Lost in the furor and liberal butthurt over Depardieu’s defection has been a development of far greater import: Russia is going to cardinally change its elections system.
According to Putin’s directive to the Presidential Administration and the Central Elections Committee, they are to come up with a bill that transforms Russia’s current proportional system to a mixed one based on proportional and majoritarian representation.
In other words, it is returning to the system in had in 2003 and earlier, or adopting the system now in place in Hungary and Ukraine.
This change is very clever. First, it will massively favor the dominant party, i.e. United Russia. In 2003, it got almost half the seats despite only getting 38% in the proportional race and a mere 24% in the constituency races (plus a lot of UR-friendly “independents” to seal the deal). This system allows United Russia to “artificially” (I put apostrophes around it because this system is not after all considered inherently anti-democratic) bolster its results during a period when its ratings are likely to decline further. The recent example of Ukraine’s Party of Regions shows how a party with only about 30% popular support can seize virtually half the seats with a split opposition and the usage of admin resources including pro-PR “independents.”
Second, it will also massively lower the incentives for direct falsifications, which are a very prominent and undeniable stain on Russia’s elections in the past decade. After all while in a proportional system falsification will have a direct and immediate impact on the result, in a mixed system United Russia or UR-friendly candidates will be sweeping the constituency elections anyway. Ergo much smaller degrees of fraud or even the absence of fraud would still result in better results for UR than the c.8% falsification in its favor in the 2011 elections everything else being equal.
So, if played right, United Russia in 2016 can still get its parliamentary majority or close to it despite (1) a likely decline in support and (2) allowing for much lower levels of fraud. Hence also much less scope for criticism on the part of various elections watchdogs and Western governments. Even though (as in Ukraine) this system will be inherently less democratic than the current proportional one, ironically enough.