September 15, 2021 Special Dispatch No. 9550

Russian Outlet RBC Arranges Quasi-Debate Between The 14 Parties Competing In The September 19 Duma Elections: Part I

September 15, 2021
Russia | Special Dispatch No. 9550

In the run-up to the Duma elections, RBC polled all the parties running for the Duma to find out their political stances on, among other things, vaccination, pension reform, tax increases, the future of Donbass, and Lenin's burial.

About the elections

On September 17 the State Duma elections in Russia will begin. For the first time the voting will last three days.

Candidates from 14 parties as well as self-nominated candidates will run for the State Duma. The elections will be held under mixed system [i.e. half of mandates will be distribute through single mandate districts and half – from party lists. – Anatoly]. Voters will be able to cast their votes online in 7 regions, including Moscow.

Wherein, many candidates from opposition were not allowed to participate in the parliamentary elections. Criminal cases were opened against some of them. According to "RBC" previous reports, one-third of the heads of Alexei Navalny's regional headquarters are under investigation, while some, including Dmitri Gudkov and many supporters of Navalny, have fled the country.

RBC interviewed the parties participating in Duma elections if they consider them to be competitive, what do they think about the ban of opposition candidates, and what they think about the "Smart Voting" initiative [hereinafter - SV].

Questions, " Do you consider the upcoming elections to be competitive? What do you think about the ban of candidates affiliated with Navalny, and did this affect your chances for victory at the elections? How will the SV initiative affect these elections?"

United Russia, Andrei Turchak, "There are, certainly, many single-mandate districts, in which no one can predict the outcome of the campaign. [The ban of Navalny's candidates] didn't change our chances in any way. We have different electorate, and those who consciously vote for UR are unlikely to change their choice. The SV initiative will affect the elections the same way it did in the previous campaigns, i.e. it will have no effect. I believe that it has long been obvious that SV is simply a way of interpreting election results and appropriating the successes of opposition parties."

The CPRF, Gennady Zyuganov, "Elections, on which voting is intentionally organized so as to make the work of observers as much difficult as possible, candidates such as Pavel Grudinin are banned, and a full-scale election campaign is effectively blocked in the state media, especially on television, cannot be considered competitive. About what kind of competitiveness are you talking about if in recent years more than 3,000 of our candidates have been banned under far-fetched pretexts from participating in the elections of various levels (from municipal to gubernatorial ones).

The LDPR, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, "What's smart about the voting, when someone else decided for you for whom to vote? This is stupid voting. It won't affect our chances at the elections, as it doesn't affect electorate as a whole. This initiative is for a small clique of Navalny's fans."

A Just Russia — For Truth, Sergey Mironov, "I believe the elections are competitive. 14 Parties with various political and economic programs participate in them. Certain candidates, if they are not happy about being banned from the elections, should go to trial. This is how civilized countries do that."

Yabloko, Nikolay Rybakov, "We believe the elections are not competitive. From the very beginning [of the campaign] the elections didn't comply with democratic procedures. There are enormous inequalities in parties' access to the media, funding, campaigning resources, and public events. Ban of candidates, who has real or imaginary affiliation with Navalny is illegal, it's a purely political issue, and is aimed at eliminating competitors. The influence of SV is rather exaggerated, which is why we do not focus on it and do not measure its effect."

New People, Alexey Nechayev, "We believe the elections to be competitive. Our party as well as the CPRF were allowed to participate in the campaign. We condemn the ban of all candidates, including those affiliated with Navalny. 20 members of our party were banned from the elections. But the more there are restrictions on the part of the authorities, the bigger our chances for the victory. I don't know whether the SV will have any effect. Some might benefit from it, for others it will be detriment. Our [party] don't care for it."

Rodina, Aleksey Zhuravlyov, "Elections will be competitive, but this only fact is not enough. It's necessary for the elections to be just, transparent and legitimate. Alas, in many regions the local authorities don't understand this and strive to eliminate political competition via administrative efforts. Candidates that represent interests of other states are open enemies of Russia and shouldn't be able to participate in the elections, since they transform political process into a series of provocations. This so-called SV is another provocation."

