Moscow, Russia: President Vladimir Putin suggested spending billions of rubles at his United Russia party conference on Saturday, ahead of legislative elections in September that might see the extremely unpopular party battle.
Putin advocated allocating billions to social support to a crowd of several hundred of his primarily mask-wearing and socially isolated supporters in a Moscow convention center as the capital reached an epidemic high for new Covid cases for the second day in a row.
This included 50 billion rubles ($687 million) for public transportation, 30 billion rubles for road repairs, and 20 billion rubles for river cleanup, among other infrastructure and healthcare projects.
“The program of the party of the leader has to be the program of the people,” the 68-year-old Kremlin chief said in a speech broadcast on state television.
He also stated that beginning next month, the state would begin allocating cash and new types of help to families.
“Our task is to significantly increase the prosperity of Russian families and the incomes of our citizens,” Putin said.
The meeting, which will choose the ruling party’s candidates and election programme for the lower house of parliament vote in September, comes after the party’s popularity has dwindled in recent years due to economic stagnation, deep corruption, and widespread voter fatigue.
On Friday, the state-run pollster VTsIOM released a study showing that 30% of voters backed United Russia, a 10-point reduction from the 2016 State Duma elections.
Navalny has been defeated
However, the party, which has a majority in the State Duma, is projecting a sense of calm.
“It is a good base of support that can be further increased during the election campaign,” party chairman and former president and prime minister Dmitry Medvedev said at the start of the month.
Putin, who came to power in 2000, has a far better approval rating than his party, with a 61.5 percent approval rating, according to VTsIOM.
Three opposition parties viewed as following the Kremlin’s bidding — the nationalist LDPR, the Communists, and A Just Russia — are expected to get roughly 30% of the vote, according to the pollster.
The recent demolition of Russia’s top opposition figure Alexei Navalny’s movement bolstered the Kremlin’s prospects in September.
A Moscow court labeled his organizations as “extreme” earlier this month, barring them from working in the country, while Putin signed legislation prohibiting workers, members, and sponsors of “extremist” groups from running in parliamentary elections.
Critics say the actions were made to ensure that Navalny, who was sentenced to two and a half years in prison earlier this year on old fraud accusations he claims are politically motivated, does not sabotage the Kremlin’s September election.
Despite the crackdown, Navalny’s supporters are advocating his Smart Voting plan, which backs candidates who are best positioned to defeat Kremlin-connected officials — a policy that has seen United Russia lose a number of seats in previous local elections.
‘All opponents are incarcerated’
However, less well-known opposition candidates, whom Smart Voting could help to support, have also received pressure.
At least two municipal politicians and one pro-democracy activist were detained this month after declaring their candidacy.
Meanwhile, opposition politician Dmitry Gudkov fled to Ukraine after claiming that he would be detained if he did not leave, according to sources close to the Kremlin.
Critics also claim that officials will rig the September election in their favour.
To minimise the spread of the coronavirus, Russia’s elections chief stated on Friday that parliamentary elections would be staggered from September 17 to September 19.
Independent election monitor Golos claimed it had received hundreds of allegations of irregularities, including multiple voting and intimidation, after officials held a constitutional referendum over a week last summer.
The opposition claimed that the referendum’s multi-day structure — which allowed Putin to stay in power until 2036 — gave election officials more possibilities to rig the result because the ballots were cast overnight.
Putin addressed his party’s congress on Saturday that they must ensure that the elections in September are conducted fairly and legally.
“Open battle and honest win, hello? You put all your opponents in prison,” tweeted Navalny aide Georgy Alburov.