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Presidential Election: Latest reports and analyses

(March 5, 2018)


The Golos Movement presents analyses, reports and briefings concerning the Russian Presidential Election, that will take place on 18 March, 2018.


On the implementation of recommendations from the final reports of the OSCE/ODIHR following the Russian presidential elections of 2004 and 2012, and the State Duma deputy elections of 2003, 2011, and 2016

More than half of the 121 recommendations of OSCE/ODIHR on elections have not been implemented. The Golos Movement analysed the reports of the organization following the results of five federal elections in Russia from 2003 to 2016.

The worst situation can be found in the regulation of agitation and media work: only six of the Bureau’s 25 recommendations were implemented to some extent. In addition, the problem of using administrative resources remains unresolved.

Most effective is the reform of procedures governing the voting and counting process. Mostly, technical problems are solved that do not affect the design of the electoral system and the established practices.



On Crucial Changes in Legislation Regarding Russian Presidential Elections of 2018 as Compared to Elections of 2012

The Russian presidential elections of 2018 will be held pursuant to legislation, which substantially differs from the laws that governed the previous elections of 2012. It should be noted that in 2012-2017, 15 changes were introduced to the Federal law “On elections of the President of the Russian Federation,” changing 59 out of 87 articles and all four appendices to this law.

Furthermore, a number of provisions of the Federal law “On the principal guarantees of electoral and referendum rights of the citizens of the Russian Federation,” relevant to the elections of the President of the Russian Federation, but not duplicated in the Federal law “On elections of the President of the Russian Federation,” have also been changed. This concerns the creation of electoral districts and district election commissions, as well as the deadlines for appealing voting returns and election results.

We believe that the changes have no single vector. The first amendment, introduced in May of 2012, which dramatically reduced the number of voter signatures required for the candidate’s registration, was aimed at democratization of elections. However, the greater part of amendments introduced in 2012-2016 seemed to follow opposite aims, bringing new restrictions on the right to be elected; additional restraints on candidate registration; constraints on election monitoring, and reduction of the periods for appealing voting returns and elections results.

The changes introduced in 2017 once again had a mostly democratic vector: guaranteeing the citizens that reside far from the place of their permanent registration an opportunity to vote as well as certain concessions on election monitoring restrictions.



On the nomination and registration of candidates for the March 18, 2018 presidential elections in the Russian Federation (part 1)

A positive change compared to the 2012 presidential elections is a significant reduction in the required number of signatures to be collected by candidates in support of their nomination (down from 2.0 to 0.1 million for candidates nominated by non-parliamentary parties, and to 0.3 million for self-nominated candidates).

However, in general, the legal inequality of candidates from parties represented in the State Duma as opposed to candidates from other parties (as well as self-nominated candidates) remains unchanged. The inequality is manifested in the fact that candidates nominated from parliamentary parties are exempt from the requirement to collect signatures.

A last-minute decision on December 15 regarding the date of the elections, and the subsequent December 18 announcement of this decision, created additional difficulties for many election campaign participants (e.g. loss of two days that would have been convenient for conducting nomination events; pressure to get election business done before the winter holidays; shortening of the period for collecting signatures; the need to open an electoral account before the new year, etc.).

An earlier announcement of the start of the election campaign would have created more equal and favorable conditions for the nomination of candidates. In the present circumstances, the incumbent has more resources and facilities than non-incumbents for operational organization and implementation of a large-scale plan for collecting voter signatures.

The new 2018 campaign requirements for the number of voter signatures and documents that need to be submitted by candidates, removed previously insurmountable barriers to participation in the presidential elections. During the presidential election of 2012, 5 candidates from political parties and 10 self-nominated candidates were initially nominated for the elections, of which only 5 self-nominees and 1 non-parliamentary candidate were admitted to the campaign. A far greater number—22 candidates—were nominated for the 2018 campaign from political parties, and 15 as self-nominees. 2 self-nominees and 13 candidates from non-parliamentary parties were allowed to collect signatures. 2 candidates were registered by the CEC of Russia on a “parliamentary privilege” without collecting signatures.

Current legislative restrictions on the right to be elected president that relate to previous convictions and the need for the presidential nominee to have a valid residence permit, are excessive, unfair, and undemocratic. The legal uncertainty of these issues deprives entire categories of Russian citizens of passive suffrage. There are doubts among some parts of Russian society in the legitimacy of these restrictions, which leads “Golos” to conclude that Russia has not created the best possible conditions for implementing passive electoral rights and holding free elections.