Party of Growth, Irina Mironova, "There is an element of competitiveness in this election, albeit I cannot call them ideal. Our party faced "special" attitude from certain CEC employees. [Central Election Commission] And, although the words I'm going to say are not a parliamentary expression, but these people acted following the motto "my opinion prevails." This is unacceptable in the CEC's operation. [As for the banned candidates] I would love to allow everyone to run for elections. The SV initiative was just announced, thus I have no comments yet."

Party of Pensioners, Vladimir Burakov, "Any election is competitive, because every party struggle to win sympathies of voters. As for banned candidates affiliated with Navalny, candidates of many parties were banned from participating the elections. I believe you should ask this question the lawyers, who were preparing and filing [candidates'] documents, and people, who were examining these documents. We don't support SV, we support wise voting, i.e. when a person wisely chooses a party that is close to him in spirit and goals, and lives up to his hopes."

Communists of Russia, Maxim Suraykin, "The elections are competitive enough, which is evidenced by 14 parties in electoral sheet. The elections will be competitive in terms of number of ideas to choose from. Navalny for us is a political enemy. If the courts ban [certain candidates], we trust the courts' decisions. There is a clear connection between Navalny's structures and foreign states. No country will allow for candidates, which have proven connections with foreign states, to run for elections. We believe that the SV won't affect the elections, this will be a short-lived project, project of forced choice."

RPSS, Maksim Shevchenko, "The ruling nomenclature is engaged in a war against new political forces. I strongly condemn any measures that prevent candidates from participating in the elections. It's obvious that decisions to ban candidates are politically motivated, despite the fact that there are legal bases for such actions. The SV won't affect the elections, because the entire initiative's concept is wrong, "Let anyone, except UR, win the election. One might even think that "anyone" is not the very same UR under a different logo. In refraining from a general assessment of  the country's situation makes such voting manipulative."

Civic Platform, Rifat Shaykhutdinov, "Yes, I believe for the elections to be competitive. I have no opinion on ban of the candidates, affiliated with Navalny. This had no effect on our chances of victory and won't affect elections themselves."

The Greens, Andrey Nagibin, "The elections in Russia are totally competitive! Russia is a world leader regarding number of parties, organizations, movements, interesting public candidates. What do I think about the ban of candidates affiliated with Navalny? If it would happen to our party and "the Greens" would be banned from elections due to guilty actions of the leader, I would consider such a situation to be a catastrophe and a personal failure. As for our chances at the elections, we draw no connection with participation of representatives from radical oppositionist parties."

Green Alternative, Party's Press service, "14 parties have joined the election campaign. In our opinion this evidences to a sufficient level of competiveness. We believe that our goal is to provide anyone, who is concerned with ecological issues, well-being of future generations and environment in general with a choice. We perceive this too as an element of competiveness. Nothing will undermine the issue of ecological problems in Russia and initiatives that we propose."

All of the parties published their campaigning programs. However, according to the experts from the "Osoboye Mnenie" Foundation the majority of programs are unconstructive and lacking in essence. RBC found out what positions in the programs, according to the parties themselves, are different from their competitors' programs.

Question, "Which item of the program distinguishes your party from the rest?"

United Russia, Andrei Turchak, "[First] You won't find big but impracticable promises in our program. In contrast to many our rivals, who support everything good and oppose everything bad, we don't engage in populism. If you to examine our last campaigning program from 5 years ago, you'll find out that all the provisions were implemented. Second, the people themselves had drawn our program, that's why we call it "people's program." We collected a huge number of proposals from our citizens and on their bases the concrete 5 year-plan was drawn up."

The CPRF, Gennady Zyuganov, "First and foremost our party differs from others in that it has a clear and complete development program. I can firmly state that only we alone in Russia have such a program. However, the thing is not only in principal differences of our program from that of our opponents, we also have a big team of dedicated professionals, who are eager to implement our program."

The LDPR, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, "There are 33 items of our program that are different from the programs of our opponents. (The LDPR program has 33 items in total. - RBC)."

A Just Russia — For Truth, Sergey Mironov, "I want to say that [our program] differs from our opponents' ones not in certain items (there are however plenty of those) but in our scientific approach towards dealing with issues. We don't come up with nice but meaningless slogans, don't quote arbitrary indicators. With regard to concrete initiatives I want to note a unique proposal to introduce a just universal basic income. This initiative provides for allowances to every citizen of our country from the assets acquired from sell of energy resources."

