Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Moscow Gerrymanders Duma Electoral Districts to Weaken Voice of Urban Residents

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 2 – Despite all the other means that Moscow employs to transform elections in Russia into farces, the Central Election Commission has come up with a gerrymander scheme in which rural voters, Putin’s primary constituency, will be put in districts with urban ones, the more anti-Putin group, and thus reduce the influence of the latter.

            Were the lines to be drawn otherwise and follow administrative divisions, pro-Putin candidates would likely get higher percentages of the vote in rural areas, but they would receive lower percentages in urban areas and might even in some cases lose. Assuming the Commission’s plan is adopted, that won’t be as likely to happen.

            In today’s “Kommersant,” journalists Irina Nagornykh and Vsevolod Inyutin say that a copy of the proposed redistricting proposal shows that the capitals of the federation subjects in almost every case have been divided into several districts with rural populations added to each to make the total number of voters in each roughly equal (

            They report that the Central Election Commission and the Presidential Administration say that “such districts are more representative and equal,” but “representatives of the opposition say that this [drawing of lines] is a means of struggle against protest votes.”

             The latter appear to have the better argument given that the joining together of urban and rural voters in the new districts constitutes “the chief innovation” of the map of 225 single-member districts which had to be drawn because of the restoration of such voting and because the law specifies these districts “cannot include territories of various subjects of the federation.” 

            According to “Kontinent,” the plan calls for Saratov, Barnaul, Novosibirsk, Yekaterinburg, and Volgograd to be divided into four districts each with rural voters added in all of them. Kazan, Kemerovo, Simferopol, and Rostov-na-Donu are divided in three, and Nizhny Novgorod is divided into five districts.

            The only federal subject capital not subject to this treatment is Belgorod. Officials say that this is because that oblast is not divided in the same way as others. Opposition groups speculate that it is because Belgorod city and oblast are among the most traditional and loyalist of Russia’s regions.

            Moscow first tried out this system of gerrymandering, Nagornykh and Inyutin say, in Ufa, Penza and Tula after the 2011 Duma elections when the center was reacting to the rise of “’angry urban residents’” and sought to dilute their influence on legislative bodies by adding rural voters to what had been exclusively urban districts.

            Officials in the Presidential Administration insist that combing urban and rural areas will not only make the elections more representative but will limit the ability of rural officials to use “administrative” resources to get their way. These officials thus present this gerrymandering as a good governance measure.

            Opposition figures don’t see it that way. They view it as an attempt to undercut the ties they have to existing constituencies and to reduce the percentage of voters likely to support them as opposed to the party of power. The Presidential Administration says that the new arrangement has been cleared with all parliamentary parties, but spokesman for several say that is not true.

            Consequently, debates about this plan are likely to be intense, something some observers are likely to view as evidence of the strength of democracy in Russia but that others are likely to conclude provides support for exactly the opposite conclusion.

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