FIVE THINGS TO WATCH IN RUSSIA'S STATE DUMA ELECTIONS
Gudkov is running for a seat from a Moscow single-mandate district and is also on the Yabloko party list. He is one of the few State Duma deputies of the current Duma who didn't vote for the 2014 Crimea annexation and is the son of expelled Duma deputy and Kremlin critic Gennady Gudkov. The younger Gudkov was kicked out of the Duma faction of the Kremlin-friendly A Just Russia in March 2013 after participating in protests against the falsification of earlier elections. He is running against former chief health inspector Gennady Onishchenko and has faced considerable harassment. Voters in his district recently were given copies of a newspaper claiming Gudkov is turning the district into "a boot camp for Maidan," referring to the Ukrainian protests that ousted then-President Viktor Yanukovych. Will this outspoken young politician be allowed to return to the Duma?
In the capital of Karelia, liberal former Mayor Galina Shirshina was heading the Yabloko party list for the regional legislature -- the same body that ousted her as mayor last December. But at the request of the nationalist Rodina party, a municipal court disqualified the entire Yabloko list. On September 12, the Karelia Supreme Court upheld that ruling. The party is asking the Russian Supreme Court to overrule the decisions, but two days before the elections the disqualifications stood.
The liberal Yabloko party has the best chance -- albeit a slim one -- of any party that is not currently in the Duma to overcome the 5 percent hurdle and gain party-list seats. If it does, it could mean that liberal politician Lev Shlosberg could enter the Duma, as he is No. 4 on the national party list. The outspoken Shlosberg was a member of the Pskov Oblast legislature until fellow deputies expelled him in September 2015. He was noted for releasing information about two locally based paratroopers who he believed were killed fighting in Ukraine. At the vote to strip him of his mandate, United Russia deputy Aleksei Sevatsyanov called him "a tool of the [U.S.] State Department."
The ruling United Russia party has traditionally polled poorly in Samara Oblast, southeast of Moscow. In 2011, the party got just 39.1 percent there. So the Kremlin, in 2012, brought over the head of the Republic of Mordovia, Nikolai Merkushkin, to bring the oblast into line. In Mordovia, Merkushkin managed to produce a 91.6 percent result for United Russia in 2011. In Samara, he has been actively campaigning, claiming that the CIA backs the opposition and is trying to destabilize the region in order to break up Russia. He has also told voters that if they don't vote "97 percent" for United Russia, it will be their fault if he is unable to ask the Kremlin for any federal assistance.
By moving the voting from December to September, the Kremlin seems to be trying to lower the turnout, thereby increasing the voting power of its most reliable constituents -- state-sector workers, pensioners, and the military. The elections this year have also sparked deep divisions among the opposition over whether to participate at all. It could be interesting to see how the turnout this year compares to the 60 percent turnout officially recorded in 2011 or the 63 percent recorded in 2007.
-- Robert Coalson