In the absence of an independent judiciary, these restrictions serve as an electoral barrier, as shown in the case of Aleksey Navalny.

There are still no guarantees from the state to enable realization of the right to self-nomination by the providing legally required premises for holding a meeting of at least 500 citizens of Russia in one place, with a notarized certification of their presence.

In most cases, the activities of the Central Election Commission (CEC) related to the registration of voter groups in support of the self-nomination of candidates or registration of authorized representatives of parties do comply with the requirements of the electoral law, as well as the decisions of the CEC do not raise serious objections. In certain cases, the CEC of Russia provided additional assistance to candidates and did not delay decision making.

The timeline for the start of the information campaign by election commissions regarding the forthcoming elections is largely unprecedented.

Observers note the active involvement of the entire system of election commissions in the campaign to increase voter turnout. According to reports from several regions, members of some precinct election commissions are forced to conduct information activities outside their official 30-day work period: they are encouraged to carry out home visits in order to inform voters about the elections and to conduct polls about voters’ willingness to participate in the presidential elections, which is absolutely unacceptable. It is also important to stress that the work of the precinct commission is a voluntary social activity.

Taking into account that in the upcoming presidential election the question of voter turnout is politicized and directly related to the demonstration of support or protest, both for the political system as a whole and for one of the candidates (i.e. the obvious favorite of the election race), the participation of precinct election commission members in additional, non-legal campaigning violates the political neutrality of election commissions with the aim of increasing the overall turnout and involves the commissions in political struggle.

With rare exceptions, the activities of the election commissions of the subjects of the Russian Federation related to organizing and holding initiative group meetings for the nomination of presidential candidates did not provoke any complaints.



On the nomination and registration of candidates for the March 18, 2018 presidential elections in the Russian Federation (part 2)

In general, the legal inequality of candidates from parties represented in the State Duma as opposed to candidates from other parties (as well as self-nominated candidates) remains unchanged. The inequality is manifested in the fact that candidates nominated from parliamentary parties are exempt from the requirement to collect signatures.

An earlier announcement of the start of the election campaign would have created more equal and favorable conditions for the nomination of candidates.

Current legislative restrictions on the right to be elected president that relate to previous convictions and the need for the presidential nominee to have a valid residence permit, are excessive, unfair, and undemocratic. In the absence of an independent judiciary, these restrictions serve as an electoral barrier, as shown in the case of Aleksey Navalny.

The process of voter signature collection in support of the nominated candidates violated the principles of equality of candidates’ rights and their freedom of action.

Initiative groups of some candidates faced various kinds of obstacles. Supporters of the politician Alexei Navalny faced the greatest difficulties in the preparation and execution of the candidate’s nomination; the meetings of his initiative groups were met with pressure from law enforcement and unreasonable restrictions from the authorities.

According to available information, staff and volunteers of candidates Natalya Lisitsyna (“ROT Front”), Vladimir Mikhailov (self-nomination), Ksenia Sobchak (“Civic Initiative”) and Grigory Yavlinsky (“Yabloko”) faced various restrictions on collecting signatures, provocations, and interference in their activities by the police.

Federal, regional, and local TV channels demonstrated an unequal approach to the coverage of signature collection in support of various candidates; there were cases of illegal campaigning under the guise of informing the public about signature collection in support of Vladimir Putin’s self-nomination. Cases of illegal campaigning also occurred on the websites of authorities and local governments, regional public chambers, and even budget institutions.

Vladimir Putin’s election campaign was accompanied by a massive opening of “student centers” by his supporters and by political campaigning at universities. This, in our opinion, is controversial in terms of legislation on elections and education.

The “Map of Violations” as well as various media outlets reported that a massive and often compulsory collection of signatures in support of Vladimir Putin’s and, on occasion, Boris Titov’s (“Party of the Growth”) nominations happened at workplaces during business hours, including at budget, educational, and medical institutions, as well as industrial enterprises. There were recorded cases of “administrative” coercion of state employees and students to participate in signature collection for Vladimir Putin.



