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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

United Russia Way Out Front in Race

The State Duma election campaign went into full swing Sunday with President Vladimir Putin signing a decree for the vote to take place Dec. 2.

But the campaign promises to be the blandest in post-Soviet history, analysts said. A landslide victory for United Russia is a foregone conclusion, and polls indicate that only three other parties will secure seats: the Communists, A Just Russia and the Liberal Democratic Party.

The Central Elections Commission said Sunday that it was ready to make sure the 17 parties registered to participate in the race conducted their campaigns fairly, and it expressed hope that voter turnout would be high.

"The latest public opinion polls show we have good prospects for quite a high turnout," commission head Vladimir Churov said, Interfax reported.

For the first time, however, turnout will not determine whether the elections are valid. Legislation passed by the current Duma, dominated by the pro-Kremlin United Russia party, scrapped minimum turnout requirements.

VTsIOM, the state-controlled pollster, said in a survey released Friday that it expected turnout to reach 49.5 percent. Turnout was 55.8 percent in the 2003 Duma elections, and the law required a minimum turnout of 25 percent at the time.

Surveys by both VTsIOM and the independent Levada Center concurred that only four parties would clear the 7 percent threshold to secure seats. The current Duma raised the threshold from 5 percent in 2003.

Also, voters this time will only be able to vote for parties, not individuals. Before, the Duma's 450 seats were equally divided between parties and candidates elected in single-mandate districts. Putin called for this change after the Beslan school attack in 2004, saying it would strengthen the political system.

VTsIOM predicted that United Russia would garner 47.4 percent of the vote, followed by the Communists (14.9 percent), the pro-Kremlin A Just Russia party (11.7 percent) and the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party (8.8 percent).

Levada gave United Russia 59 percent and other parties about the same as VTsIOM.

Each party will be allowed to spend 1.8 billion rubles ($70 million) on the campaign, although only United Russia, which is sitting on a war chest of $13.5 million, seems capable of collecting this amount. The party raised $13.7 million in donations and membership fees in the second quarter of 2007 alone, the Central Elections Commission said.

Its closest rival in monetary terms is the LDPR, which has $4.8 million in the bank and raised $3.2 million in the second quarter. The Communists have $1.7 million and raised $3.8 million in the second quarter, while A Just Russia has just $365,400 but raised $4.2 million.

Interestingly, United Russia has declared that it spent just $8,000 on advertising in the second quarter, much less than any other party has spent. United Russia, however, gets generous news coverage on state television, in part because its leader, Boris Gryzlov, is also the Duma speaker and its members chair all the Duma committees.

United Russia, widely seen as the party of bureaucrats, entered the campaign Sunday without a slogan to set itself apart in the eyes of the voters. The head of the party's ideology department, Leonid Goryainov, and his deputies -- the only people who the party's press department said could comment on the lack of a campaign slogan -- were not in Moscow last week and unavailable for comment.

The party's point man for the elections, Andrei Vorobyov, told reporters last week that voters expected "not a competition among slogans, but a comparison between the results of each parties' work."

With a membership list that includes top officials in each of the country's regions, United Russia has no need for a punchy slogan, political analysts said. "It is enough to stress all the time that United Russia has the exclusive right to be called the party of the president," said Alexei Makarkin, an analyst with the Center for Political Technologies.

The party's general program, formulated earlier this year, is simply called "Putin's Plan." Putin, whose enormous popularity shows no signs of abating six months before the presidential vote, has not formally endorsed the use of his name on the program.

Putin invited United Russia leaders to meet with him at his residence outside Moscow ahead of the 2003 elections, and he has had them over again this year. The meetings have been covered by state media. No other party has been granted the favor of such a meeting.

The toughest race is expected to be between the Communists and A Just Russia. Although the Communists are now in the lead, A Just Russia, led by Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov, has a good chance of overtaking them, analysts said.

"The outcome of this race has been decided by the Kremlin, which controls television coverage of the parties. Smart politicians, like Alexei Mitrofanov, felt it and ran to Mironov," said Yury Korgunyuk, an analyst with the Indem think tank. Mitrofanov announced last week that he would leave the LDPR for A Just Russia.

A Just Russia, meanwhile, said it would not focus on its support of the Kremlin on the campaign trail. "We will base our slogans on three issues: labor, family and fairness," party spokesman Alexei Morozov said.

He said this platform covered the top social issues of wages, work safety, housing, demography and pensions.

Morozov also said the campaign would focus on the regional level, with political celebrities being put at the top of the party's regional tickets. Mitrofanov, he said, was likely to be made the party's No. 1 man in the Moscow region, while billionaire Alexander Lebedev would lead in Moscow.

The Communists will decide their campaign slogans and strategy at a congress later in September, but both would probably echo those used in 2003, party spokesman Sergei Yelagin said.

"There definitely will be 'Our heart beats on the left," but we may also add one favored by our youth wing, "Better red than light blue," Yelagin said, referring to a euphemism for homosexuals.

LDPR leaders are likely to go on train trips into the regions to gain support for the party, said Arkady Ostrovsky, a senior member of the LDPR faction in the Duma. Two of the party's slogans are "Don't lie and don't be afraid," and "What's good for Russians is good for all," he said.

The only liberal party with a slight chance of getting into the Duma appears to be the Union of Right Forces, according to the surveys. The party's campaign slogans, however, might raise eyebrows.

"'To complete building Russia' is the name of our program," party spokeswoman Anna Solodukha said. "We intend to continue reforms along the democratic principles set under President Boris Yeltsin, reforms that have nothing to do with Putin's policies."