Communists & Nationalists poised to make gains in Russian regional elections, but Western-leaning liberals unlikely to prosper

By Paul Robinson, a professor at the University of Ottawa. He writes about Russian and Soviet history, military history, and military ethics.

Those hoping for liberal politicians to make gains in this weekend’s Russian local elections are set to be disappointed. While the pro-Putin United Russia may suffer losses, it will likely benefit nationalists and communists.

Over the weekend, some 35 million Russians will have the opportunity to vote in local elections in about a third of the country’s regions. Electors will vote for 22 city councils, 18 regional governors, and 11 regional parliaments. Pundits are watching carefully to see if the results provide any indications of a shift in the popular mood. 

This year, online voting is permitted and the contests are spread out over three days. Officially, the reason is to avoid overcrowding in polling stations in the midst of the Covid pandemic, but some see the changes as a means of giving the government more opportunities to commit electoral fraud. This reflects a common perception that Russian elections hold little meaning due to widespread manipulation by the authorities.

That said, commentators sometimes display a rather schizophrenic attitude towards this issue. On the one hand they dismiss Russian elections as meaningless; but on the other hand they leap avidly on any results which suggest that the ruling party, the pro-Putin United Russia, is losing its grip on power. And so it is that some analysts are salivating at the prospect of things going badly for United Russia over the weekend.

Indeed, there are some reasons to believe that everything will not go United Russia’s way. According to the latest survey by the Levada Center, a polling company which received Western funding in the past, the party has only 31 percent support at national level. Russia is suffering economic difficulties as a result of the pandemic, and there are a number of local issues which have caused voters to turn against their rulers.

Consequently, the regional elections are being hotly contested, and in some places it is possible that United Russia candidates will be defeated or at least forced to submit to a second round of voting (which occurs in gubernatorial elections if no candidate wins 50 percent in the first round). In particular, the ruling party is facing a strong challenge in the votes for governor in Irkutsk and Arkhangelsk, and in the regional parliamentary and city council elections in Komi, Novosibirsk and Magadan.

Nevertheless, one should be cautious about drawing too much from this as far as national Russian politics are concerned. United Russia’s current rating is identical to the 31 percent level of support it enjoyed in a Levada poll in August 2016 (the year of the last national elections, in which United Russia won 54 percent of the vote), and higher than its 28 percent ratings in 2018 and 2019.

Bear in mind that these figures include many who do not intend to vote. United Russia’s support among those who say that they will actually cast a ballot is rather higher – 45 percent – and well above its nearest competitor, the ultra-nationalist LDPR, which rates at 16 percent. According to Levada, more Russians now approve of the national government than disapprove, after several years of the opposite, and most Russians think that the country is moving in the right direction. Given all this, United Russia’s dominance is not under immediate threat.

Moreover, many of the issues driving voters to turn against United Russia in this week’s elections are decidedly local. In Irkutsk, for instance, discontent derives from the authorities’ response to flooding and the resignation of the previous Communist Party governor. In Arkhangelsk, the issue is a landfill project which would see millions of tons of garbage arrive in the province from Moscow. In Komi, it is the region’s merger with the Nenets Autonomous District. And so on. Few of these issues have national ramifications.

Perhaps the only place where the so-called ‘non-systemic’ opposition is considered to have genuine prospects of success is in the city of Novosibirsk, the country’s third largest, where a coalition of anti-Communist and anti-United Russia candidates is being coordinated by one of Alexey Navalny’s team, Sergei Boyko. In 2019, Navalny introduced a ‘smart voting’ scheme which identified the candidates most likely to defeat United Russia in the Moscow city elections. This was credited with having some success. The plan is now being repeated.

However, it is noticeable that in the case of Moscow, pro-government candidates still won a majority in the city elections, despite both ‘smart voting’ and the fact that Moscow is probably the most liberal city in the country. Moreover, the main party to profit from the smart voting project turned out not to be the liberals but the Communists. 

This suggests that the central beneficiaries of local discontent are unlikely to be liberal opposition groups, but rather the ‘systemic’ opposition parties, the LDPR, the Communists, and Fair Russia. In Irkutsk, for instance, the Communist candidate Mikhail Shchapov is likely to get enough votes to force a second round of voting. And in Arkhangelsk and Yaroslavl (where there is a by-election for the State Duma), it is the candidates of Fair Russia who are reckoned to have the best chances of defeating United Russia.

It is quite possible that United Russia will lose a few of this week’s local elections. It will, however, win most of them. Where it does lose, it will be systemic opposition which will reap the benefits. None of this suggests that the political system at the national level is under serious threat. It does, however, indicate that, despite their many imperfections, Russian elections, and the systemic opposition, do matter, and that Russia, at least at the local level, is gaining valuable experience in what one might call ‘normal’ democratic politics.

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Canada gains 245,800 jobs, recovering nearly two-thirds of COVID-19 losses

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Canada’s economy added 245,800 jobs in August, a fourth-straight month of gains that has recouped nearly two thirds of employment losses from the pandemic.

The hiring lowered the jobless rate to 10.2 per cent, from 10.9 per cent in July, and brings the number of jobs recovered since the height of the pandemic to 1.9 million.

Canada lost 3 million jobs in March and April. Economists had forecast a 250,000 increase and an unemployment rate of 10.2 per cent in August.

While the initial quick recovery in Canada’s labour market is welcome, economists predict it will fade, with many of those initially displaced by the pandemic already back at work and the economy as open as it can be for now.

The latest numbers capture the reopening of Toronto, Canada’s biggest city and one of the last to ease restrictions due to high COVID-19 counts. Ontario posted 142,000 new jobs last month.

