Open Primaries as an Instrument to Streamline Russia’s Political System

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The United Russia party and its local branches are considering the scenarios of primaries ahead of the September vote for regional assemblies, parliaments of administrative centers, and local heads of government, with the current agenda including four models. The first, the most “open” model, entails the participation of any eligible voter in the preliminary election. The second scheme requires the pre-registration of those willing to cast their ballots. The third type grants the right to vote in primaries to card-carrying members of United Russia or its affiliated NGOs whose officials will be formally chosen by the regional political council to serve as electors. Finally, the fourth model, the “sealed” one, implies the participation of only the party’s members as electors in primaries.

More importantly, the more widespread use of primaries in Russia, above all, testifies to Russia’s evolving political system, as Rostislav Turovsky, Doctor of Political Sciences, believes. He points out, “In case of elections to legislative bodies, they apparently build on the previous experience gained primarily during the Duma electoral campaign. We have not always managed to insist on the open model of organizing primaries. However, following the 2016 parliamentary ballot it would be wrong both for regions and regional party officials to neglect the type when it comes to the voting on a local scale. Under new trends, it is, of course, necessary and advantageous for the party to switch to the open model. If other parties follow suit, gubernatorial elections could be revived and gain momentum. Moreover, elections could become more competitive as at the moment opposition candidates tend to be nominated behind closed doors. It is the case quite often and everyone knows it. In fact, it is not uncommon that governors themselves pick a rival from an opposition party. However, if parties switch to primaries, governors will largely abandon their attempts to covertly impact on the nomination of opposition candidates. I suppose that it will boost local electoral campaigns and even spur governors since they will no longer be under impression that they can win hands down and their victory was a sure thing. In addition, competition could, thus, bring to the fore the promising candidates who, even if defeated at gubernatorial elections, would perform well and win regional elections to legislative assemblies and future State Duma elections”.

However, the expert notes that the governors are not overly enthusiastic about the prospect of open primaries. Rostislav Turovsky states, “It may be caused by the governors’ desire to do whatever it takes to turn primaries into their own electoral campaign. They refrain from participating in open primaries. In fact, closed primaries create the hothouse atmosphere for a governor and his team. However, being viewed as a mere formality, closed primaries demotivate governors who are reluctant to use this tool even for self-promotion, although they could derive certain benefit for themselves and for the region by promoting their regional agenda”.

Given all the above, the initiated political renewal of the governors’ corps seems a logical step towards further development of the political system.


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