Communists barred from elections: for the first time in a century

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There’s a new trend in Russian politics: besides attempts to win votes away from the Communist Party (CPRF) by means of campaigning and counter-campaigning, the CPRF’s candidate lists are also being disqualified from elections, relegating the party to an observer role.

Regional legislature elections will be held on March 11 in 14 regions. In six of those regions, the deadline for submitting registration documents to election commissions has already passed.

Only four parties have managed to avoid disqualification in any regions at this stage of the game. And the CPRF, a party represented in the Duma, has unexpectedly missed out on a place in this “big four” – replaced by the Patriots of Russia, a party which is not represented in the Duma.

Duma member Oleg Kulikov (CPRF faction) told the Novye Izvestia newspaper: “This is the first time in a century that the Communists have been barred from elections.”

The Kommersant newspaper says: “Clearly, there’s a new trend in Russian politics. The CPRF’s candidates lists have never been disqualified from regional elections before.” The disqualifications have happened in Dagestan and the Tyumen region.

Kommersant reports that in Dagestan, where the election is based entirely on party lists, the pretext for disqualification was that three candidates in the Rutul district dropped out of the CPRF candidate list. This left the CPRF with no candidates in the Rutul district, and under Dagestan’s laws this means automatic disqualification for the whole party.

Oleg Kulikov, CPRF Central Committee secretary for information and analysis, says at Grani.ru that given the conditions in Dagestan, it’s fairly easy to make three candidates drop out: Dagestan’s socio-economic problems include unemployment, abductions, terrorism, gunmen gangs, and much more. In Novye Izvestia, Kulikov states openly that the CPRF candidates were abducted, taken to Makhachkala, and forced to sign notices of withdrawal from the election.

According to the Nezavisimaya Gazeta newspaper, CPRF lawyers attempted to fill the gap by adding the name of one of the three candidates (some reports say all three) who agreed to return. But the Supreme Court of Dagestan refused to reinstate the candidate. The CPRF’s Dagestan branch has already appealed to the federal Supreme Court.

Kulikov’s claims of extreme pressure on candidates are supported by the story of how the Union of Right Forces (SPS) candidate list has been disqualified in Dagestan.

As Rossiiskaya Gazeta reports, the official reason for the rejection was that eight SPS candidates lacked proper documentation to support declarations of their business activities, or education records, or personal identity passports.

According to other media reports, the reason for the rejection – as in the CPRF case – was that some candidates withdrew from the race.

As Novye Izvestia reports, the SPS maintains that these candidates did not withdraw of their own free will.

“It was force, threats, blackmail – they were forced to drop out,” says Boris Nadezhdin, member of the SPS federal political council presidium. According to Nadezhdin, Magomed Omarmagomedov – the leading candidate on the SPS list for the Kizlyar district – disappeared recently. His burned-out car was found in the forest. The Dagestan Prosecutor’s Office has launched a murder investigation.

Grani.ru says that the CPRF’s disqualification in Dagestan will destabilize the political situation in the region. The CPRF currently controls around a quarter of the Dagestan legislature, which acts as a collective governing body where most of Dagestan’s ten ethnic groups are represented. But now “the respected individuals on the CPRF candidate list definitely won’t be members of the next legislature,” says Grani.ru.

The CPRF’s candidate list in the Tymen region was rejected for a different reason. Nezavisimaya Gazeta quotes Igor Khalin, chairman of the regional election commission: “Over half of the CPRF members on the list have failed to submit complete and accurate documentation to the election commission – leaving out details about the shares they own, the value of the shares, sources of income, property, vehicles.” The election commission found irregularities of this nature in the applications of ten candidates out of 15 – including Vladimir Chertishchev, who heads the CPRF list.

The CPRF maintains that these reports are exaggerated, according to Novye Izvestia. CPRF regional branch leader Vladimir Rodashin says that one candidate turned out to be guilty of stating that his garage measures six meters by four meters, while the election commission decided that he should have described its area as “24 square meters.”

At Grani.ru, Oleg Kulikov commented as follows: “Perhaps our comrades really did fail to take a sufficiently serious approach to filling out their applications. Under federal law, however, incomplete income and asset information is not sufficient grounds to disqualify a candidate. What we’re seeing in Tyumen is another case of contradictions between regional and federal legislation.”

