The parliamentary elections on 18 September 2016 granted the ruling United Russia party a constitutional majority in the legislation. Turnout to the new Duma elections was the lowest in the post-Soviet history of Russia, 47.81 percent as compared to 60.1 percent in the 2011 elections. No opposition party managed to cross the 5 percent threshold. Two new counties have been added in the 2016 elections - Crimea and Sevastopol. On the international scene, Russia is criticised for the annexation of Crimea and for supporting separatist movements in Eastern Ukraine. Sanctions have been multiplied by Western countries affecting its economy.
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- 144,096,812 million (2015 World Bank est.)
- Governmental Type:
- Ruling Coalition:
- One ruling party - United Russia
- Last Elections:
- 18 September 2016 (parliamentary elections)
- Next Elections:
- 11 March 2018 (presidential elections)
Political environment and the Putin election decree
During the first Putin-era, between 2000 and 2008, pressure on democracy and human rights in Russia increased. Besides its increased wealth and political status in the world, Russia has also shown an increased level of human rights violations, repression of opposition parties and organisations, and an increased pressure on independent media. Opposition parties experience increasing difficulties in finding ways to get out their message: the media is increasingly dominated by the state and opposition parties and the civil society has difficulties to organise protests and rallies. These problems are worsened by a 2007 election law. Important changes to the previous law include the abolishment of the possibility to vote ‘against all’, and the increase of the election threshold for political parties from 5 to 7 percent of the vote to win seats in parliament.
Another difficulty for smaller political parties is the legal minimum number of 50.000 members a party should have to compete in the elections. In July 2007, the Russian Communist Workers Party – Revolutionary Party of Communists challenged this law in court on the ground that the legislation illegally limits the citizens’ participation in political life. However, the Constitutional Court ruled in favour of the legislation. The immense personal power that is wielded by the president can also be seen in the 2008 presidential elections, in which Dmitry Medvedev, hailed by Putin as his favourite candidate, won an easy victory in the polls. He competed in the elections with the promise not to change the line of policy Putin set out, and to appoint Putin as his prime minister. Because Putin himself already served two terms, he was prohibited by law from running in the elections.
On 24 September 2011 Dmitry Medvedev endorsed Prime Minister Vladimir Putin for the presidential elections of 2012, which the latter eventually won. Under amendments to the constitution made in 2008 the presidential term was extended to six years, meaning that Putin could stay in power for another 12 years, until 2024.
Medvedev’s liberalised political party law
In December 2012, following the parliamentary elections and the ensuing street protests, President Medvedev proposed reforms liberalising the political party law. The proposal included several measures that would drastically simplify the process of registration for new political parties, and the process of registration of existing political parties for participating in elections. Some specific points include decreasing the required number of members from 50.000 to 500, and decreasing the number of signatures needed for a party’s participation in presidential elections from 2.000.000 to 100.000 for parties and 300.000 for individual candidates. The proposal was passed by the Duma in a final reading in early 2012, and by the Federation Council in March 2012. After the President’s signature it would, theoretically, come into force. However, under President Putin's (3rd term) rule most of the liberalised measures were one by one rescinded, and a harsher political climate was formed.
The Kremlin has gone further and further towards a more consolidated power vertical, limiting any space that may have been left for dissent even further. The State Duma is dominated by United Russia, the power party of Vladimir Putin, MPs that had voiced strong dissenting opinions on major issues were eventually expelled, and opposition political parties and figures are marginalised. The pressure on independent civil society organisations has also been ever increasing, limiting the space for true public debate even further.
Following the Euro-Maidan events in Ukraine, and the annexation of Crimea in February 2014, Russia has increasingly been under pressure of Western countries, notably the US and the European Union, who have multiplied sanctions against the country. Following a referendum on Sunday 16 March 2014, Crimea declared itself an independent state on Monday 17 March. The newly formed Republic of Crimea formally applied to join the Russian Federation the same day. The West claims the referendum to be illegal and says it will impose new sanctions. They also suspect Moscow of arming and training separatists in Ukraine, as the country is moving towards the EU. They affect Russia's economy while reinforcing its disagreements with the West.
