Staunton, July 9 – Initially, observers reported that new Russian government laws mean that nine million Russians have been stripped of the right to run for office. The actual number, Golos leader Stanislav Andreychuk says, is actually several million higher. As a result, “nearly one in ten Russians 18 and above” can’t run for even the most minor government offices.
This represents a kind of return to the Soviet system of lishentsy, “the deprived ones, which excluded those viewed as most likely to oppose the Bolsheviks. Now, the Putin regime has “a similar mindset” and doesn’t want to risk having those opposed to it get a chance to run for office (ridl.io/ru/iskljuchitelnye-vybory/).
The largest category of those denied such rights are Russians with dual citizenship in another country or residence permits and bank accounts. No one knows exactly how many there are, Andreychuk says. There were six million in 2015; there are certainly more now, the Golos expert says.
Russians convicted “under any of the 400 or more criminal or administrative offenses form the second largest category of the lishentsy, he continues. Those convicted of especially grave or grave crimes “cannot participate in elections for 25 or 18 years after the completion of their sentence respectively.”
Narcotics and fraud charges are among the most numerous of such crimes, and recent history shows that the regime often plants narcotics on people it wants to convict and finds it easy to lodge fraud charges against businessmen.
What is especially disturbing, Andreychuk says, is that the right to vote or run for office is not decided by the courts in Russia. It automatically follows the official classification of individuals in one or another group. Moreover, there are often enormous disproportions when minor crimes with fines of a few hundred rubles lead to those convicted of being deprived.
It is certainly true that not all of the 10 percent of Russians who find themselves as modern lishentsy planned to run for office. But a remarkable number do: “Over 106,000 candidates took part in local elections in 2019 alone,” the analyst continues.
But what is most frightening are new laws that deny the right to take part in elections to any citizen found to be “associated” with any group Moscow calls “extremist” or “terrorist.” Those are highly elastic terms, and they are applied administratively rather than by the courts, making it possible that almost anyone could lose the right to run for office.
It is impossible to predict how many Russians will be included in this category especially as those who take part in protests can easily be said to be involved with an extremist organization. Some 17,000 people were detained in the Navalny protests earlier this year; and all of them are at risk.
Moreover, Andreychuk continues, “it is easy to charge an active candidate with protest violations” or even ban campaigning altogether, leaving candidates facing a Hobson’s choice in which they will land in legal and political hot water whatever they do. That alone will be enough to prevent some and discourage others the regime doesn’t want as candidates from running.
Andreychuk says it is important to understand just how large a dragnet this policy casts and how dark a shadow it casts on the future of the country. “The number of citizens barred from politics now far exceeds the number who were in Soviet times,” and the ones excluded are “some of Russia’s most active, globally linked and future-minded.”