were given instructions by their bosses to vote. Boris Vishnevsky from the Yabloko party discovered in St. Petersburg that two men were using his name to oppose him in each race. One of them is a member United Russia according to Novaya Gazeta.
Even though polls show low support for United Russia, it is expected to be a dominant force in the new parliament. According to the Center for Current Politics, it will win 299-306 seats. This is a decrease from 343 seats it currently holds, but still within the range of 303 needed for a constitutional change.
According to the center's prognosis, most of the seats that United Russia lost would be won by the Communist Party. This is the second largest parliamentary faction. The party is largely in line with the Kremlin's lines, as are the two other parties that could win double-digit seats.
Sergei Parkhomenko, a commentator on Ekho Moskvy radio said that "the Communists are not very dangerous." The party can be used to imitate an opposition movement.
After the Duma elections in 2011, large protests erupted in Moscow and St. Petersburg over allegations of widespread voter fraud. Despite the fact that opposition groups have been stifled, any chance of unrest at this point seems remote.
Parkhomenko stated that protests would not occur where they are expected, at the time we expect them to and from those we expect them to.