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Russian political handbook, part 2

If someone took buckets of paint, in which each color represented a different political group, and splashed them across the wall, the resulting picture would somewhat resemble Russia’s current political situation. Messy and hard to index.

As we approach the 2018 elections — to be held on March 18, 2018 — Russia’s political idiosyncrasies are coming more and more the visible forefront of outside observers. There are strange family and business connections, a slew of candidates against an monolithic incumbent, arrests, threats and violence. The list goes on. While nobody expects the results of the election to be something unexpected, the campaigns and personalities offer a rare look into the interaction between Russian politicians and the electorate.

The process

First, the logistics. In order to enter the presidential race a few innate conditions must be met: above the age of 35, not running past a second consecutive term; and a permanent resident of Russia for at least ten years. For parties that are not represented in the Duma, 100,000 signatures must be collected by Jan. 31, and independents must collect 300,000 by the same date.

The candidates

When we talk about the candidates, we should use three categories. There are the Duma candidates, whose prominence in the Russian parliament allows them to bypass the first trial of any campaign: signature collecting. Next are the small Duma candidates, whose parties either don’t hold seats in Moscow or are not selected by one third of regional governments. Last are the independents with no seats in the Duma who must collect signatures.

I said Russia’s political system was a mess of colors, and it’s no joke. Among the six political parties whose members do not need to collect signatures to declare their run for the presidency only one has done so; Vladimir Zhirinovsky of the Liberal Democratic Party announced his campaign in October 2016. The other five big Duma parties are sorting their affairs out as we speak, but already the United Russia and Rodina parties have declared their support for Putin, should he run (the least mysterious mystery this election).

Similar to our system, there are some parties whose candidates must be put through the trials of a primary before emerging into the presidential race. Different from America is the fact that these candidates need not come from the party that nominates them. The Kremlin-leaning Party of Growth, for example, is looking at multiple candidates, from their leader to Putin.

But the really interesting part of the Russian elections is not in the primaries or Duma candidates; it’s in the independents’ campaigns.

Nobody is more prominent in this category than the notorious Alexei Navalny. Blogger, lawyer, political maverick and Putin’s biggest critic, Navalny has been making headlines in Russia since 2008 when he began blogging about corporate corruption in Russia. His messages resounded. He’s been beaten and arrested for his revolutionary protests, and this election is no different – in April, a chemical attack partially blinded him and in October he was arrested for illegally protesting.

Navalny’s primary focus is combatting corruption in Russian politics and business.

The Kremlin maintains that Navalny is not a legitimate candidate — despite his successful acquisition of 300,000 signatures — due to an old embezzlement case. Russia’s constitution does not allow convicted criminals to run for president, but the case has been harshly criticized as unethical. Navalny is seeking to appeal the Russian court result to the European Court of Human Rights. If their decision is to overturn Navalny’s sentence, no one could deny his legitimacy as a Kremlin contender.

An expected result

As we have seen with Navalny’s campaign, one doesn’t need to even be an undeniably legitimate candidate to make waves in Russia.

The results of these elections will be no surprise: Putin will win. Every Russian says this. But the great thing about Russians is their commitment to a better future when they see it. The Navalnys and small, anti-Kremlin independents show that there is room for change in the Russian political system. Change that Russians themselves want.

This election is decided. But in seven or 14 years nobody knows who will control the Kremlin.

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