Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Faces of United Russia

The new proportional representation electoral system greatly increases the significance of the regional party lists in the upcoming State Duma elections. In a country as large as Russia, with several individual regions as big as some entire European countries, the proportional system means that regions now have a voice in the Duma. In addition, party membership lists allow us to gauge not only party strategy at the federal level but also in the regions.

The parties faced a fairly difficult task in drawing up the lists. On one hand, recognizable and attractive candidates should lead the lists to attract voters. On the other hand, the number of votes available to the party should be great enough so that at least the top candidate on the regional list would gain a seat in the Duma. Otherwise, it would be hard to generate any regional interest in the elections.

Of particular importance is that the current splitting of lists into regional groupings was done prior to President Vladimir Putin's announcement that he would head United Russia's federal ticket. That means a minimum of four or five parties could realistically gain Duma seats.

United Russia's recently formulated list is especially interesting. It contains 600 names in 83 regional divisions. In most cases, the list of divisions corresponds to administrative regions. As an exception, five small regions were merged with their larger neighbors: The Jewish autonomous region with the Khabarovsk region, the Nenets autonomous district with the Arkhangelsk region, the Ust-Ordynsky Buryatsky autonomous district with the Irkutsk region, the Aginsk Buryatsky autonomous district with the Chita region and the Chukotka autonomous district with the Magadan region. This may be a Kremlin plan to further increase the size of each region to ensure that each region can produce a potential Duma seat winner. In addition, two large regions -- though not the largest -- were split: Volgograd now consists of three regions and Voronezh has two regions.

United Russia found a simple way to establish a strong constituent base in the regions: In 62 of the 83 regions, it named the governors to head its party lists. In two places, Khakasia and St. Petersburg, the governors are second on the list. In this way, the elections become a vote of confidence for the president and the governors he has appointed. As an inevitable result, we have seen a rampant use of administrative resources in the political campaign.

With so many governors on the lists acting as powerful magnets to pull in votes, the exclusion of any particular governor can be viewed as an effort by the Kremlin to "blacklist" those politicians because of Moscow's dissatisfaction with their performance or because of it has doubts about their attractiveness to voters.

It is not surprising that all of the governors who worked at some point in the federal security services were included on the "blacklist." For example: Viktor Maslov of Smolensk, Vladimir Kulyakov of Voronezh and Murat Zyazikov of Ingushetia. Also shut out from the United Russia lists were Nikolai Kiselyov of Arkhangelsk, Georgy Shpak of Ryazan, Oleg Chirkunov of Perm, Pavel Ipatov of Saratov, Nikolai Maksyuta of Volgograd, Alexander Chernogorov of Stavropol whom local United Russia officials replaced with popular Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu, and so on. It should be noted that most of these governors turned out to be poor appointments.

The assertion that Putin's decision had no effect on party lists is not entirely accurate. Putin's appearance on the scene not only pushed the original three party leaders off the ticket, but it also provoked an immediate cleansing of the party lists of extremely wealthy individuals, especially those who have problems with the law -- particularly, the with the tax authorities. (Rumor has it that the list includes up to three dozen individuals, including such influential figures as Duma deputy cum billionaire Suleiman Kerimov.)

The widely publicized United Party primaries, on the basis of which party list were to be drawn up, were held in the spirit of contemporary Russian politics -- that is, out of the public eye. The Kremlin is not opposed to voting in general. What it doesn't like is when the voting serves as a type of referendum on its policies.

In a few weeks, this referendum will show which governors control the political machines in their regions -- and to what degree.

Nikolai Petrov is a scholar in residence at the Carnegie Moscow Center.