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How Authorities Stripped Russians Of Choice
Over the past 14 years, the authorities have prevented 120,000 candidates from participating in elections of various levels, depriving millions of Russian citizens of the right to choose their representatives. An Important Stories investigation.
8 Jun 2021
How Authorities Stripped Russians Of Choice
Photo: Sergey Bobylev / TASS

At the end of last week, Vladimir Putin signed the so-called "anti-FBK law"*, which prohibits participation in elections for people involved in the activities of an extremist or terrorist organization. Now even the former employees of the Anti-Corruption Foundation and those who supported them will not be able to participate in elections of any level for many years. By his decision, the Russian President deprived millions of supporters of Alexei Navalny and his FBK colleagues of the right to choose their candidates.

8 out of 100
were registered for the State Duma elections in 2016

Important Stories decided to calculate how many candidates over the past 15 years were banned from running in elections in Russia and learned the following: candidates who are not included in the so-called systemic parties (those that are currently represented in the State Duma — United Russia, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, the Liberal Democratic Party, and Just Russia) are denied registration in elections ten times more often.

The data used for calculations can be downloaded from the link.

According to the Movement for Defence of Voters' Rights "Golos", since 2007, the Central Election Commission of Russia (CEC) has not registered 120 thousand people — or 7 % of all nominated candidates. Of these, only 20 thousand were from "systemic parties", the remaining 100 thousand represented independent parties or were self-nominated candidates. Over the past 15 years, the CEC has not registered only 2 % of the candidates nominated by United Russia, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, the Liberal Democratic Party, and Just Russia. During the same period, the CEC refused to register 25 % of representatives of "non-systemic parties" and 13 % of self-nominated candidates.

Every year the situation is getting worse: self-nominated candidates and opposition candidates are registered less and less often. For the elections to the Moscow City Duma in 2019, the CEC registered only four out of every ten candidates who are not part of the "systemic parties", and in the elections to the State Council of Tatarstan — only two out of ten. Only eight out of a hundred self-nominated candidates were able to register for the 2016 State Duma elections , while United Russia got a 100 % result.

A ban on running in elections is a way to get rid of competitors

10 out of 10
candidates from United Russia
were registered for the State Duma elections in 2016

If the candidates do not represent any political party but want to self-nominate their candidacies for elections, then they are obliged to collect signatures of potential voters in their support. This is the most difficult way to get registered for elections, says Golos Co-Chair Stanislav Andreychuk: "Screening out [candidates] at the nomination stage has been the first line of defense of the current government for at least a decade and a half. All election participants know that trying to register by signature collection is a suicide. Only those who come from parties with parliamentary privileges or are approved by the [presidential] administration are registered."

During the 20 years that Vladimir Putin has ruled Russia, the number of self-nominated candidates allowed to run in elections has decreased dramatically. If at the elections of the State Duma deputies in 2003, 60 % of self-nominated candidates were registered, in 2016 there were only 8 %. At the same time, the percentage of United Russia members allowed to participate in the elections increased.

Stanislav Andreychuk explains how registration usually gets refused: "Over the past few years, we have had a fairly widespread situation when the election commission registered a candidate but did so with errors, and then the main "opponents"- as a rule, some "spoilers" (spoiler - a candidate or a party whose goal is to interfere with other election participants by drawing away a part of their electorate. - Ed. Note) - go to court and get this registration canceled through the court. Plus, there are situations when a person withdraws after registration. For example, some pressure begins to be exerted on him, and as a result, he simply stops participating in the race. Now there are even more ways to cut off the unwanted ones in connection with the laws adopted this year and last year. Therefore, I think that our field will be largely cleared up at the elections this year."

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Another common way to block candidates is to invalidate the signatures they have collected. For example, in 2019, the Moscow Election Commission did not allow Lyubov Sobol, former State Duma deputies Dmitry Gudkov and Gennady Gudkov, a member of the Presidential Human Rights Council (HRC) Andrei Babushkin, and ex-chairman of Open Russia, Alexander Solovyev, to run in elections on this basis.

"When they say that the opposition always has a 2 % rating, then why are you so afraid of us? Why don't you admit [us] and show that we have 2 %?" — Alexander Soloviev said on this matter.

The non-admission of opposition candidates led to mass protests in Moscow, beatings of protesters, and subsequently to the initiation of many criminal cases against those who dissented.

At the same time, at the same elections, the Moscow Election Commission registered all self-nominated candidates associated with United Russia; since the pro-government candidates were afraid to run in the elections under the banner of their party.

Independent candidates are not allowed to participate in the elections not only in Moscow but also in other regions of Russia. For example, over the past 15 years, the number of registered candidates from "non-systemic" parties in Tatarstan has decreased more than four times: if 93 % of them were registered in 2004, in 2019 there were only 21 %.

There are even more banned candidates

The authorities not only block self-nominated candidates without parties from participating in elections but also do not allow candidates with great public support to register political associations. This was the case, for example, with the party of Alexei Navalny "Russia of the Future" (earlier, "Party of Progress", "People's Alliance" - Ed.), which the Ministry of Justice refused to register several times, or with the party of Eduard Limonov "Other Russia", which authorities also refused to register.

The laws passed by the State Duma in 2020 and 2021 have further narrowed the circle of people who can participate in elections. For example, in May of 2020, the list of articles of the Administrative and Criminal Code that restrict a person's voting rights was expanded. Golos' analytical report notes that those convicted under "political" articles, such as "public dissemination of deliberately false publicly significant information", "repeated violation of the rules for organizing a rally", "public calls for extremism," "use of violence against a representative of authorities", as well as under common business articles ("fraud", "misappropriation or embezzlement"), and drug-related charges fall under the new restrictions.

"Can we say that, by generally recognized standards of free expression of the will, these elections really allow to reveal the will of citizens? Probably not".
Stanislav Andreychuk,
"Golos" Co-Chair

New restrictions deprive hundreds of thousands of citizens of the opportunity to be elected. As, for example, happened with the former Moscow municipal deputy Yulia Galyamina: in 2020 she was sentenced to a suspended sentence under the so-called "Ildar Dadin's article", for "repeated violation of the established procedure for organizing or holding a meeting, rally, demonstration, procession or picketing".

Last week, Vladimir Putin signed a law banning those who supported extremist organizations from running in elections. The media called it a law against FBK, because in April this year, the Moscow Prosecutor's Office appealed to the Moscow City Court with a demand to recognize the Anti-Corruption Foundation, the Foundation for the Protection of Citizens' Rights, and the headquarters of Alexei Navalny as extremist organizations.

As a result, the given statistics of registration refusals do not include many candidates who have lost the opportunity to be elected due to legislative bans adopted in recent years.

Golos Co-Chair Stanislav Andreychuk points out that elections, from which so many candidates are barred, cannot be considered a reflection of the real expression of the will of the citizens of Russia: "Can we say that, by generally recognized standards of free expression of the will, these elections really allow to reveal the will of citizens? Probably not. The elections have not started yet, but we can already see what is happening. Such elections do not even give a chance to discuss what is happening in politics".


At the time of publication of this article, the CEC did not answer the questions of Important Stories.

Editor: Roman Anin

English translation: Russian Election Monitor


* FBK is included in the list of NGOs performing the functions of "foreign agents". Important Stories are required by Russian law to indicate this. Important Stories believe that such laws contradict the Russian Constitution.