Cablegate: Regional Elections Offer Fewer Choices

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1. (SBU) Voters in 11 Russian regions will find fewer options
on the ballot for their regional parliaments when they go to
the polls March 2 in elections to be held concurrently with
the selection of a new president. Following a trend that
began with changes to the electoral legislation that required
the State Duma to be elected on the basis of party lists
only, some Russian regions also have introduced party lists
into their regional parliaments. As the State Duma elections
showed, dispensing with single mandate seats likely will
result in limited opportunities for opposition and
independent candidates to win representation in regional
parliaments. In many regions, the liberal opposition parties
Union of Right Forces and Yabloko are not taking part. Their
dismal showing in the December elections left them with
little money to run in local elections. Under Russian law,
this lack of participation could jeopardize their long-term
viability as political parties. End summary.


2. (SBU) Eleven Russian regions will hold elections for their
regional parliaments on March 2, the same day as presidential
elections. The ll are: the republics of Bashkortostan,
Ingushetiya, Kalmykiya, and Yakutiya; Altay Kray, and the
Amur, Ivanovo, Rostov, Sverdlovsk, Ulyanovsk, and Yaroslavl
oblasts. Elections for mayor, city council, and local
governing bodies in numerous cities and villages throughout
the country will also take place on March 2. Most regions
still maintain regional parliaments that are split between
single mandate seats and proportional sets. Following a
course set at the national level to elect members of the
State Duma solely based on party lists, some regions have
opted for a similar electoral system for their regional
parliaments. Three regions which are holding regional
elections - Ingushetiya, Kalmykiya, and Amur Oblast - have
done away with single mandate seats and will chose their
deputies from party lists. The other eight regions will use
a mixed electoral system. Half of their members will be
elected from single mandate districts and the other half from
party lists.

3. (SBU) A report issued by Aleksandr Kynev of the Fund for
Information Policy said the move toward a proportional
electoral system in the regions is another step toward the
completion of regional reforms which began in 2003. "The
proportional system little by little has been pushing out the
single mandate districts." In past elections, St.
Petersburg, the Moscow region, and Dagestan shifted to a
purely proportional system. Others -- Chechnya and
Primorskiy Kray -- have announced their intention to do so in
the future. Kemerovo is the only region that will continue to
elect its regional parliament from single mandate districts
only. Its next elections will be held in October 2008.

4. (SBU) Along with moving to a proportional electoral
system, the number of parties actively participating in
elections has dwindled. The four parties represented in the
State Duma -- United Russia, Just Russia, the Communist Party
(KPRF) and the Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR) -- dominate
regional elections. Other parties, including the Agrarian
party and Civic Force, which were part of the coalition that
nominated Dmitriy Medvedev for president, have had trouble
registering their party lists in some regions. The Agrarians
attempted to have their party lists registered in five
regions, but failed in Ingushetiya and Altay Kray. Civic
Force was only successful in registering its lists in
Sverdlovsk and Yaroslavl. Only the four parliamentary
parties have been registered in Bashkortostan, Ingushetiya,
Altay Kray, Rostov and Ulyanovsk. Yaroslavl has registered
the largest number of parties (nine), including the Green
Party, People's Union and Patriots of Russia. Despite its
place as one of the four parliamentary parties, Just Russia
has faced its own troubles in the regions. A regional court
ordered that Just Russia's party list and eight
single-mandate candidates be removed from the ballot in
Yaroslavl (ref A) and more recently, the party has been
removed from the ballot in Yakutiya. Just Russia officials
maintain that their ballot woes are the result of ruling
party pressure in areas where United Russia is relatively

5. (SBU) According to Kynev's report, 15 percent of party
lists that were submitted for registration in the March 2
regional elections were refused. In regional elections which

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took place in March 2007, every third party was refused
registration. In December 2007, 42 of 64 lists were not
registered. While the rate of denial has declined, Kynev
posited that the stringent legislation had,
election-by-election, eliminated "incorrect parties."

6. (SBU) Liberal opposition parties Union of Right Forces
(SPS) and Yabloko, following their slim showing in the State
Duma elections, are so down and out that they are barely
participating in regional elections. Yabloko will not appear
on any regional ballots despite attempts to do so in
Ingushetiya and Altay Kray. SPS has registered a party list
in Ivanovo. Lack of money and or ability to collect
signatures were cited as the reasons by both parties. In
contrast, the four parliamentary parties are not required to
submit a deposit or collect signatures in regional elections.
While the cost of running in regional elections has turned
out to be prohibitive for opposition parties, the threshold
for entering regional parliaments in some regions is several
percentage points lower than that required to enter the State
Duma, and thereby potentially attainable for
non-parliamentary parties. In Ivanovo, the threshold is four
percent and in Yaroslavl it is five percent. In the other
regions holding regional elections, the threshold is the same
as for the State Duma, seven percent. "The 'old-timers'
(Yabloko and SPS) are being pushed from the regions," Kynev

7. (SBU) The lack of participation by SPS and Yabloko puts
their viability as political parties at stake. Under Russian
law, political parties must participate in elections or risk
losing their party registration. In order to maintain the
status of a political party after January 1, 2009, parties
must have their party list or at least one single mandate
candidate participate in elections in at least 17 regions of
the country in elections from 2004 to 2008. (Currently SPS
and Yabloko have representatives in regional Dumas in 11 and
6 regions respectively, but we are still researching whether
cumulatively these opposition parties will meet this
threshold in 2009.)


8. (SBU) In 2003, there were 44 political parties and at
that time, they were able to form electoral blocs or
alliances with like-minded partners. Now, as a result of
changes to the Law on Elections, political blocs are
prohibited and deputies, once elected, cannot change parties.
The consequences of changes to electoral law have been not
only a move toward proportional elections at the national
level and throughout the country, but a system that is
dominated by only four political parties. "Regional
political life has been gradually forced to imitate the
four-party system of the federal center," said Kynev.

9. (SBU) To the extent political competition exists today,
it is mostly seen (or unseen) within political parties as
internecine battles take place over local control of the
party. "The real struggle has taken on an internal
character. In many regions, the so-called unity of United
Russia is not as stable as it might seem," said Kynev, who
cited as an example a conflict between Kalmykiya's President
and the Mayor of its capital city, Elista. Both are members
of United Russia. There has also been in-fighting in Ivanovo
between the governor and a State Duma Deputy from the region
which led to a mass resignation of regional Duma deputies and
a call for early elections (ref B).


10. (SBU) With the electoral amendments, the Kremlin said it
sought an outcome that produced fewer parties, but ones with
broad national representation. The result, indeed, is fewer
parties, at the cost of opposition representation.

© Scoop Media

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