New Golos report on the nomination and registration of candidates for the Presidential election (part 1)
A positive change compared to the 2012 presidential elections is a significant reduction in the required number of signatures to be collected by candidates in support of their nomination (down from 2.0 to 0.1 million for candidates nominated by non-parliamentary parties, and to 0.3 million for self-nominated candidates).
However, in general, the legal inequality of candidates from parties represented in the State Duma as opposed to candidates from other parties (as well as self-nominated candidates) remains unchanged. The inequality is manifested in the fact that candidates nominated from parliamentary parties are exempt from the requirement to collect signatures.
A last-minute decision on December 15 regarding the date of the elections, and the subsequent December 18 announcement of this decision, created additional difficulties for many election campaign participants (e.g. loss of two days that would have been convenient for conducting nomination events; pressure to get election business done before the winter holidays; shortening of the period for collecting signatures; the need to open an electoral account before the new year, etc.).
An earlier announcement of the start of the election campaign would have created more equal and favorable conditions for the nomination of candidates. In the present circumstances, the incumbent has more resources and facilities than non-incumbents for operational organization and implementation of a large-scale plan for collecting voter signatures.
The new 2018 campaign requirements for the number of voter signatures and documents that need to be submitted by candidates, removed previously insurmountable barriers to participation in the presidential elections. During the presidential election of 2012, 5 candidates from political parties and 10 self-nominated candidates were initially nominated for the elections, of which only 5 self-nominees and 1 non-parliamentary candidate were admitted to the campaign. A far greater number—22 candidates—were nominated for the 2018 campaign from political parties, and 15 as self-nominees. 2 self-nominees and 13 candidates from non-parliamentary parties were allowed to collect signatures. 2 candidates were registered by the CEC of Russia on a "parliamentary privilege" without collecting signatures.
Current legislative restrictions on the right to be elected president that relate to previous convictions and the need for the presidential nominee to have a valid residence permit, are excessive, unfair, and undemocratic. The legal uncertainty of these issues deprives entire categories of Russian citizens of passive suffrage. There are doubts among some parts of Russian society in the legitimacy of these restrictions, which leads “Golos” to conclude that Russia has not created the best possible conditions for implementing passive electoral rights and holding free elections.
In the absence of an independent judiciary, these restrictions serve as an electoral barrier, as shown in the case of Aleksey Navalny.
There are still no guarantees from the state to enable realization of the right to self-nomination by the providing legally required premises for holding a meeting of at least 500 citizens of Russia in one place, with a notarized certification of their presence.
In most cases, the activities of the Central Election Commission (CEC) related to the registration of voter groups in support of the self-nomination of candidates or registration of authorized representatives of parties do comply with the requirements of the electoral law, as well as the decisions of the CEC do not raise serious objections. In certain cases, the CEC of Russia provided additional assistance to candidates and did not delay decision making.
The timeline for the start of the information campaign by election commissions regarding the forthcoming elections is largely unprecedented.
Observers note the active involvement of the entire system of election commissions in the campaign to increase voter turnout. According to reports from several regions, members of some precinct election commissions are forced to conduct information activities outside their official 30-day work period: they are encouraged to carry out home visits in order to inform voters about the elections and to conduct polls about voters’ willingness to participate in the presidential elections, which is absolutely unacceptable. It is also important to stress that the work of the precinct commission is a voluntary social activity.
Taking into account that in the upcoming presidential election the question of voter turnout is politicized and directly related to the demonstration of support or protest, both for the political system as a whole and for one of the candidates (i.e. the obvious favorite of the election race), the participation of precinct election commission members in additional, non-legal campaigning violates the political neutrality of election commissions with the aim of increasing the overall turnout and involves the commissions in political struggle.
With rare exceptions, the activities of the election commissions of the subjects of the Russian Federation related to organizing and holding initiative group meetings for the nomination of presidential candidates did not provoke any complaints.