Russia votes Sunday in national parliamentary and regional elections with the Kremlin firmly in control and parties loyal to President Vladimir Putin expected to remain dominant.
Russia prepares to vote in parliamentary polls
What to look out for at Russian parliament polls / Moscow (Russia) – 16 September 2016 – AFP (Max DELANY) / FACTS Russia votes Sunday in national parliamentary and regional elections with the Kremlin firmly in control and parties loyal to President Vladimir Putin expected to remain dominant.The polls come after years of tumult that have seen the country annex Crimea from Ukraine, lurch into its worst stand-off with the West since the Cold War, plunge into economic crisis and launch a military campaign in Syria. Here are some key facts to know and things to look out for:- What’s at stake? -Some 110 million voters are registered to cast their ballots across Russia’s 11 time zones in a poll to chose the 450 members of the country’s national parliament — or State Duma — for its next five year term. Over 6,500 candidates from 14 parties are competing, with half of the deputies elected on a constituency basis for the first time after changes to the voting system.The last Duma — which ended its term with only one opposition member — was widely seen as a rubber-stamp body that has slavishly followed the Kremlin’s line.Voters will also be picking regional bosses and local parliaments in some parts of the country. There are several interesting subplots. This is the first time Crimea elects MPs to Russia’s parliament since Moscow seized it from Ukraine in 2014. It will also be the first time that the strongman leader of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov faces a popular vote, with rights groups saying any criticism of him has been crushed in the run-up. The first exit polls are expected Sunday evening.- Crisis, what crisis? -Russia is currently mired in the longest recession of Putin’s 16-year rule on the back of low oil prices and Western sanctions over Ukraine. The crisis has pushed poverty levels to a nine-year high and hit the spending power of average people. Meanwhile Moscow’s ties with the West are the worst they have been since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the country is conducting its first military operation beyond the ex-Soviet region in decades in Syria.But these dramas have not dominated the vote and the Kremlin is confident. Putin’s approval rating is still around 80 percent and the authorities’ vice-like grip on most of the media and political discourse means that, even if the ruling United Russia’s popularity has slipped, pro-Kremlin parties look set to maintain their dominance.Instead the campaign has been dubbed the most boring in recent memory by observers and high levels of voter apathy suggest that turnout could be low. – Freer but not fair? -Looming over these elections for the authorities is the memory of mass protests that shook Putin’s rule after the last legislative polls five years ago when evidence of vote-rigging emerged.Since then the authorities have cracked down on the right to demonstrate, fired on by the ouster of Ukraine’s Russian-backed leader Viktor Yanukovych in protests.The Kremlin has simultaneously also moved to clean up the vote, replacing the former scandal-tainted election chief with a human rights advocate in a bid to give more legitimacy to the polls.As in previous elections parties loyal to the Putin — including the Communists and ultra-nationalist Liberal Democratic Party — provide a facade of greater choice. But this time round the number of genuine opposition candidates allowed to take part — including some 20 funded by exiled arch-Kremlin foe Mikhail Khodorkovsky — has also increased dramatically and they have access to TV advertising and debates. But the overall coverage and state resources enjoyed by the ruling party means the field is skewed irrevocably in favour of the pro-Kremlin parties and critics insist the vote can never be considered fair.- Putin 2018? -For many the vote is seen as a dry run for the next presidential election scheduled for March 2018. Putin, 63, is widely expected to run again for a fourth term that could see him become the longest-ruling leader since Stalin, even if he has not formally committed himself yet.The authorities therefore are looking for a trouble-free vote to help smooth Putin’s path to victory. Any lurch away from the ruling party to the left or the right could see the Kremlin put much-needed reforms to restructure the economy or speed up a shake-up of key officials around Putin.del/gtf/mt