Yabloko, Nikolay Rybakov, "Yabloko is the only party that openly states that it considers Vladimir Putin's policy to be totally unacceptable and leading the country to a dead end. We demand nullifying punitive laws, conducting investigation on the murder attempts of oppositionist politicians, journalists and public figures. We demand an investigation into the poisoning of Alexei Navalny. We are the only political force that advocates the end of Russia's political isolation and an improvement of relations with the West, the introduction of a visa-free regime with the EU, and lifting the restrictions on the import of foreign goods and medicine."

New People, Alexey Nechayev, "All 8 chapters of our campaign program differ from that of our opponents. No one else [except us] proposes redistributing the [federal] budget in favor of the constitutive entities; the reinstitution of direct mayoral elections; easing the tax burden; introducing a unified teachers' salary in the amount of 75,000 rubles; eliminating Rosobrnadzor [The Federal Service for Supervision in Education and Science]; facilitating the affordability of private company medical services through the system of Mandatory Medical Insurance; creating an institute of elected judges, prosecutors, heads of local police departments; introducing a jury system in criminal proceedings."

Rodina, Aleksey Zhuravlyov, "[In contrast to others] we call upon the state to conduct a tough nationalization of elites and introduction of resource rent so that any citizen would be able to get his fair share of national resources. We also believe that patriotic ideology should be imposed on all spheres of state and public life, which will serve as a cornerstone of all-nation's existence. [I have to point out that this initiative contradicts basic principles of Russian Constitution and requires the adoption of completely new basic law.] I would like to note that we have a truly people's program. It was drawn up based on an approach to voters, on my face-to-face conversations with people in the regions."

Party of Growth, Irina Mironova, "First, [we differ thanks to] our intelligible economic program. We call it NEP 2.0 [the name recalls the Soviet New Economic Policy of 1921]. The party in power looks down on many of our rivals and rightly demands an answer from them to the question, "what concrete measures do you propose?" No one engages in deliberations on this topic with us, because we understand this question better."

Party of Pensioners, Vladimir Burakov, "The campaign program of the Party of Pensioners is supported by years-long research of Russian scientists and specialists. It was widely discussed at practical and scientific conferences, held in all the regions. Our program is integral and systematic and is aimed at the protection of the people's interests and their sound development."

Communists of Russia, Maxim Suraykin, "We propagate the restoration of Soviet authority and socialism. We call for a gradual withdrawal from the capitalist mode of production. We differ from other parties on the left spectrum by virtue of the fact that we advocate a struggle against religious intervention in the educational sphere, society and army. We promote a scientific world-view. Our state should be truly secular."

RPSS, Maksim Shevchenko, "We call for the release of all political prisoners and for a cessation of the political persecution of journalists and public figures. In addition, our program is distinct from others as it calls for studying  the languages of the peoples of Russia and for a turn to genuine federalism."

Civic Platform, Rifat Shaykhutdinov, "Everything in our program is unique. Read it! There are many initiatives that we were the first to propose."

The Greens, Andrey Nagibin, "First and foremost we are distinct due to our support and focus on the development of the agricultural sector. Despite the many government monitoring agencies, there are often bad or shoddy goods sold in our shops. Our goal is to greenlight domestic organic goods production via sustainable farming."

Green Alternative, Party's Press service, "We believe that drawing attention to environmental problems and subsequently dealing with them are the main goals of our party. Green Alternative is a modern eco-party. I believe no other differences need to be named."

In early September, according to VTsIOM poll [Russian Public Opinion Research Center], the ratings of the parties running the State Duma elections demonstrated that only four parliamentary parties would be able to pass the 5% threshold in order to get parliamentary mandates. RBC asked the parties what result they would consider a success, and what would be considered as a failure.

Question, "What result would be considered a success, and what - a failure "

United Russia, Andrei Turchak, "[We want] to keep the majority in next convocation of the State Duma. The other scenarios are unacceptable to us."

The CPRF, Gennady Zyuganov, "The election is not an indicator of the  personal success of some politicians or even a single party. We offer the voters to vote for a program that focuses not on maintaining dead-end crisis course, but on changes. Our program provides for such an opportunity. If such a program would be supported by the majority of population, this will be a historical success for the entire society."

