On September 18, Russia will hold legislative elections. Initially, the elections were to have taken place on December 4. However, the initiative to move up the elections by three months was supported by Russian President Vladimir Putin's United Russia party, the Liberal Democrats and A Just Russia. These parties along with the Communist party are expected to secure representation in the Duma. In contrast, the liberal opposition parties the Russian Democratic Party (Yabloko) and the People's Party of Freedom (RPR-PARNAS), co-founded by murdered opposition politician Boris Nemtsov, will contest the elections separately - a suicidal tactic that mathematically further reduces their already slim chances to enter the Duma and further reduces the credibility of Russian liberalism. Unsurprisingly, United Russia, the party of power is the front runner in the polls measuring support for parties presenting electoral lists to the Duma elections. The Russian NGO, that Foundation for Civil Society Development, wrote that for "United Russia the electoral campaign of 2016 manifests the struggle for confirmation of their leadership in the national party system. If this party wins the elections, it would cement its status as a key parliamentary force and a stabilizing element of the political system." Recently however, the party although still far ahead has been shedding support.
It is worth noting that according to the Russian newspaper Kommersant, following the elections, the first deputy chair of the Presidential administration, Vyacheslav Volodin, will most likely be appointed the Duma's speaker, while outgoing speaker, Sergey Naryshkin, will be appointed head of the SVR (Foreign Intelligence Service).
The following is an overview of the Russian media's appraisal on the upcoming Duma elections:
Russian Parties Are Trying To Bask In Putin's Rating
A report by the pro-Kremlin Fund for the Development of Civil Society found that the contending parties are trying to bask in Putin's rating. His already high rating amongst the Russian public peaked after the unification with Crimea and Sevastopol in 2014. As such, the parties must orient themselves according to the electorate's preference for a "Putin majority in order not to avoid forfeiting the votes of their supporters." The fund's president, Konstantine Kostin says that only the parties currently represented in the Duma have a chance of passing the 5 percent electoral threshold meaning that he rules out representation for liberal parties such as Yabloko. The competition is over the voters who have not defined themselves and the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia characterized by "a balance between patriotism, defense of the citizens' interests and moderate nationalism" has the best chance for a second-place finish. If the Liberal Democrats falter, the Communists will be the runners-up.
Political scientist Yevgeny Minchenko considers the current campaign one of the most boring in memory and it is not worth talking about the gains of the parliamentary opposition, but only about how much their totals will drop in comparison with the previous election.
Russian media outlet Rbc.ru reported that the Duma amended an electoral, prohibiting using images of a person, who is not a candidate of the party. However, Russia's ruling political party, United Russia (UR) will feature Putin's quotes, and the party's video clips will use his voice, since UR members want the party to be more closely associated with its" moral leader." The Deputy Secretary of UR's General Council Olga Batalina said: "We have obtained the president's approval for this approach to the election campaign. United Russia was created by Putin; everybody realizes that he is the moral leader of the party and relies on it in the implementation of his policies. Therefore, this correct use of the president's image in the campaign is a response to the people's expectations."
During the UR June congress, Putin called the party "the country's assembly point ". Additionally, Putin said that he had triggered the creation of the party. "I remember the conditions in which United Russia was created. As everybody knows it was my initiative. Indeed, I stepped forward and created the party myself", said the president. Political scientist Alexei Makarkin commented that the party cannot forego Putin's image. "It is he that the people perceive as a strong person. So, ever since 2003, the party takes this standard electoral step every time - it always invokes the president, always emphasizes that he was one of its founders", the expert noted.
Alexey Merinov, Mk.ru, August 29, 2016.
A ballot box full of dirt.
Levada Center Poll: United Russia Losing Support
Despite the above described tactics, United Russia is encountering difficulty. A poll conducted by the respected Levada Center found that as opposed to 39% of the respondents prepared the vote for United Russia in July, the August poll found that the number had declined to 31%. The main beneficiaries were A Just Russia and apathy. United Russia's decline may be tied to the drop in Prime Minister Dimitry Medvedev's popularity. Medvedev's popularity was 55% in July but stood at only 48% in August. By comparison, Putin's popularity was unchanged at 82%.  The polls appear to express voter dissatisfaction with the absence of concrete proposals to cope with the economic crisis and the unpopular decision not to index pension payments and suffice with a one-time payment.  This has hurt the party amongst pensioners. Medvedev as prime minister is UR unofficial leader in the Duma and he presides over a government that "has practically done nothing in the face of a crisis and money shortage."
Medvedev speaks at United Russia Convention. Is he pulling down its results? (Source: Rt.com)
Observers For The Duma Elections
According to the Russian newspaper Vedomosti, half of the "foreign" observers from the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States linking former Soviet republics) Inter-Parliamentary Assembly registered for the upcoming Duma elections turned out to be Russian citizens, which clearly violates the law. Moreover, only three out of the 36 registered observers are actually parliament members. All the remaining 33 observers are employees of the Inter-Parliamentary Assembly's secretariat and report directly to their superior, Russian Federation Council chairwoman Valentina Matveenko. The newspaper quotes Grigory Melkonyanz, executive director for the NGO "VOICE" who says that this is a parody of international election observation standards.
Perhaps, realizing the credibility problem, the Russians have sought the participation of independent foreign observers but have so far encountered rejections. "The Polish State Elections Commission regrettably informs that the tasks that it confronts in the period of the aforementioned elections, will not allow it to take advantage of the invitation." The Croats begged off by saying that they were actively preparing for their own parliamentary elections.