By Fabrice Deprez
On September 9th, voters across Russia will elect 22 regional governors, 16 regional legislative assemblies, 12 city parliaments, 4 mayors, and 7 State Duma deputies. Here’s a look at some campaign advertisements and what they say about Russian politics from Arkhangelsk to Zarechny.
Ekaterinburg, Sverdlovsk oblast
Near the city of Yekaterinburg, a campaign billboard for the United Russia political party features the slogan “United Russia – the party of the president”. The debate that followed the decision to raise the pension age sharply lowered United Russia’s approval ratings ahead of the 9 of September elections. In regions where United Russia’s situation looked particularly difficult, the Kremlin reportedly allowed local branches to use a slogan making a direct connection between United Russia and Vladimir Putin (though they seem to have stopped short of using the president’s picture). According to media outlet RBC, such “authorizations” were given for the Irkutsk, Vladimir, Ekaterinburg, Ulyanovsk and Arkhangelsk regions.
In Moscow, where the victory of incumbent mayor Sergey Sobyanin is all but assured, the authorities’ main task has been to encourage locals to actually go out and vote. This poster uses a painting by French-Russian artist Marc Chagall to advertise the election: the first character says “let’s fly to the elections!”, and the second answers “but I wanted to fly to Thailand.”
Moscow’s government has spent 570 million rubles (8 million dollars) on the election, 100 million of which will be used to decorate of polling stations. As September 9th is also Moscow’s official holiday (a sort of ‘city day’), Novaya Gazeta writes that local authorities are planning events –including free meals– to push Muscovites to the polls under the pretext of celebrating. Pollster VTsIOM, which often works for the Kremlin, predicts a 32% turnout.
While United Russia officials spent the last few weeks struggling to defend pension reform, other parties have been free to capitalize on widespread opposition to the bill. In the Arkhangelsk region, this campaign billboard for the Communist Party reads “Do you want to live long enough to reach pension age? Vote for the Communist Party!” As much as 82% of Russians are opposed to the decision to raise the pension age, while 53% said they would be ready to protest against the reform.
Grow tall like Sergey Nosov! Locals in the Magadan oblast were surprised to discover what looked like campaign materials for acting governor Sergey Nosov in the region’s kindergartens and schools. According to local outlet Vesma, authorities claimed this was simply a tradition, and the fact that the materials were distributed a week before the election merely a coincidence. Magadan isn’t the only region where political campaigning has entered school grounds: in Rybinsk, a city 200km north of Moscow, as well as in Arkhangelsk region, locals complained that school kids were being distributed United Russia-branded pens and t-shirts.
Vladimir oblast is reportedly one of the region where the Kremlin allowed the use of the “party of the president” slogan as a last-ditch effort to attract voters. But some politicians, including the current local governor, are not too keen on being seen as close to the party that is (on paper at least) responsible for the much-hated pension reform bill.
Acting governor of Vladimir Oblast and United Russia candidate Svetlana Orlova chose to distance herself from the party, as shown by the two billboards above, one for the gubernatorial election, the other for the election of the local parliament: while both include the slogan “A place where one wants to live”, only the billboard on the right, advertising the elections for the legislative assembly, features United Russia’s logo. According to local outlet Pro Vladimir, Orlova’s campaign newspaper, of which 700,000 copies were distributed across the region, only mentions United Russia once, in the governor’s biography.
Svetlana Orlova’s victory in the gubernatorial election is almost certain, but may only happen after a second round runoff. At the legislative assembly however, the Communist party list, led by prominent journalist Maksim Shevchenko, is a serious opponent and could take advantage of United Russia’s troubles.
In the Ulyanovsk region, the local office of the “Communists of Russia” party (not to be confused with the much larger KPRF, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation) chose to run in the election of the local parliament under the slogans “Mackerels against all” and “Mackerels are the fish of the future.” The party has struggled to clarify the electoral strategy: “Mackerels were there before us, and will be there after us. Humanity will die out, and mackerels will still be there,” a candidate in the party … shall we say explained? The Communist Party has long denounced the “Communists of Russia” as a spoiler party, designed to confuse people unaware of the difference between the two parties and to snatch votes away from the KPRF. The VTSIOM polling agency sees United Russia taking 30% of the vote in Ulyanovsk, with the Communist Party in second place with 23%.