After the break-up of the Soviet Union the Russian Federation gained independence on 24 August 1991. The country is a federal democratic republic with a strong presidential system. Previously, the people elected the president for a four-year term, but an amendment to the constitution prolonged the term to six years as of 2012. Vladimir Putin, who served as president from 2000 to 2008, was succeeded by Dmitry Medvedev, his appointed successor. However, Putin was re-elected in 2012 for a third term in office. The Federal Assembly has two chambers: the State Duma (Lower House) has 450 members, elected for a five-year term through a mixed electoral system (half of parliamentarians elected in majoritarian single-mandate districts and half – through party lists). The Federation Council (Upper House) has 170 members, two delegates for each of the 85 regions.
On 18 September 2016, parliamentary elections were held in Russia. The official turnout was 47,81 percent (60,1 percent in 2011).
Final election results
|Parties||Seats in parliament||% of votes|
|United Russia||343||54,24 %|
|Communist Party (CPRF)||42||13,44 %|
|Liberal Democratic Party||39||13,25 %|
|Just Russia||23||6,18 %|
|Grazhdanskaya Platforma||1||0,22 %|
|Self-nominated candidate Vladislav Reznik||1||-|
The ruling United Russia party gained 54,24 percent of the votes, which indicates an increase in support in comparison with the 2011 elections, where the party won 49,32 percent of the votes. The Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF) received 13,44 percent of the counted votes (19,19 percent in 2011), Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) - 13.25 percent (11,67 percent in 2011), and A Just Russia – 6,18 percent (13,24 percent in 2011).
The other eight parties that participated in the elections – among others Yabloko, Parnas and Patriots of Russia, will not be represented in the parliament, as they did not pass the 5 percent threshold. As Yabloko won less than 3 percent of the votes, it doesn’t get the right to receive financial support from the state.
The results mean that the United Russia party gets the constitutional majority that it lost after the previous election.
According to the Statement of Preliminary Findings and Conclusions of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), a low level of campaigning and violations during the campaigning process were observed. The activities of the ruling party were generally the most visible and prevalent. The main campaign topics were the socio-economic situation, political stability, patriotism and foreign policy issues. There was no clear political alternative offered in the elections, which limited the voters’ choice.
In almost half of the federal subjects, local state bodies attempted to pressure the voters into voting for the governing party and selectively applied notification procedure to deny or condition permissions to hold rallies for the opposition. Media – and especially state media - failed to grant contestants with equitable coverage, with the ruling party receiving more editorial coverage than other contestants.
During the campaign, leaders and several members of the opposition Parnas party were physically attacked (e. g. Mikhail Kasyanov on 10 August in Stavropol) or detained by police. On 3 September in Tyumen, police disrupted an authorized opposition party Yabloko event, briefly detained three participants and confiscated campaign material due to participation of minors. There was also destruction of campaign material and dissemination of false and libelous information about various contestants discrediting them.
OSCE Election Observation Mission (EOM) recognized Central Election Commission (CEC) administration to be transparent, whereas lower level commissions performed unevenly and lacked impartiality and independence. There were problems with the secrecy of the vote in half of the polling stations. Numerous procedural irregularities were noticed during counting. EOM observers were not able to meaningfully observe the counting and tabulation. At 38 percent of the monitored stations ballots were counted in a manner that not all those present could see the voter’s mark. A third of the Precinct Election Commissions results protocols were not posted for public scrutiny.
Opposition members reported instances of mass lifts (to the polling stations; illegal if organised by a candidate or his/her affiliated structures) and ‘cruise voting’ or carroussel voting, where the same voters are taken around several polling stations to vote several times with an absentee authorisation.
