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Sunday marks the formal kickoff of the election season with Russians going to the polls in more than 3,000 regional elections across the country. The poll marks the last time Russians will go to the polls before elections to the State Duma in December and for the presidency in March 2012.

In an interview with RFE/RL's Russian Service, Andrei Buzin, head of the independent monitoring agency "Golos," says the authorities are pulling out all the stops to assure that United Russia maintain their majorities in what has become an unfavorable electoral climate (you can listen to the whole interview in Russian here):

This campaign is very similar to the one that took place in late 2009. There has been a strengthening the role of administrative resources, denial of registration and cancellation of registration of [opposition] candidates for completely ridiculous reasons. An interesting phenomenon, which we have observed in the past but not to such an extent, is the involvement of lawyers on the campaign staffs and the electoral commission to provide [legal] excuses to cancel or refuse the registration of [opposition] candidates.

The daily "Novye Izvestia" gives this rundown of which parties have been able to register in the twelve regions holding votes:

The parliamentary parties (United Russia, A Just Russia, the Communist Party, and the Liberal Democrats) have qualified for the ballot in all twelve regions holding elections without much trouble. The non-parliamentary opposition was barred from participating in elections in Kirov, Nizhny Novgorod, Tambov, Tver, Chukotka, and Adygeja. The Russian Patriots will be the most active of all non-parliamentary parties. It will contest elections in Komi, Dagestan, Orenburg, Kaliningrad, Kursk, and Khanty-Mansi. Yabloko will only participate in the elections in Kaliningrad and Kursk. Right Cause will participate in Dagestan alone.

Got that. The ruling United Russia and the housebroken parliamentary "opposition" managed to register everywhere. The nationalist Russian Patriots were allowed in the door in six of twelve regions. While the more liberal -- and actually oppositionist -- Yabloko and Right Cause were given the green light in two and one regions respectively.

All this is happening as United Russia's approval ratings are falling precipitously. Recent polling by the independent Levada Center, showed that just 35 percent of the electorate was prepared to vote for United Russia, 10 percent less than in the last set of regional elections in October.

Political analyst Stanislav Belkovsky told "Novye Izvestia" that despite the declining poll numbers, United Russia will manage to squeak by and hang onto its majorities. "The ruling party will probably poll fewer votes than it did in the previous election [but it will win]. It won't win because it is popular. It will owe its triumph to the administrative resources," Belkovsky said.

But win at what cost? Leonid Gozman, chairman of the party Right Cause, notes that with dissatisfaction rising in society, and no legitimate outlet to express it, the situation could become explosive.

"This maniacal policy of winning at all costs foments discontent and tension. Either people will stop going to polling stations or they will meet outdoors to make their voice heard... the way it happened in Egypt and Tunisia," Gozman told "Novye Izvestia."

Aleksei Navalny, the activist and blogger who has made a name for himself exposing corruption in high places, recently held a contest on his blog for the best anti-United Russia campaign poster. The winner pictured the party's trademark bear logo carrying a bag of money across Russia. The slogan: United Russia - Party of Thieves and Swindlers.

-- Brian Whitmore

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The Power Vertical
The Power Vertical

The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It offers Brian's personal take on emerging and developing trends in Russian politics, shining a spotlight on the high-stakes power struggles, machinations, and clashing interests that shape Kremlin policy today. Check out The Power Vertical Facebook page or


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