The LDPR, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, "Our goal is to get 20% of the votes through party list and acquire 100 mandates in the State Duma."

A Just Russia — For Truth, Sergey Mironov, "At the party's congress in June I put forward a clear goal: to become at least the second largest party in the State Duma. Well at least we are ready to challenge UR for their ruling status in the parliament, which will be rather difficult considering the reality we live in. Be that as it may, if the UR will lose its legislative "monopoly" we will consider it a success."

Yabloko, Nikolay Rybakov, "It's only possible to discuss failure in the election campaign, provided there would be honest, free and competitive elections. This is not the case for our country today. Thus any result that contradicts the status quo [in government] won't be a failure. If the party will overcome the 5% threshold and be able to form a full-fledged fraction in the State Duma we will consider such a result successful. The changes will begin in the country, if a democratic fraction will appear in the State Duma."

New People, Alexey Nechayev, "If considerably-sized fractions of our party will appear in the State Duma and local legislative assemblies, we will consider it be a success. If president Putin does not cast his votes for our party, but for some party, which provides no hopes for the people, it will be our failure."

Rodina, Aleksey Zhuravlyov, "We are focused on success and not on a failure! However, the more votes we get – the better. The main thing today is to create a strong "Rodina" fraction in the State Duma."

Party of Growth, Irina Mironova, "The best case scenario is to pass the 5% threshold. [If we will be able to] get mandates in local legislative assemblies it will also be a success. There is no option of failure for us."

Party of Pensioners, Vladimir Burakov, "To create "Party of Pensioners" fraction in the State Duma is our goal. We are striving to reach it!"

Communists of Russia, Maxim Suraykin, "Naturally to pass 5% threshold to the State Duma will be a success for us. If we get less votes than during the 2016 campaign, it won't be a failure for us. I'll perceive it as not the best party's performance. Considering the three days voting, it will be hard to safeguard the result [against fraud] as well as to understand what was the actual number of votes that the party got. We hope for the best." 

RPSS, Maksim Shevchenko, "If our party will be able to pass the 5% threshold and establish a fraction in the State Duma it will be a good result. If we will get less than 3% of votes and thus won't qualify for state financing it will be our failure. The middle ground is to get somewhere between 3 and 5%."

Civic Platform, Rifat Shaykhutdinov, "We don't assess our performance according to the American principle "winners or losers." And advise others not to do so. It's important for us that we've established [our party] as an enduring political force. We coherently develop and propagate our stance."

The Greens, Andrey Nagibin, "For many years the Greens were in perpetual slumber. I assumed the position of the party's leader in May of this year. There is no time to make big statements about ourselves on the eve of elections. Maybe only 5% of Russians know about us today, but in the future millions will join us. This is inevitable, because everyone wants to live in a clean and safe environment."

Green Alternative, Party's Press service, "We see our activities as a long-term project. Sooner or later the world will understand that ecology, environmental protection, and reasonable consumption are society's main values and goals. We work to bring this future perspective closer, and we will participate in the political struggle to attain our goals."

About opposition rallies and high-profile criminal cases

At the beginning of 2021, in January and February, unauthorized protest rallies in support of Alexei Navalny were held in Russia. A total of 17,600 participants were arrested (this figure was provided by the Russian Mission to the United Nations at the request of the UN Human Rights Council). The majority of rallies were unauthorized. The authorities explained the refusal on conducting the protest actions by restrictions introduced due to COVID-19 pandemics. The parties' representatives commented on how they assessed law enforcement officers' actions during the rallies and whether the anti-coronavirus restrictions on mass gatherings should be lifted.

Question, "How do you assess the actions of law enforcement officers at protest actions held this year? Do you believe the restrictions, introduced due to COVID-19 should be lifted?"

United Russia, Andrei Turchak, "The law enforcement officers' actions were correct and professional. There are fewer cases of the so called "overzealous officers," as the majority of officers act carefully, and do not succumb to provocations. The [COVID-19] restrictions apply to all mass events. I believe any decisions regarding the issue should be made keeping in mind the epidemiological situation in each region. If the decision to lift the restrictions will be made it should cover all mass gatherings, not just rallies."

