From Izvestia, Sept. 14, 2020, p. 1. Complete text:

. . . Preliminary results indicate that United Russia has secured a comfortable win [in the 2020 regional elections – Trans.]. As this article goes to press, United Russia candidates are winning in most gubernatorial races, as well as in a number of local legislative assemblies and city council elections. The biggest achievement, though, is that United Russia did well in Irkutsk and Novosibirsk Provinces – two former Communist strongholds.

The first victorious reports came from the Nenets and Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Regions, where United Russia candidates Yury Bezdudny and Natalya Komarova won the respective gubernatorial elections. They were voted in by their provinces’ legislative assemblies. Later on, preliminary results from direct elections in the Far East arrived: in Kamchatka, acting governor Vladimir Solodov got 80.5%; in the Jewish Autonomous Province, acting governor Rostislav Goldshtein won over 82%; and in Irkutsk Province, over 60% of voters supported acting governor Igor Kobzev.

In Perm Territory, acting governor Dmitry Makhonin is winning with 82.73%. In Tatarstan, exit polls show incumbent president Rustam Minnikhanov ahead with 81.2%.

In Magadan Province, United Russia secured a majority of seats in both the Magadan City Council and the province legislative assembly by getting over 50%. In Novosibirsk Province, exit polls show that the party got 37.9%, finishing ahead of the other political forces.

Also, preliminary results show United Russia candidates winning in by-elections to the State Duma: Oleg Morozov in Tatarstan, with 89.5%; Aleksei Zolotaryov in Kursk Province, with 61.1%; and Andrei Kovalenko in Yaroslavl Province, with 41.6%. In Penza Province, A Just Russia candidate Aleksandr Samokutyayev is in the lead with 73.05%.

United Russia General Council secretary Andrei Turchak claimed a landslide victory [for his party] three hours before the polls closed, announcing preliminary results: “I can tell you that our party is winning decisively in this electoral cycle. I want to thank our voters for their interest in this election. We are amazed at the turnout in the Far East. The Jewish Autonomous Province had the highest turnout, over 70%. Our biggest achievement is not that we won, but that we established effective communication with our voters,” Turchak explained. As for those who expected United Russia to lose in Novosibirsk and other problematic places, he called them “armchair pundits.”

The Russian Federation Communist Party voiced skepticism about the preliminary results and United Russia’s claims of victory. Yury Afonin, deputy chairman of the party’s Central Committee, told Izvestiait would be better to wait for official results, including those for Irkutsk Province. “The authorities always lead with the results that make them look good and hold back reports from places where they’re losing. I don’t think we should draw conclusions based on preliminary reports. We had a strong campaign; we had observers at polling stations. We have to wait for official numbers from Irkutsk,” Afonin said. According to him, the Communists expect to get good results in all the local elections.

Enough observers?

Igor Lebedev, State Duma deputy speaker from the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, thinks United Russia won largely because of the [new] system of three-day voting. “The biggest problem is that the ruling party changes the law to suit itself. When they saw they could not get a majority through proportional representation, they created a new system of single-seat constituencies. This time, when they realized they would not win because of the economic downturn and other social issues, they came up with this three-day election,” Lebedev told Izvestia.

According to Lebedev, this is why United Russia was able to avoid runoffs even in the provinces where [its incumbent] governors were very unpopular. Lebedev explains that his party is unable to monitor all three days of the elections, due to lack of resources.

Yelena Drapeko, secretary of the presidium of A Just Russia’s Central Council, agrees that her party performed poorly in the elections because of the three-day system, which has not been fully worked out. “There were violations in a number of places – for example, Voronezh Province. Ballots were sealed in special safe bags at the end of each day. But one of those bags was found open in the morning. They said it was a technical defect and the bag opened on its own. It’s not clear at this point what to do next in this situation. In other places, we saw signs of carousel voting [organized schemes allowing voters to cast multiple ballots – Trans.],” Drapeko told Izvestia.

Yet Central Electoral Commission chairwoman Ella Pamfilova thinks that the election was well organized and competitive. “Only 4.8% of the candidates were denied registration. That’s the lowest we have ever had. This enabled us to create a competitive environment and at the same time ensure maximum openness and absolute transparency,” Pamfilova said. She also pointed out the large number of observers at polling stations. This time, they were 155,000 of them, which means each polling station had three or four observers on average. . . .

Tatarstan had the highest turnout among all the gubernatorial elections, with 73.66% of [eligible] voters casting ballots, while Arkhangelsk Province had the lowest turnout, with 22.38%.

The opposition has lost its appeal.

Experts explain that the opposition lost because it lacked motivation and because people find the protest agenda irrelevant during the [coronavirus] pandemic, seeking stability instead.

“First of all, United Russia had an effective electoral machine working for it. Second, people yearn for stability. [United Russia] is the ruling party, which people identify with the president and government they support. [Russian President] Vladimir Putin and [Prime Minister] Mikhail Mishustin have very high approval ratings, and voting for United Russia is perceived as a show of support for both the government and the president,” Valery Fyodorov, director of the All-Russia Center for the Study of Public Opinion, told Izvestia.

The third factor, in Fyodorov’s opinion, has to do with new faces among the governors. Most of the recently appointed acting governors are new people who belong to a younger generation. They do not shun direct contact with voters, they are open, and they have good mastery of new communications media.

Political and Economic Communications Agency director Dmitry Orlov told Izvestia: “United Russia looks very impressive, and I expect it to win convincingly. The reason it continues to dominate the political landscape is that it has been and still is a party that really gets things done. It has worked systemically and effectively to help people during the pandemic, especially by setting up aid distribution centers and organizing volunteers. In addition, it came up with a number of social initiatives, worked on them closely with the government and eventually got them approved.”

Moreover, he explained, United Russia keeps changing – unlike the opposition. United Russia will be the party that puts together a new coalition that will become the social base for the Russian authorities after the 2021 parliamentary elections.

“The main reason there will be no runoff in Irkutsk Province is because the Communists lacked motivation and failed to mobilize their electorate in the end. While Kobzev managed to draw his supporters to the polls, [Communist candidate Mikhail] Shchapov failed to do so,” Orlov explained.

The opposition lost its appeal with voters during the pandemic because people were expecting practical help, not just criticism of the government, said Civil Society Development Foundation chairman Konstantin Kostin. “Based on the preliminary results of this election, we see that the protest sentiment does not have an underlying political message. It’s a new format now: You have to talk to the people, find out who is dissatisfied with what, and come to an understanding. This is something you just have to work on. And if both sides act properly, this kind of interaction may be pretty good for the social climate, because it helps the authorities and the people better understand each other. That’s the conclusion we can draw from United Russia’s performance in the Jewish Autonomous Province, Magadan Province and Kamchatka,” Kostin told Izvestia. At the same time, Konstantin Kalachov, head of the Political Expert Group, thinks that the primary reason for United Russia’s victory is the new three-day format. He believes that three days afforded United Russia enough time to mobilize its electorate, while the opposition failed to do so because it lacked administrative resources, among other things.