Kremlin looks to sweep elections
RUSSIA is gearing up for parliamentary elections on September 18, with parties loyal to President Vladimir Putin set to dominate despite the Kremlin making a show of cleaning up the vote after mass protests last time around.
The polls, which include the annexed Crimea peninsula for the first time, come as his ratings still stand at more than 80 percent despite the country enduring the longest economic crisis of his rule due to falling oil prices and sanctions over Ukraine.
While a new election chief has clamped down on corruption and more opposition candidates have been allowed to run, analysts say the authorities’ total grip looks certain to guarantee a smooth victory – setting the stage for Mr Putin to cruise to a fourth term in power in 2018.
“Clearly, the Kremlin has little appetite for relaxing its wholesale control over Russia’s political system,” the Carnegie Moscow Centre think tank wrote.
“There is also a desire to portray the elections as largely fair to help the regime bolster its legitimacy among both elites and the broader body politic in the run-up to the 2018 presidential election.”
The polls also include votes for some key regional leaders: most prominently in the republic of Chechnya where Ramzan Kadyrov is facing his first popular test to his decade-long rule.
Rights groups say there has been a harsh crackdown on dissent in the run up to the vote.
Looming large for the Kremlin in this polls is the mass protests that followed the 2011 vote, which drew thousands of Russians on to the streets after evidence of vote rigging emerged.
The demonstrations represented the biggest challenge to Mr Putin’s since he took charge in 2000 and experts say the authorities are desperate not to give any pretext for a repeat.