Nezavisimaya Gazeta reports that the CPRF has decided to hold a repeat conference on nominating candidates for the Tyumen regional legislature. A group of lawyers flew out to Tyumen on January 24 to organize this process. CPRF Central Committee Secretary Vadim Soloviev told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that this CPRF special detachment has another mission as well: as an extra safeguard, and “so that justice may triumph,” they have been instructed to prepare lawsuits against the regional election commission.

Kommersant observes: “Two simultaneous disqualifications suggest a new trend: the Kremlin is clearing the field for its second party, Just Russia. After all, Just Russia has stated repeatedly that it wants to become a ‘system-forming leftist party,’ since the CPRF is ‘unsuitable’ for that role.”

CPRF leaders also accept the theory that the Kremlin is “clearing the field” for Just Russia’s benefit. Oleg Kulikov told Kommersant that the CPRF is being driven out of regional elections in order to “vacate seats for Just Russia.” According to Kulikov’s calculations, “in order to meet their set targets – 60% of the vote for United Russia and 20% for Just Russia – the Dagestan authorities will also have to arrange for the LDPR’s disqualification.”

Political analyst Mark Urnov (Ekspertiza Foundation) told Grani.ru: “It’s quite obvious that the federal authorities have issued orders to clear the field for Just Russia. The social policy focus of Just Russia’s slogans makes it clear that it’s aiming to take votes away from the Communists.”

Nikolai Petrov, head of the Political-Geographic Studies Center and council member at the Carnegie Moscow Center: “Looking at which parties have been disqualified from various elections, and how, makes it clear that the CPRF is now a fairly weak opponent, unable to mobilize electoral protests in its own defense – while also being a rather enviable quantity to which the Kremlin’s projects, Just Russia and Patriots of Russia, can aspire.”

Petrov goes on to say: “What was done to Motherland (Rodina) and Yabloko in previous elections will now be done to the CPRF. This only completes the process of removing all relatively independent and self-created political forces from the political arena – even if they’re dependent and loyal – and replacing them with Kremlin projects which are absolutely obedient.”

At Grani.ru, Political Studies Institute director Sergei Markov explains the CPRF’s disqualification as follows: “Dagestan and the Tyumen region are regions where the CPRF’s positions are traditionally strong. CPRF lawmakers would have taken some seats from regional officials, even though corruption links in these regions are fairly strong. Most likely, some seats were sold in advance – and the CPRF’s presence was reducing the number of seats available for sale, presenting an obstacle to corrupt officials.”

Gorbachev Foundation analyst Andrei Ryabov explains his view of the situation in Kommersant: “The CPRF, always participating in elections as the chief opposition party, is precisely what adds legitimacy to elections and the authorities.” Moreover, as a party within the system, the CPRF enables the Kremlin “to control the left wing – a function that Just Russia is hardly capable of performing as yet.”

Consequently, says Ryabov, the CPRF’s disqualification in two regions indicates “a conflict between the CPRF and the Kremlin that goes beyond the framework of regional elections.” In Ryabov’s view, the Kremlin is “putting pressure” on the Communists now “in order to force them to make concessions before the Duma campaign, in which the CPRF certainly will participate, without being disqualified.”

Kommersant takes the view that with the CPRF disqualified, Just Russia can expect to perform quite well in the regions. In 2006, the CPRF averaged 13% of the vote in regional elections via party lists; their best results were in Chuvashia (19.5%) and the Nizhny Novgorod region (17.8%), and the only region where they failed entirely was Tyva (5.45%). In Dagestan, the CPRF has more support: it holds over a quarter of seats in the regional legislature, and during the Duma election of 2003 the CPRF scored 18.3% of the vote in Dagestan.

However, says Grani.ru, relatively few CPRF voters are likely to vote for any other party. Those who support the Communists do so because this party is a symbol. The CPRF electorate includes many elderly people who habitually vote for the Communists as an opposition to the whole regime.

Some CPRF voters may indeed be lured away by Just Russia – a party which is clearly loyal to the existing situation in Russia, but uses socialist slogans. However, Just Russia won’t get huge numbers of CPRF votes. Most likely, in regions where the Communists are disqualified, many of their supporters won’t vote at all.

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