United Russia, the political party of Russian president Vladimir Putin, won yet another parliamentary election in September 2016, continuing an improbable run of success that goes back to 2001 -- the year the party was formed.
As Jules Suzdaltsev explains in today's Seeker Daily report, there are many reasons for the ruling party's winning streak, most of them dubious indeed.
The nation of Russia, officially known as the Russian Federation, is technically a constitutional republic with free elections. But the devil, as usual, is in the details. Putin is a massively popular leader within Russia, by all indications. Polling from August 2016 shows Putin's approval rate hovering around 80 percent. Consider that in the U.S., President Obama approval rating is around 50 percent, at best.
Those high approval ratings may be artificially inflated, however. For one thing, it's famously dangerous to not support the president in Russia. Putin's critics have been found dead under suspicious circumstances many times over the years, and in one case, an opposition politician was openly assassinated in front of the Kremlin. What's more, Russia's lone independent polling service, the Levada Center, was recently classified by the federal government as a "foreign agent" -- a term that essentially marginalizes the group and prevents accurate polling.
RELATED: How Does the U.S. Stop Russia's Election Mischief?
Russian elections themselves are highly questionable, too, according to multiple outside analysis groups. For years, Russia's few opposition politicians have reported instances of ballot stuffing, bribery, and coercion. The 2016 election appears to have been no different. One video that recently made the rounds showed an official shoving a stack of ballots into a ballot box. In another part of the country, there were reports of people voting multiple times at different voting stations, known as "carousel voting."
Finally, there is the matter of the media, which is hugely influential in Russia -- and everywhere else, really -- during an election year. Russian state-run media is infamously biased toward the ruling party, and in 2014, the government passed a new law allowing officials to block so-called "extremist" websites. Many independent and opposition groups have since had their websites taken down under the law.
With polling, media and the elections themselves largely controlled by Putin's ruling party, things aren't likely to change any time soon. In fact, they may get worse. With the recent elections, Russia United's parliamentary seat total is up to 343 out of 450 -- which is more than enough to amend the constitution and put in place further measures to consolidate power.
-- Glenn McDonald
Check out Discovery GO!
BBC: Russian Election: Big Victory for Putin-backed Party United Russia
The New York Times: Russia Polling Center Is Declared a 'Foreign Agent' Before Elections
The Guardian: Russian Election Unfair and Biased Towards Putin, Observers Say