Golos investigation on how pseudo-public organizations simulate civic participation in Russian elections

Painting: Vasya Lozhkin


A low level of real political competition has been a marked characteristic of the 2018 presidential election campaign in the Russian Federation. The low level of political competition has largely been caused by a significant imbalance in resources that the candidates possess. Abuses of administrative resources are the most evident example. Monopoly of this resource has led to the fact that virtually the surname of only one candidate is mentioned in the reports of violations sent to the “Golos” movement by voters from all over the country. Complete administrative monopoly is a characteristic not just of the current elections, but has been a feature of practically all Russian election campaigns for many years, regardless of the candidates taking part in them.

The obvious abuse of administrative resources was a catalyst for this investigation. It is devoted to examining the use of youth organizations and associations supervised by the authorities, mainly the Federal Agency for Youth Affairs (“Rosmolodezh”), in the election campaign for the incumbent president and for simulating civic participation in election monitoring.

One of the most important features of the 2018 presidential election is the show of active involvement of the public in the election campaign. Supposed broad public participation is meant to give greater legitimacy to the electoral process, to the individual candidates’ campaigns, and to the results of the election. Implementation of this strategy occurs at all stages of the election campaign—from candidate nomination, through signature collection and pre-election campaigning, to election monitoring and voting. For example, signature collection in favour of the nomination of Vladimir Putin was carried out by the public movement “Volunteers of Victory” and the activists of the “Student Campaign Headquarters” supporting Vladimir Putin. Not only political parties supported Putin’s nomination, but also many public organizations and movements whose representatives were included in the list of authorized representatives of the candidate. The culmination of public participation in the 2018 election campaign ostensibly planned by the authorities should be large-scale “public monitoring,” which, according to the recently adopted amendments to the legislation, can now be carried out by public chambers that can send observers to polling stations. In the regions, there are reports of thousands of observers who are prepared to go to polling stations, mostly from the so-called "network NGOs": organizations of veterans, students, trade unions, volunteers, etc., representing the interests of certain social groups.

At the same time, these public organizations and movements appear to receive substantial state support—both in the form of direct financing, and by being allowed to use state and municipal property, by receiving information support, and through payment of salaries to their regional coordinators who work for budgetary institutions, different forms of authorities, and the local self-government.

The simulation of the political process in Russia today looks like a conscious strategy whose goal is to replace real political activity in elections. Such substitution can become a serious challenge not only for the institution of elections, but for the entire civil society in the country.

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