EPDE publishes the second part of the report on the nomination of candidates for the presidential elections in the Russian Federation by the Golos Movement. On this occasion, EPDE expresses its rejection to the arrests of Golos coordinators in Krasnodar and Voronezh and demands the immediate release of Golos coordinator David Kankiya as well as a stop to the pressure on independent observers in Russia.
Ensuring equality of candidates' rights during signature collection
The process of voter signature collection in support of the nominated candidates violated the principles of equality of candidates’ rights and their freedom of action.
Initiative groups of some candidates faced various kinds of obstacles. Supporters of the politician Alexei Navalny faced the greatest difficulties in the preparation and execution of the candidate’s nomination; the meetings of his initiative groups were met with pressure from law enforcement and unreasonable restrictions from the authorities.
According to available information, staff and volunteers of candidates Natalya Lisitsyna (“ROT Front”), Vladimir Mikhailov (self-nomination), Ksenia Sobchak (“Civic Initiative”) and Grigory Yavlinsky (“Yabloko”) faced various restrictions on collecting signatures, provocations, and interference in their activities by the police. Not all candidates had the same access to public areas (for example railway stations and shopping centers), where signatures were collected in support of the incumbent president.
Federal, regional, and local TV channels demonstrated an unequal approach to the coverage of signature collection in support of various candidates; there were cases of illegal campaigning under the guise of informing the public about signature collection in support of Vladimir Putin’s self-nomination. Cases of illegal campaigning also occurred on the websites of authorities and local governments, regional public chambers, and even budget institutions.
Vladimir Putin's election campaign was accompanied by a massive opening of "student centers" by his supporters and by political campaigning at universities. This, in our opinion, is controversial in terms of legislation on elections and education. Nevertheless, Putin’s supporters created the circumstances in which educational institutions must now create equal conditions for campaigning by the support groups of other candidates, provided these candidates apply for space to campaign.
The "Map of Violations" as well as various media outlets reported that a massive and often compulsory collection of signatures in support of Vladimir Putin’s and, on occasion, Boris Titov’s ("Party of the Growth") nominations happened at workplaces during business hours, including at budget, educational, and medical institutions, as well as industrial enterprises. There were recorded cases of “administrative” coercion of state employees and students to participate in signature collection for Vladimir Putin. Officials at various levels directly participated in organizing signature collection or facilitated the spread of information about candidate Putin. The true extent of the “administrative” mobilization of voters to collect signatures in favor of the incumbent president is difficult to assess because of its latent nature and the fears of voters to publicize instances of their coercion.
The information we have at our disposal gives “Golos” enough grounds to state that at the stage of signature collection, the principle of free and voluntary participation in elections has been violated.
Despite the nomination of an ample number of candidates in the initial stage of the election campaign – 17 in total – only a few of them publicly and openly carry out real election campaigns aimed at mobilizing their supporters, attracting voters, and collecting signatures in their support. Most of those who did not conduct a public campaign to collect signatures were effectively eliminated at this stage.
Compared to the presidential campaign of 2012, when only 6 candidates collected signatures and only 3 signature collections were submitted to the CEC of Russia, some progress was made in this campaign: 15 candidates were granted permission to collect signatures, 6 of which submitted signatures to the CEC of Russia. Thus, it seems that the existing requirement to collect 100,000 signatures in 30-35 days for non-administrative candidates nominated by parties is quite tough, and 300,000 signatures for self-nominated candidates is clearly excessive.
Technologies for signature collection
The campaign activities of the nominated candidates seem insufficient for the purposes of conducting a competitive campaign. Of the 15 candidates allowed by the CEC of Russia to collect signatures, only a few actively, publicly, and openly conducted a real election campaign aimed at mobilizing their supporters and attracting voters, as well as collecting signatures in their support. Some candidates – for example, Anton Bakov ("Monarchist Party"), Irina Volynets (“People's Party of Russia”), Mikhail Kozlov ("Party of Social Protection"), and Roman Khudyakov ("CHESTNO") – apparently did not even try to actually collect signatures; they did not announce enough resources and did not show any noticeable campaign activity in the regions.
Signature collection in support of the nomination of Ksenia Sobchak was directed both by activists from established regional headquarters as well as professional collectors. Signature collection in support of the nomination of Grigory Yavlinsky mainly relied on the regional branches of the political party “Yabloko.” In most regions, public collection of voter signatures in support of other candidates, and other activities related to their campaigns, went largely unnoticed.
The procedure for signature collection remains unjustifiably costly. Despite the significant decrease in the number of signatures necessary for registering a candidate, the costs (monetary, time-related, and organizational) for this process remain substantial. This forces even those candidates who plan real participation in the campaign to concentrate almost exclusively on signature collection and neglect election campaigning. As a result, the actual campaign period, which is still too short to properly inform voters about the activities and programs of candidates applying for the highest office in the country, practically got even shorter.
Vladimir Putin became the only candidate who managed to combine signature collection with the start of his campaign. Public signature collection points in support of Putin were basically election campaign points, which only demonstrated the collection procedure and were rather meant to display publicly the state leader’s popular support. Apparently, the real collection of the bulk of the signatures was conducted in a different way.
Transformation of Alexei Navalny’s election campaign into an election boycott campaign
The 2018 election campaign clearly demonstrated that the circle of real participants in the elections is not limited to officially registered candidates. Alexei Navalny continues to lead his political campaign ("voters' strike"), which is directly related to the ongoing elections, despite the fact that he is not allowed participate in them. Thus, the exclusion from the election race of a politician who enjoys real voter support has deprived Navalny of the opportunity to try for the post of president, but has enabled him to influence the course of the election campaign. Evidence of this was the reaction of regional election commissions and law enforcement agencies to Navalny’s election boycott campaign, which led to the politically motivated persecution of his political supporters, who are calling for non-participation in the elections.