The CPRF, Gennady Zyuganov, "Undoubtedly, one should comply with epidemiological restrictions in the current situation. However, it's obvious that the authorities use these restrictions as means to curb the political activity of opponents. Under the pretext of fighting the virus, the authorities introduce various restrictions on the normal course of the election campaign. It's impossible to conduct the latter without rallies and other public events. This is a blatant trampling of the electoral rights of citizens, I have no other words for it. Citizen's rights stipulate that the authorities must provide the opportunity to run an electoral campaign."   

The LDPR, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, "These were necessary measures. Who will be held accountable if 1000 people will be infected by the virus during the rally? We don't want to put the health of our voters at risk. Thus, we have to agree with the temporary restrictions (albeit reluctantly since making public policy is our job)."

A Just Russia — For Truth, Sergey Mironov, "I would like to asses not the actions of law enforcement agencies, but rather the nature of protest rallies. A majority of them were unauthorized and had a provocative character. As for COVID-19 restrictions I've always emphasized that they should comply with the law and be reasonable medical-wise. One shouldn't put people's health at risk, however one also shouldn't violate people's rights under the pretext of fighting the virus."

Yabloko, Nikolay Rybakov, "This is a double standard policy, when on the one hand the authorities ban protest actions, but on the other allow festivals that gather tens of thousands people. After that the number of infected skyrockets. Last year we called for nullification of these ridiculous restrictions and still advocate that the ban on conducting protest rallies should be nullified, provided the real epidemiological situation gets better. Be that as it may single-man picket on the open air don't threaten health of the citizens."

New People, Alexey Nechayev, "We condemn police officers' actions. We were pleased with the work of law enforcement authorities during the 2018 FIFA World Cup. As for restrictions, both vaccinations and protest actions should be voluntary and safe. Certainly, the restrictions must be lifted. The procedure for holding rallies should be changed from authorization-based to notification-based."

Rodina, Aleksey Zhuravlyov, "Often under the pretext of protest rallies illegal and provocative actions are being held. Thus the law enforcement agencies are forced to do their job, i.e. to uphold law and order. Later the liberal media present such actions as repressions and persecution of dissenters. Naturally the law enforcement agencies must comply with the law, but nevertheless effectively. The issues of lifting or prolonging of COVID-19 restrictions should be the responsibility of medical specialists and not be affected by politics."

Party of Growth, Irina Mironova, "I don't won't to mix these two issues. Pandemics are very serious, a question of life and death. Restrictions also affect the well-being of businesses. The line beyond which any mass gathering become dangerous for their participants and people around them is vague. I believe that any methods that people use to convey their political or social position should be treated with respect."

Party of Pensioners, Vladimir Burakov, "Recently we witnessed a high mortality among people infected with COVID-19, especially among the elderly population. Any mass events, including protest ones should be conducted while considering the epidemiological situation in the region with respect to all measures of social distancing. The actions of law enforcement officers, as well as the actions of protesters can be and should be assessed in each separate case, depending on the circumstances."

Communists of Russia, Maxim Suraykin, "We support the use of force against all kinds of extremists, i.e. against those who orchestrated riots, tried to obstruct the movement of vehicles, burned flares. At the same time, we condemn the use of force against common citizens, who joined the protest (even if they don't agree with the organizers of the rally). We believe all the restrictions on rallies and pickets should be lifted immediately. During the year and a half, we received dozens of rejections."  

RPSS, Maksim Shevchenko, "Law enforcement officers are just an instrument. It's not their desire to beat up people. Political authorities, regional heads bear the responsibility for violence during the dispersals of rallies."

Civic Platform, Rifat Shaykhutdinov, "I believe the police actions were way too soft. In my opinion there is no need to lift restrictions on rallies and pickets."

The Greens, Andrey Nagibin, "We watched footage from the protest actions. Each case should be assessed separately. No doubts there were cases of excessive use of force, this issue should be addressed to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Rosgvardia [National Guard] and other agencies. One needs to separate the wheat from the chaff. Someone was obviously provoking the police, speculating [on the event] and addressing the wrong issue. As for COVID-19 restrictions, our stance is unequivocal: restrictions are necessary. I support any measures that will prevent the [spread] of the decrease and decrease mortality. No "good causes" that are able to attract so many people are worth of even one human life." 

Green Alternative, Party's Press service. The party didn't answer the question.

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