Smokescreen: How pseudo-public organizations simulate civic participation in Russian elections

The “Volunteers of Victory” organization, which collected signatures in support of Vladimir Putin’s nomination as a presidential candidate, receives significant financial and other material state support. The most large-scale activities and events of the organization are held with the direct participation of federal agencies. In the regions, the “Volunteers of Victory” are primarily based at budgetary institutions, including universities, or other public organizations that have state support, where their coordinators receive salaries. Essentially, the crucial infrastructure for the “Volunteers of Victory” organization is created at the expense of budget funds to provide salaries, office space, and office equipment.

In at least 40 out of 76 regions where “Volunteers of Victory” have branches, coordinators of the organization are employees of government bodies, the local government, or budgetary institutions. And almost in all the cases, the official duties of these employees are directly related to supervision of volunteerism, youth policy, or patriotic education. Such support from the state budgets of all levels in effect amounts to indirect state funding for the election campaign of the candidate supported by the organization. It violates the principles of candidate equality and political neutrality of officials working in government, local government, or budget organizations.“Volunteers of Victory” are closely connected with other youth and school associations controlled by the structures of the Federal Agency for Youth Affairs and by regional and local administrations: “Russian Movement of Schoolchildren,” “Russian Youth Union,” “Russian Student Groups,” trade union activists, participants in the “Snow Troopers” events, youth parliaments, “Young Lawyers of Russia,” and others. Often, they have common founders, and activists are simultaneously members of several organizations.

“Student Unions of Putin’s Supporters” and the para-state election observation associations draw on human resources from the same aforementioned organizations.

The activities of “Volunteers of Victory,” which has a legal registration and formally declared its participation in the election campaign on behalf of one of the presidential candidates, are subject to the restrictions established in the electoral law, which do not allow legal persons to perform free work or provide free services to candidates.

Youth para-state election monitoring organizations perform solely the function of creating the illusion of mass monitoring at polling stations. The real curators and public speakers are their “older comrades” from other organizations that are closely related to each other. Most of them have service experience in law enforcement agencies in officer positions. Organizations of veterans of law enforcement agencies have also signed agreements with public chambers to send observers to elections in many regions.

Yet another confirmation of the simulational nature of the planned monitoring are agreements between regional public chambers and a narrow circle of NGOs loyal to the authorities that had not previously monitored elections and that ignore professional monitoring associations.

The totality of the organizations described above actually represent a unified system—a new reincarnation of the Pioneer and Komsomol organizations, only with a looser structure. This system is a pseudo-public, para-bureaucratic structure that covers all the stages of the election campaign: signature collection, campaigning, and election monitoring.

The task of the created structure is not limited to creating a simulation of broad and active public support for a specific candidate and legitimization of election results through pseudo-social monitoring. The organizations described herein are also used by their supervisors for “hostile takeovers” of already existing public initiatives.



Results of candidate registration. Administrative mobilization of voters

Registration of candidates nominated by parties currently in the State Duma based on the so-called “parliamentary privilege,” i.e. without collecting voter signatures, creates obvious inequality among candidates during the election campaign. Candidates who are deprived of this privilege are forced to spend time and other resources on collecting signatures which they could use to conduct a more effective campaign.

The practice of collecting and presenting voter signatures during the 2018 presidential election campaign once again demonstrated that the is not fulfilling its mission in the electoral process stipulated in its constitutionally significant goals: it does not confirm that the nominated candidate really enjoys the voters’ support. Collecting signatures has become a purely technological task, which is solved with sufficient funds or with the help of administrative support.

In a situation characterised by a low level of political competition and a predetermined election result, this election campaign has acquired a pronounced “administrative mobilization” character. On the one hand, there are various initiatives to encourage voter turnout; on the other, there is widespread use of technologies of direct administrative coercion to persuade people to vote.

Examples of voter incentives and voter mobilization projects, which are used by administrations in many regions, are voter polls about local improvement projects, so-called “school referendums,” children’s contests during the pre-election period, and other school events scheduled for the March 18 Election Day. Many of them are very dubious in terms of electoral legislation and can potentially interfere in the activities of election commissions and in the voting process itself. A negative assessment of these risks was also given by the Central Election Commission of Russia. At the same time, the administrations were firmly against conducting other polls and referendums initiated by citizens and opposition MPs.

Large-scale administrative use of educational institutions and minors as tools for indirect manipulative influence on parents to stimulate their participation in voting became a special feature of the current election campaign. This was achieved with the help of a whole range of activities whose objectives were to use children to attract the attention of parents to the elections, encourage parents to appear at polling stations in buildings where educational institutions are located, and use minors as a “means of delivering information” about elections and specific candidates.