Election monitoring group Golos had received more than 2,000 complaints of suspected vote rigging from all over the country by early afternoon on 18 September. Among the reported violations were long lines of soldiers voting at stations where they weren’t registered, and voters casting their ballots on tables instead of curtained-off voting booths.
The U.S. State Department noted that the election commission "administered the elections transparently", but added that it shares OSCE observers' concern about limitations during the candidate registration process, misuse of administrative resources by some local authorities during the campaign and harassment of opposition members.
Great Britain and the European Union didn’t recognise election results in Crimea and Sevastopol.
On 4 March 2012 presidential elections took place in Russia, in which 63 percent of the Russians cast their ballot.
Final election results
|Candidates||% of the votes|
|Vladimir Putin (United Russia)||63,6 %|
|Gennady Zyuganov (leader of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation)||17,18 %|
|Mikhail Prokhorov (Russian billionaire)||7,98 %|
|Vladimir Zhirinovsky (leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia)||6,22 %|
|Sergei Mironov (presiding the fair Russia party)||3,85 %|
Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister during Medvedev’s presidency and his predecessor from 1999 until 2008, was re-elected with 63.6 percent of the votes. Consequently, he secured a mandate for at least 6 years according to a law amendment in 2008 in which the presidential term was extended with 2 years.
The other four candidates all received less than 20 percent of the votes. Gennady Zyuganov, leader of the Communist Party, gained 17.18 percent, which is almost equal to the votes he gained in the last presidential elections in 2008. Mikhail Prokhorov, a Russian billionaire, obtained 7.92 percent. Vladimir Zhirinovsky, leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia acquired 6.22 percent of the ballots, a similar result to the last elections in which he was running for president as well. Sergei Mironov, leader of the Just Russia party, garnered 3.85 percent of the votes.
Opposition leaders and independent monitors stated that large-scale fraud was involved in the elections, including carousel voting, forced voting and ballot-box stuffing. According to the independent NGO Golos observers only 50,18 percent of the votes was garnered by Putin if fraud had not occurred, which nevertheless represents a small majority, just enough to save him from a run-off. The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) initially stated that the voting had been “assessed positively overall and had produced a clear winner with an absolute majority”. The organisation admitted, however, that the “voter's choice was limited, electoral competition lacked fairness and an impartial referee was missing”. Tonino Picula, presiding over the OSCE observer mission in Russia, said that “there were serious problems from the very start of this election. The point of elections is that the outcome should be uncertain. This was not the case in Russia. There was no real competition and abuse of government resources ensured that the ultimate winner of the election was never in doubt”. 685 election observers were accredited to monitor the elections, and over 90 thousand webcams recorded the conduct in the voting booths, which according to a member of the United Russia party prevented 99 percent of the possible violations.
Many prominent politicians denounced the irregularities in the presidential elections. Catherine Ashton, the European Union's foreign policy chief, did not congratulate Putin on his re-election. On behalf of the EU, she looked forward to cooperating with the newly elected president “in full support of our shared modernisation agenda, which we see as covering both economic and political reforms”, she said. Ashton referred at the irregularities in the elections, and called on Russia to “address these shortcomings”. Javier Barroso (president of the European Commission) and Herman van Rompuy (president of the European Council) did not make any statements. These reactions stand in sharp contrast with the 2008 presidential elections won by Medvedev, as he was congratulated both by Ashton's predecessor and Barroso at the time. Martin Schulz, presiding over the European Parliament, expressed his concern about the violations in the elections and the limited alternatives for the voters.
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- CIA World Factbook
- Election Committee Russia
- Human Rights Watch
- Moscow Times
- OSCE Elections observation mission Final Report Parliamentary elections (12 January 2012)
- Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
- Russia Profile
- Russian Energy Policy Toward Neighboring Countries (Sept 2009) CRS Report for Congress
- Russian Political, Economic, and Security Issues and U.S. Interests (January 2010) CRS Report for Congress
- Russia-U.S. Relations and Russia's vision for international affairs (13 April 2010 Washington D.C.) The Brookings Institution