The State Duma election in September 2021 was a mere formality because any political opposition independent of Russia’s central government had been completely barred from the election. In terms of restriction of free speech and repression of the opposition, the 2021 State Duma election can be considered the most undemocratic in Vladimir Putin’s years in power. Formally, the election fits the mould of the Russian ruling elite’s well-worn practice of imitating the democratic process, but in reality, political legitimacy has significantly diminished. This is another trend indicating a growing similarity between the current political regime’s modus operandi and that of the Soviet regime.
To manipulate election results and to completely neutralise political competition, essentially the same methods were used as in previous years. Still, several elements were applied much more aggressively than ever before. The main methods used were:
- Administrative tools to suppress the political opposition’s organised activities. These were utilised more intensively in 2021 than before.
- Barring unwanted candidates from participating in the election using formal pretexts. This has long been one of the ruling elite’s most effective tools to ensure election results. The first serious setback in the use of this tool only occurred during the Moscow City Duma election in 2019.
- Biased media coverage of political parties and the muzzling of media outlets broadcasting views unsuitable for the power elite – another tool used much more forcefully in 2021.
- Direct support from the state apparatus to United Russia.
- “Administrative mobilisation” or pressuring state employees to vote as required.
- Obstruction of independent election observation.
- Falsifying election results.
The official results of the State Duma election were as expected – with the help of manipulation, a constitutional majority was ensured for the ruling political party, United Russia. The lower number of seats in the Duma compared with the 2016 election is explained by the ruling elite’s heightened caution due to the recent presidential election experience in Belarus. Given United Russia’s modest ratings, they shied away from announcing the same result as in the previous Duma election.