(Bloomberg) The last time Vladimir Putin’s political party won national elections, ballot-stuffing allegations sparked the biggest protests of his rule.
Five years on, Putin appears to be so confident in his hold on power that even his most dogged adversary is welcome to challenge United Russia in next month’s parliamentary polls — Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the London-based former oil billionaire who was charged with murder in absentia in December.
Khodorkovsky, who spent a decade in prison, is back doing what he says got him jailed in the first place: supporting Putin’s opponents. All but one of the 19 candidates he’s grooming have been accepted by authorities overseeing the vote. Since being freed in 2013, Khodorkovsky has vowed to use what’s left of his fortune to hasten the end of the Putin era, though he admits the Kremlin’s grip on the electoral process is so strong it has nothing to fear, for now. […]
Yet the party, which is headed by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, Putin’s longtime lieutenant, may still gain seats. Unlike in 2011, when all mandates were awarded to parties in proportion to their share of the vote, half will go to the winners of individual races. This gives United Russia an overwhelming advantage in “administrative resources,” such as state entities pressuring employees how to vote, so there’s no need to falsify results, said Nikolai Petrov, a professor at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics.
“The Kremlin’s slogan is ‘manipulate yes, falsify no,’” Petrov said. “The aim is to get the maximum amount of seats while avoiding scandal and conflict.” […]
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