The Novosibirsk city council has decided to completely switch to the majority voting system. Similar decisions have already been adopted in the cities of Kostroma, Nizhny Novgorod, Ulyanovsk and Magadan. Amendments have been submitted to the city council in Vladimir. Kaliningrad, Lipetsk, Astrakhan and the constituent Republic of Buryatia are actively discussing similar changes as well.
Regional deputies have set the course at altering the system of elections to legislative assemblies and city councils. Therefore, a transition to the majority system is taking place. Experts claim that it was caused by the declining popularity of the ruling party and an attempt to make up for it by activities in the electoral constituencies. The specifics of various regions where other political forces – in addition to the United Russia – have expanded their influence, only aggravate the problem. Previously, a faction in a city council or assembly could be obtained by virtue of a brand name only but now the parties will have to deal with the voters directly.
Recently, the Novosibirsk city council has voted for reverting to the election of all 50 deputies exclusively in single-mandate constituencies. At the first reading, a total of 37 deputies cast an affirmative voice, including 33 representatives of the United Russia party. This decision invited frantic criticism on the part of Anatoly Lokot, the incumbent mayor of Novosibirsk. He said that he was surprised that a decision of this kind was also supported by the parties that had gained a large number of mandates on party list voting. According to Lokot, the necessity to change the boundaries of the constituencies, make organizational changes in the election campaign procedure as well as possible conflicts between all participants in the process might bring on other problems.
Moreover, Lokot stated that returning to the elections by majority vote is a retrograde step in the development of the city's political system. However, according to the sources in the city council, Lokot tactfully omitted the main reason for his discontent: for more than 25 years, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF) which he is a member of, has consistently occupied the second place on the political scene of Novosibirsk. Opinion polls, including those by Levada Center, show that the CPRF's popularity is falling in comparison with the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), for example. As a result, the CPRF may lose this very second place in the next election to the city council, if it continues working only on the power of its brand name. It is even suggested that this decision might be the result of some secret agreements between the United Russia party and the CPRF, but it is more lucrative for the CPRF to publicly criticize it so as to stave off any political responsibility.
Viktor Tolokonsky, former governor of the Novosibirsk region, also commented on this decision. He said the mixed system along which the city council had been elected previously was the most convenient one, as it combined the needs of people who think not about a political brand, but also about the problems of their region, and the necessity to strengthen and develop both the political and party systems. According to the political expert Alyona Avgust, the existing staff shortage in the country concerns not only party nominees, but also those who will be elected by majority vote. Another problem is the absence of ideology both among the parties and self-nominated candidates. "Certainly, nomination in single-mandate constituencies makes it possible to distance oneself from the negative image associated with the party brand. Anyway, in the current information environment it is almost impossible to hide any facts about a candidate," Avgust said.
Similar changes have been made in the election system in the Kostroma region, although it did not cause such public uproar. Previously, there were 36 deputies, half of whom elected on party tickets and half from majority constituencies. After the changes, there will be 33 deputies, and each of them will be elected only in single-mandate constituencies. The number of deputies in the City Duma of Nizhny Novgorod will decrease from 47 to 35, and all of them will be elected by majority vote. In Magadan, during the transition to the majority system the number of deputies has decreased from 28 to 21.
The elections of deputies on party tickets to the City Duma have also been canceled in UIyanovsk. Previously, this decision was supported at public hearings. These changes provoked strong criticism on the part of CPRF members. They are confident that since their popularity is going upwards and that of the United Russia party is falling, it is the latter that will lose the most seats after canceling of the elections on party tickets. According to political technologist Yaroslav Ignatovskyy, the return to majority constituencies weakens the parties that are usually referred to as the systemic parliamentary opposition. "We noticed something similar in St. Petersburg during municipal elections. The importance of electing the head of the regional centre's city administration is likely to increase," Ignatovskyy said.
"The problem is that the old spoilers, represented by three parliamentary parties, have not carried out any democratic activities at the regional or municipal level,” Dmitry Vinogradov, a political scientist and expert at the Stepan Sulakshin Center for Political Ideas, said in an interview with wek.ru. “In addition, many smaller spoilers remain unnoticed by the voters. The same Communists of Russia and Patriots of Russia parties do not pick up more votes in most regions than a static error. This will only lead to the strengthening of the position of the party of power in regional and municipal legislatures, since it is much easier to get a desired mandate in a single-mandate constituency than on a region-wide [party] ticket.”
In Astrakhan, despite the opposition's discontent, amendments to the laws on elections have been adopted by the regional Duma. Moreover, they were signed by the governor. Therefore, as it was before 2015, the residents of Astrakhan will elect 36 deputies only in majority constituencies in September 2020. For this purpose, deputies will have to double the number of constituencies and, therefore, to decrease their area and the number of voters. The fewer voters there are in the constituency, the easier it will be for candidates to work with them. Party candidates or self-nominated ones – it makes no difference.
In Kaliningrad, only the public hearings have been held so far. Both the reduction of the number of deputies and the shift to the majority voting system were discussed. After the elections in 2021, the city council will consist of 25 deputies assigned to their single-seat constituencies. As Andrey Kropotkin, chairman of the local city council, stated during the hearing, the introduction of the mixed system turned out to be an unsuccessful experiment for the city. Six sessions on the issue of this system showed that it is necessary to go back to the majority system. This proposal was opposed by representatives of the systemic opposition, who believe that today, they have no access to the city council. For example, all 14 single-mandate members of the city council are from the United Russia. Yevgeny Mishin, chairman of the LDPR regional branch, demanded that the public hearings should be postponed until May when the changes to the Constitution and federal laws announced by President Putin take effect. Other participants in the hearings recommended the city council not to reduce the number of deputies, but to increase it to 36 or 50 instead.
It seems that there have been also public hearings in Lipetsk. Sergey Gridnev, the CPRF member, accused the authorities of manipulating the laws: "First, the authorities removed the ‘against all candidates’ box from the ballots, and then abolished the minimum voter turnout requirement. And now they are getting rid of the party tickets. Alexander Popov, the deputy of the city council from the LDPR, underlined that there is no objective reason to change the voting system. Only Andrey Trofimenkov, a member of the regional council, supported the United Russia. Summing up the results of the hearings, Oleg Khomutinnikov, a deputy of the Lipetsk regional council and chairman of the brand new Federal Party, said that "the CPRF should not have joined the opposition's general hysteria against cancelling the party tickets in the Lipetsk city council election. The issue has been resolved: the United Russia has a vast majority of votes and any protests sound like weakness and fear of losing its position. However, the cancellation of the party tickets in the elections is the fear of the United Russia but not of the opposition."