Last year, the ruling party surreptitiously helped most of its rivals to collect signatures of municipal deputies. This created a situation in practically all regions where the serving heads lacked real rivals because they collected the signatures only for those who suited them in the capacity of rivals.
Only six people out of 40 have managed to make it through the “municipal filter”: self-nominated candidate and Acting Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin, Ivan Melnikov (KPRF), Nikolai Levichev (A Just Russia), Mikhail Degtyaryov (LDPR), Sergei Mitrokhin (Yabloko) and Alexei Navalny (RPR-PARNAS). Valdaiclub.com interviewed Yevgeny Minchenko, political scientist and president of Minchenko Consulting Communication Group, to learn why the “municipal filter” was introduced in 2012 for candidates wishing to run for heads of regions of the Russian Federation and whether this idea has proved its worth.
Originally, when Dmitry Medvedev called for a transition to direct gubernatorial elections, Vladimir Putin urged the creation of an additional filter. As a result, the idea of a municipal filter was suggested, by analogy with France, where an almost 1% barrier (500 signatures of officials) exists at presidential elections.
At the discussion stage, the “municipal filter” idea appeared quite sound. But at the end of the day additional restrictions were introduced, ranging from 5% to 10% of the total number of local deputies. This amounts to 110 deputies in Moscow and 351 deputies in the Moscow Region. In addition, it is necessary to collect signatures of members of municipal entities at different levels (city, district and village).
This has made the “filter” easily negotiable only for the ruling party. Last year, the ruling party surreptitiously helped most of its rivals to collect signatures of municipal deputies. This created a situation in practically all regions where the serving heads lacked real rivals because they collected the signatures only for those who suited them in the capacity of rivals. The two exceptions were the Ryazan Region, where Patriots of Russia, helped by some United Russia members who were displeased with the Ryazan governor, did collect the necessary number of signatures (but this was followed by a political trade-in), and the Bryansk Region, where the Communists, as usual, managed to collect municipal signatures for their candidate. The same thing is happening at this year’s elections: in some places the ruling party is helping its opponents surreptitiously, while doing so openly in others, as was the case in Moscow and the Moscow Region. In my view, this shows that the filter is unnecessary. I urged a reform of the “municipal filter” at a meeting with deputy presidential chief of staff Vyacheslav Volodin in early July. The parliamentary parties and parties represented at regional legislative assemblies should be relieved of the “municipal filter” because they have confirmed their popular support. For self-nominated candidates and other parties, a 1% “municipal filter” should be established, with deputies being allowed to put their signatures for more than one candidate, to avoid situations in which a candidate is made to step down because his signatories had signed for a different candidate as well. That said, the “municipal filter” should be preserved for non-system political forces in order to have an opportunity to weed out openly crazy people, while enabling all genuine aspirants to make public their views and take part in electoral rivalry.
The Acting Mayor of Moscow, Sergei Sobyanin, helped Alexei Navalny, as well as Mikhail Degtyaryov, Nikolai Levichev and Sergei Mitrokhin to collect municipal signatures. The acting Moscow Region Governor, Andrei Vorobyov, did the same for Gennady Gudkov. To my mind, Mr Sobyanin was asked to help his rivals. Originally Alexei Navalny’s involvement in the elections was not planned; this was decided under pressure from the presidential staff. Of course, United Russia gained no points from this, because at first Sobyanin showed disdain toward the party by signing up as an independent candidate, although it was United Russia that had suggested his candidacy for Mayor of Moscow and vouched that he would work honestly for five years in the post, which didn’t happen. In effect, United Russia’s municipal deputies were forced to put down their signatures for a man (Navalny) who had called them swindlers and thieves. These public and forced slaps in the face of United Russia are evidence that the municipal filter in its present form is capable of causing even reputation damage to the ruling party.