Often, state and municipal employees are directly involved in mobilization activities. A widespread phenomenon is the compilation of so-called “lists of voters” from among employees of state enterprises, students of various educational institutions, state and municipal employees, and law enforcement officers.

Particularly concerning are the numerous cases of coercion of students, employees, and subordinates to write applications to vote at their place of temporary residence, thereby “attaching” them to polling stations located at their place of work or study, and making it possible to exercise control over their participation in voting. There are fears that the new “at the location” voting mechanism will become one of the main tools for manipulating the voting process. At the same time, it is worth noting that in the context of this campaign, voters who are administratively stimulated to participate in the election are not being instructed on which candidate to support.



Preliminary report on the Kremlin-friendly international electoral observation

Several established organisations monitored the Russian presidential election on the 18th of March 2018. These included (1) the Interparliamentary Assembly of the Commonwealth of Independent States, (2) Parliamentary Assembly of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation, (3) Parliamentary Assembly of the Union of Belarus and Russia, (4) Parliamentary Assembly of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), (5) OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, (6) Parliamentary Assembly of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation, and (7) Interparliamentary Assembly On Orthodoxy.

However, there were around 300 electoral observers who monitored the election upon individual invitations from the State Duma and Federation Council. Inviting these particular observers follows a long tradition of using alternative mechanisms and practices for international election observer missions that aim to give legitimacy to the electoral processes that lack, to various degrees, essential characteristics of being free and fair.

Preliminary research suggests that these observers can be referred to as Kremlin-friendly, as their impressions about the electoral process were positive already before the electoral process took place and fully complied with the official position of the Kremlin, e.g. in terms of vindicating the illegal annexation of Crimea.

Kremlin-friendly international observers monitored the presidential election in two areas, namely the Russian Federation and Russia-annexed Crimea. In each case, international observers could be divided into two three large groups: (1) acting or former politicians, (2) political scientists and experts, and (3) lay people (businessmen, musicians, TV hosts, students, etc.).

Some of the identified observers from the first category include members of the political parties such as, for example, Bulgarian Socialist Party (Bulgaria), Republicans (France), French Action (France), National Front (France), Socialist Party (France), Social Democratic Party (Portugal), Northern League (Italy), Latvian Russian Union (Latvia), Social Democratic Party “Harmony” (Latvia), Alternative for Germany (Germany), the Left (Germany) or Progressive Party of Working People (Cyprus).


Preliminary statement based on the results of election observation for the March 18, 2018 presidential elections in the Russian Federation

The movement “Golos” carried out long- and short-term observation at all stages of the election campaign during the 2018 presidential race in the Russian Federation.

In the preliminarily assessment of the presidential elections, “Golos” acknowledges the definite strong result of the winning candidate but regretfully declares that the movement does not recognize these election as truly fair, i.e. fully consistent with the Constitution, the laws of the Russian Federation, and international election standards because the results were achieved in an unfree, unequal, and uncompetitive election campaign. This fact does not allow “Golos”, therefore, to assert that the will of the voters was expressed as the result of a free election campaign.

The new voting procedure “at the current location” was used for executing compulsion to vote: there were records of special voter lists, organized voter transfers, and activities to monitor voters’ participation in the voting process. Many reports came from polling stations located on or near the grounds of student dormitories, colleges, and large enterprises. Voter “migration” within districts significantly exceeded voter “migration” between districts. In total, about 5.7 million people applied for voting “at the current location”. The number of cases of “migration” between districts seems to be just over 1 million voters, and the “migration” within districts is estimated at more than 4.5 million. In total, almost 30% of the total number of “migrants” were attached to a limited number of 4,821 (out of approx. 96.000) polling stations.

Recorded cases of fraud and violations regarding election procedures, including during ballot counting, require additional verification and detailed analysis of videotapes from the polling stations, which the movement “Golos” began on 19 March.

Main observations:

– limited-competition environment;

– artificial mobilization of an administratively-dependent electorate;

– many cases of pressure on voters expressing the wish not to vote;

– coverage by the mass media characterized by manipulative and tendentious information;

– more convenient voting system for the voters in a polling station other than the place of residence, however, not eliminating the possibility of administrative abuse;

– positive role of election commissions; interaction with the observer community has improved;

– increased pressure on civil activists and independent observers.

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