What youth can expect from Russia's parliamentary elections

Credit: Russia Insider

Credit: Russia Insider

This September, the State Duma of Russia (the lower house of the Federal Assembly of Russia) will hold its elections. These elections have citizens concerned because MPs have adopted many prohibitive and controversial laws in the past four and a half years. One such law is the "anti-terrorism package," which introduced criminal penalties for "inducement" to participate in riots and demanded that mobile operators record and store their clients' phone calls and messages.

Russian mobile network operators claimed that this could cause serious losses to their industry. It is believed to be one of the harshest legislations in modern Russian history and may have significant consequences for youth in the future.

The last State Duma elections in December 2011 led to mass protests which continued through the 2012 Russian presidential election. These were some of the largest protests in the Post-Soviet era, and protesters claimed that the election process was flawed.

It is worth mentioning that there are two types of opposition in Russia -- systemic and non-systemic. Systemic opposition can be a part of political establishment, but non-systemic opposition cannot easily operate in a form of registered political parties. There are many reasons behind that. The main one is high requirements for a party to be registered. For example, parties have to collect a huge amount of signatures from voters. Authorities can use it as an instrument to terminate the registration claiming that some of the signatures are fake. According to opinion polls by the Levada Center, 72 percent of Russian citizens have never heard of "non-systemic opposition." Such a low level of involvement in politics makes it easier for the state to discriminate against "real opposition" and its leaders.

If we come back to State Duma, there were four parties represented during the sixth convocation, which ended last month. United Russia, the so-called “party of power,” and three systemic opposition parties: the Communist Party (CPRF), Social Democratic Party (Fair Russia), and Liberal Democratic Party of Russia. However, after the conflict in Ukraine, they have minor political differences and hold the same views on many issues. The concept of systemic opposition is becoming more archaic.

It is also interesting to note that the president brings together supporters of all parties. The Levada Center reports that Putin's approval rating is high not only among supporters of United Russia (90-96 percent), but also among supporters of other political parties. Within the Communist Party, the Liberal Democratic Party, and Fair Russia, support ranges from 76 percent to 90 percent. Among supporters of parties that do not have representation in the State Duma, his approval is at 64 percent.

But an important question (and one that I hear a lot), is how youth perceive Russian President Vladimir Putin. According to a May 2016 Fund of Civil Society Development poll, Putin’s support is proportionally distributed among all age groups. He is extremely popular among people between 18 to 24 years old, with 87 percent approval. With that rating, he might win the 2018 presidential elections. His approval rating was slightly lower among 25 to 34 year olds, with 78 percent and 81 percent of them said they would vote for him in the next presidential election. Among older demographics, respondents aged 35 to 59 years, the approval rating is 80 percent and 83 percent of them want to give their vote for him in 2018. People over 60 years old gave the president 87 percent approval and 89 percent of them admit that they would support him in the next election.

The president has high levels of support among all age groups, but youth and elderly citizens have the highest approval ratings.

The polls demonstrate that the upcoming parliamentary elections won't cause significant change. United Russia will likely remain as a leader with the same opposition parties. The situation is exacerbated by the fact that citizens’ interest in the elections is decreasing.

Compared to 2011, when protests were raging, 62 percent of people polled were discussing the elections with their families and friends, today this number is only 45 percent. A shocking 52 percent of Russians are not discussing the upcoming elections at all. Though parliament has enacted some strict laws in the past four years, 44 percent of Russians only have a vague idea of what the State Duma accomplished in its past term, and 45 percent do not know anything about it. Just seven percent said they have a fairly complete picture of what has been done.

Low citizen engagement, high approval ratings of the party of power and Putin will make next month's Duma elections boring and predictable. Russian youth appear unable (or unwilling) to change the situation.

Cover credit: Sergio Algeri/GYV