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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Dozen Parties Face Being Left Out

A dozen political parties running for the State Duma looked poised to fall out of the race Wednesday -- a shift that could narrow the field by half and give the pro-Kremlin United Russia party a stronger advantage.

Central Elections Commission chief Alexander Veshnyakov said Monday that he expected 13 parties or blocs to make it onto the ballot.

A total of 25 groups were in the running after the little-known Conservative Party withdrew Tuesday. The Central Elections Commission's deadline for parties and single-mandate district candidates to submit registration documents is 6 p.m. Wednesday.

Nine parties and four blocs have been cleared to participate in the Dec. 7 elections.

Six parties and two blocs had been registered as of Monday after submitting the 200,000 signatures needed to support their party lists. The path is thus cleared for Yabloko, the Union of Right Forces, the Communist Party, the People's Party, Rus and United Russia and the blocs New Course-Automotive Russia and Great Russia-Eurasian Union.

The Central Elections Commission at its Tuesday meeting registered five more groups: the Liberal Democratic, Agrarian and Development of Entrepreneurship parties and the Homeland and Rebirth-Party of Life blocs.

The other 12 groups have a chance to slip in before the deadline by presenting their signature lists or paying a 37.5 million-ruble ($1.25 million) fee -- meaning it's now less a question of the survival of the fittest but of the survival of the richest.

By law, the elections commission has 10 days to certify the lists. The final list of parties that will compete will be released Nov. 2, a commission spokesman said Tuesday. The campaign season officially kicks off Nov. 7.

Half of the Duma's 450 seats are awarded to individuals running from so-called single-mandate districts, while the other half are doled out proportionally to parties based on votes for party lists.

A party that fails to get its federal list registered can try to win single-mandate seats -- if its candidates are registered by Wednesday evening. If 12 or more of a party's members get elected, they can form a faction in the new Duma, saving the group from political extinction.

The requirements for single-mandate candidates are less demanding. They must gather signatures from 1 percent of the voters in their district -- on average, 5,000 people -- or pay a fee of 900,000 rubles ($30,000).

Well-known politicians have nothing to worry about, said Vladimir Pribylovsky, director of the Panorama think tank. "They have money. They can pay," he said.

Those who don't want to pay the fee can always buy signatures from election services agencies that, in turn, have bought passport data from the police, Pribylovsky said.

"Since 1993, 90 percent of the names on election petitions are fictitious. Virtually all parties, except maybe the Communists, buy them," he said.

"It's a question of money and everything can be done in a matter of 10 minutes," he said. On average, each signature costs $1.

In many districts, "the winner's margin will be small, and the absence of this or that candidate can determine the election's result," said Nikolai Petrov, an elections specialist at the Carnegie Moscow Center. "If the 2 percent to 3 percent of the vote some weak candidate would have taken goes up for grabs, that can be enough to sway the order of the top two spots."

Pribylovsky estimated that about two-thirds of the parties at risk are too weak to make it onto the ballot.

In Moscow, there are seven to eight centrist candidates running against about one Communist and one liberal in each district, he said. "For United Russia, they're just getting in the way," he said, since their parties have no chance of winning the 5 percent of the vote needed to break into the Duma. "No one needs them."

It's quite possible that these parties never planned on being on the ballot from the beginning, Petrov said.

"Many parties declared their participation without any real intention of ultimately running in the elections," he said, likening this to standing in Soviet-era lines: Many are there not to buy something but in hope of selling their spot to someone else. "Weak parties make themselves available to stronger parties that need them to play a certain role."

In the last Duma elections, for example, the pro-Kremlin Unity party was founded only three months before the vote, though by law parties were required to exist for one full year. Unity was simply set up on the basis of several smaller centrist parties.