Election preparations: the battle for places on candidate lists

Russia’s political parties are in the process of finalizing their candidate lists for the Duma election. They have until September to decide who will head their lists. Business candidates will pay $5 million to $10 million for places on the candidate lists of leading parties.

It’s a life-or-death battle: that’s what our sources are saying about the competition for places on party candidate lists – that is, seats in the next Duma.

Parties have until September to decide who will head their lists.

On United Russia’s federal candidate list, the top three is likely to include party leader Boris Gryzlov and Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu. Rumor has it that the third place has been reserved for the Kremlin’s presidential candidate.

Just Russia seems to be behaving similarly: its top three will be headed by party leader Sergei Mironov; one place has been reserved for some popular left-wing celebrity (the name of actress R. Markova has been mentioned); another place has been reserved for some as-yet-unknown Kremlin favorite.

The Communist Party’s list may be headed by party leader Gennadi Zyuganov and Nobel laureate Zhores Alferov; presumably, Viktor Ilyukhin or Nikolai Kharitonov would be third.

The Union of Right Forces (SPS) is still considering options for its top three: Nikita Belykh, Boris Nemtsov, Vladimir Ryzhkov, Andrei Illarionov, or Maria Gaidar.

The LDPR top three remains unknown. Our sources predict that it will include a business tycoon – who would, of course, demonstrate his gratitude to party leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky for this expression of confidence.

300 business candidates for 450 Duma seats

In general, the forthcoming political harvest is expected to include an unprecedented crop of business canddiates. Media reports indicate that a number of oligarchs want to be on United Russia’s candidate lists: Sergei Bogdanchikov (Rosneft), Viktor Rashnikov and A. Morozov (Magnitogorsk Metals), Andrei Kozitsyn (Urals Mining Company).

Independent Duma member Vladimir Ryzhkov: “There are around 200 business representatives in the Duma at present, and that number is likely to rise to 300 after the election. Whatever people might say about the Russian parliament having no influence, a Duma seat still offers a powerful competitive advantage. Duma members are invited to join ministry collegium panels, and their status opens up high-ranking office doors. This helps them achieve specific business objectives. Then again, not all of them will be fortunate – many contenders, even fairly wealthy ones, will be sieved out by the parties and the Kremlin. Candidate lists can’t be expanded, and money doesn’t buy everything.”

According to our sources, business candidates will pay $5 million to $10 million for places on the candidate lists of leading parties. A prominent party functionary told us: “What do you expect? Campaign costs are rising – printing costs, television advertising, renting offices… How can we raise the money? By attracting corporate sponsors, or selling places on the candidate list.”

Just Russia, for example, is reportedly counting on sponsorship from Transneft, LUKoil, and perhaps Russian Railroads. The Communist Party, lacking big-name sponsors, is rumored to be open to selling up to 30% of its candidate list places to “nationally-oriented entrepreneurs”; although Communist leaders angrily deny any talk of profits, pointing out that the Communist Party spends less on its campaigns than other parties do – it has a powerful network of committed campaign activists who are in it for the cause, not for money.

Political analyst Stanislav Belkovsky estimates that one party’s campaign will cost $70-75 million: “And that’s if nothing is stolen from the campaign fund. But actual spending will be three to five times higher, I think.” Corruption is corruption, even during elections.

With campaign costs rising, the founders of some minor parties, unable to afford a campaign, are prepared to sell their parties for the “laughable” sum of $1-2 million. Rumor has it that potential purchasers are looking at the Peace and Concord Party, led by Sazhi Umalatova – although it isn’t clear what they could do with such a party after buying it.

Who is undermining turnout

A source at the Central Electoral Commission reports that the CEC itself is predicting the following results in December: 40-42% of the vote for United Russia, 16-20% for the Communist Party, 12-15% for Just Russia, and 8-10% for the LDPR. The SPS is predicted to get 6-7% of the vote, and everything will depend on voter turnout: lower turnout will improve the party’s chances. Rumor has it that during the April campaign in Krasnoyarsk, political consultants hired by the SPS deliberately worked to discredit the election and cut voter turnout; this is said to scare off United Russia voters and raise the chances of other parties. Not all other parties, of course. Many experts are saying that Yabloko’s Duma campaign is already doomed – why else would Yabloko’s people be quitting? Galina Khovanskaya, for example, recently left Yabloko and is expected to join Just Russia’s candidate list in Moscow.

If more than four parties cross the 7% threshold, United Russia might not manage to secure a simple majority in the Duma. But that is the objective the Kremlin has set for the party. Vladimir Ryzhkov says: “United Russia has been instructed to win 230-240 Duma seats. In difficult situations – like the monetization of benefits and similar reforms – it’s more convenient for the Kremlin to pass legislation with the votes of one faction only, not needing to bargain with other factions.” Experts predict that United Russia will attempt to hold on to its monopoly by joining forces with the Communist Party to attack Just Russia.