Ruling party United Russia holds 1st-ever nationwide primaries

Kaliningrad residents take part in a preliminary voting to select candidates of the United Russia party for elections to the State Duma. © Igor Zarembo
About 10 million people have participated in nationwide United Russia primaries, ahead of the upcoming parliamentary elections in September. Observers and senior party officials said the turnout at the Sunday polls exceeded their expectations.

United Russia’s organizational committee for the primaries told TASS that the turnout at the primaries varied across the country with the highest figures registered in the Chechen Republic and the Republic of Tatarstan (about 15 percent in each region). North Russia’s Arkhangelsk Region had the lowest turnout of 2.76 percent. Russia’s second-largest city, St. Petersburg, and Eastern Siberia’s Irkutsk also reported low turnouts of 4.23 and 5.24 percent respectively.

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Moscow’s turnout at the United Russia primaries was 6.4 percent, which party officials claim was twice as high as the turnout at preliminary polls held before the elections to the Moscow city legislature in 2014.

The organizational committee also reported that no serious violations had been registered during the voting. However, Denis Davydov of United Russia’s youth branch told reporters that in some regions polls organizers had received complaints that would have to be verified.

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In particular, candidates in several Far East constituencies reportedly offered voters “presents” for support and observers in central Russian regions and in Moscow said that they saw groups of voters arriving at polling stations in buses – which could indicate “carousel” voting, where people are allowed to cast votes multiple times in violation of the rules.

The secretary of United Russia’s General Council, Sergey Neverov, told journalists that if the reports about violations at certain polling stations prove to be true, the primaries’ results at these stations would be annulled. He also explained that primaries had been introduced so that United Russia’s elections list would be formed through a direct democratic procedure which is less prone to mistakes than the previously employed decisions of “party bureaucracy.”

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Aleksandr Brechalov, one of the leaders of United Russia’s main political ally, United Popular Front, told Kommersant daily that his colleagues were satisfied with the way the first-ever nationwide primaries were held and with the reported turnout across the country.

I think that the idea of preliminary elections has justified itself. The turnout in regions was quite good, despite the bad weather and the fact that the elections were held on Sunday. I am confident that this idea will further develop and expect other parties to start using it. The voting and obligatory debates became a serious trial for incumbent lawmakers,” Brechalov said.