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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

State Duma Campaign Kicks Off

The State Duma election campaign officially kicked off Wednesday, with elections chief Alexander Veshnyakov promising a lively battle that would feature provocations despite his efforts to enforce strict election rules.

"It won't be boring," Veshnyakov, head of the Central Elections Commission, said at a news conference. "Provocations are always possible here, and the current election campaign won't be any different."

Veshnyakov timed his news conference with the start of the parliamentary election campaign, which began with the publication Wednesday in the official Rossiiskaya Gazeta of a presidential decree setting the vote for Dec. 7.

Putin signed the decree Tuesday and met with Veshnyakov the same day and urged him to make sure that all parties and candidates abide by the law so the campaign would be "a normal competitive process without dirt."

Putin on Wednesday warned parties and candidates against trying to play the nationalist card. Speaking to a reporter in the Rostov region, Putin said those who try to run on a "nationalist, xenophobic" platform would push Russia toward disintegration.

"I have a highly negative opinion of this," Putin said in comments shown on Rossia television.

With the official campaign under way, parties can now hold congresses to select candidates for their federal lists and promote them. Individuals who plan to run in single-seat constituencies also can start campaigning in earnest.

The official start of the campaign also means, however, that both parties and candidates must keep their spending within the limits set by law. Parties cannot spend more than 250 million rubles ($8.2 million) and individuals are capped at 6 million rubles ($197,000), according to a 2001 law.

The Central Elections Commission is in charge of enforcing the rules and can eliminate candidates for infractions such as failing to declare all of their property or applying to run with irregularities in their lists of signatures.

The Press Ministry will now monitor the media's coverage of the campaign and can, through a court, get an outlet shut down until after the vote if its reports are deemed biased.

The spending limits, however, will be difficult to enforce because political parties will have to spend much more than allowed to get over the 5 percent vote threshold that allows them seats in the Duma, said Vladimir Pribylovsky, head of the Panorama think tank.

In addition, some of the restrictions are vaguely worded, giving authorities a lot of ground to selectively apply them to derail the bids of opposition candidates and to stifle media coverage, Pribylovsky said.

He said well-known and established parties are not likely to be pulled off the ballots, but the selective application of the law can be expected in single-mandate constituencies.

He and Nikolai Petrov of the Carnegie Moscow Center said opposition candidates would probably only be struck from the ballot if they posed a serious challenge to rivals favored by local or federal authorities.

This and the fact that the media restrictions seriously limit newspapers, television and radio in their coverage means the campaign should end up being rather dull and uneventful in comparison to the previous vote in 1999, the two analysts said.

The 1999 campaign came with mudslinging battles between rival candidates and the media offering up reams of compromising materials. That campaign also offered some intrigue due to a huge split between the Kremlin and the then-powerful governors, all pushing for their own interests.

The Kremlin assembled the Unity movement and sent it into battle rather late in the campaign, stirring up speculation about whether it would prevail over the governors' Fatherland-All Russia.

Now, that the two parties have merged into one, it is rather clear that the next Duma will be dominated by pro-Kremlin deputies, with the Communists coming in second and the rest divided between liberals and independents, Pribylovsky said.

In addition to pledging allegiance to their Duma factions, some deputies will serve the interests of the financial and industrial groups that are bankrolling their bids, as is the case in the current Duma, Petrov and Pribylovsky said.

The two analysts said the pressure that federal law enforcers are putting on oil giant Yukos is not aimed at discouraging wealthy executives from financing the campaigns of opposition candidates or parties. The Kremlin, they said, will tolerate the presence of lobbyists in the next Duma as long as their corporate sponsors do not venture out of business into politics.

What Happens Next

The Justice Ministry has cobbled together a draft list of 44 registered political parities and 20 movements that can run for 225 of the State Duma's 450 seats. The rest of the seats are filled by individuals who win in single-mandate constituencies. (Some 200 parties and movements vied for Duma seats in 1999.)

The Justice Ministry will send its final list to the Central Elections Commission by Sept. 10.

Each of the parties on the final list will then have to submit either 200,000 signatures or 37.5 million rubles ($1.2 million) to the Central Elections Commission between Sept. 22 and Oct. 22, according to a plan approved by the commission's top brass Wednesday. Individual candidates have to submit signatures from 1 percent of the voters registered in their single-mandate constituencies or hand over 900,000 rubles.

The commission will inspect the signatures and decide which parties are eligible to be placed on ballots.

By Oct. 3, parties will have to declare who will run on their federal lists. Independent candidates have until Oct. 4 to declare their bids.

From Nov. 7 to Dec. 6, the day that campaigning officially ends, candidates will be eligible for state-funded airtime on television and space to express their views in state-owned newspapers, Prime-Tass reported.

The Central Elections Commission plans to post a detailed schedule of deadlines and events on its official web site, Preliminary election results will be posted on the site Dec. 8, a day after the vote. Final results will be released by Dec. 21.