But without any further lifting of COVID-19 restrictions anytime soon, future job gains are likely to be gradual.

Of the August gains, 205,800 were in full-time and 40,000 part-time.

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Basic amenities needed as title deeds drive gains pace


Basic amenities needed as title deeds drive gains pace

President Uhuru Kenyatta gives a title deed to a Nairobi County resident. PHOTO | PSCU 

I am very happy and excited by ongoing efforts to issue title deeds and leases to Kenyans.

Kihiu Mwiri in Murang’a, informal settlement dwellers in Nyeri, Nyandarua and Nairobi have benefited. Nyakinyua in Nakuru, urban dwellers in Tharaka-Nithi, Waitiki farm in Mombasa and now Embakasi Ranching Company in Nairobi are others. The last two have been massive schemes, opening room for thousands of dwellers on small plots of land. In all these cases, the beneficiaries had been waiting for many years.

In some of the schemes, some people died waiting, or trying to follow up titles. Such tragic and frustrating experiences made many give up hope of ever obtaining official ownership documents.

President Uhuru Kenyatta’s interventions have therefore been a most welcome game-changer in the circumstances. No one wants to get in the way once presidential authority is invoked for such processes. It whips into proactive and consistent action the Land ministry, local administration, directors of companies and every other authority needed to expedite preparation of titles.

Owners of plots in all the schemes that have enjoyed presidential intervention can now pride themselves of enhanced tenure security.


Guidelines by the Food and Agriculture Organisation observe that inadequate and insecure tenure rights increase vulnerability, hunger and poverty. They can lead to conflict and environmental degradation when competing users fight for control of these resources. Indeed, competing interests in some of the above schemes directly contributed to conflicts, insecurity and even loss of lives. For these reasons, Kenya should continue to escalate the processing and issuance of ownership documents to many others who remain waiting. Kenya’s tally of titles currently stands at just more than 11.6 million, with about five million issued since 2013, and 5.6 million issued since independence.

Going by regional and continental comparatives, these are big and encouraging figures. But let’s aim to push the figure to 15 million within the next five years.

There’s a worrying side to these settlement efforts though. In some, we’ve given people titles hence made it possible for them to develop their plots in confidence, but left them without basic infrastructure such as all-weather roads, power and water.

While residents can tap solar or generators for power and even sink boreholes for water, a lack of good roads limits. During wet seasons, there have been incidents of landowners who have had to wear gumboots and walk to nearby highways, even where they own cars. And when they are able to drive out, they have to keep monitoring the weather before driving back. Because they either cannot make it back at all and must stay away, or must arm themselves with umbrellas and gumboots to walk home from the highway. They also have to contend with finding safe spaces to leave behind their cars. It’s donkey life. It’s most dehumanising in the 21st century.

And to redress the situation for existing settlements, which continue to suffer the infrastructure gap, county authorities could liaise with plot owners to agree on how best to provide what is required, at some cost.

This would buttress the president’s titling efforts, and ensure that those settled have befitting livelihoods thereafter.

Yet, in a number of cases, this happens at the peripheries of major urban centres, not far from central business districts. It’s something that should shame and provoke into action managers of our land and county administration systems.

Best lessons from our past ensured that infrastructure provision preceded such settlements, and subdivision approvals would never be accorded without this. Local authorities of the day enforced this requirement. I am sure it is still possible to have innovative arrangements through today’s land officers, City and County managers to ensure that this is done. Just like in the past, infrastructure can be provided through indexing basic land revenue to individual land parcels. This would buttress the president’s titling efforts, and ensure that those settled have befitting livelihoods thereafter. And to redress the situation for existing settlements which continue to suffer the infrastructure gap, County authorities could liaise with plot owners to agree on how best to provide what is required, at some cost.

Ibrahim Mwathane is the chairman of Land Development and Governance Institute.

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Oil holds gains made on high OPEC+ compliance

FILE PHOTO: The sun is seen behind a crude oil pump jack in the Permian Basin in Loving County, Texas, U.S., November 22, 2019. Picture taken November 22, 2019. REUTERS/Angus Mordant

August 18, 2020

By Ahmad Ghaddar

LONDON (Reuters) – Oil prices were broadly steady on Tuesday, hanging on to gains from the previous session thanks to high compliance with production cuts from members of the OPEC+ producer group.

Brent crude eased by 9 cents, or 0.2%, to $45.28 a barrel by 1117 GMT, having gained 1.3% on Monday. U.S. crude edged down by 17 cents, or 0.4%, to $42.72 after a rise of 2.1% in the previous session.

A technical panel found that compliance with OPEC+ oil output cuts in July was between 95% and 97%, according to a draft report seen on Monday by Reuters.

The panel considered a scenario of substantial downside risk to oil demand if the coronavirus pandemic conditions worsen, the report said, calling for “vigilance and close monitoring of the implementation of the compensation for overproduction”.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and its allies, a grouping known as OPEC+, eased their cuts in August to 7.7 million barrels per day (bpd) from 9.7 million bpd previously.

The market has priced in news that the alliance’s member compliance has been quite high in July, said Bjornar Tonhaugen, Rystad Energy’s head of oil markets.

OPEC+ will hold a ministerial panel meeting on Wednesday.

Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak will join the video meeting despite testing positive for COVID-19, the country’s energy ministry said on Tuesday.

Oil prices have started to pick up in recent months, prompting Australian miner and oil producer BHP to strike an upbeat note in its earnings on Tuesday.

“We believe that the most significant risks to the physical (oil) market have now passed,” the company said, ading that the pace of gains could be modest given potential headwinds from supply returning.

GRAPHIC: OI Demand/supply balance

(Additional reporting by Aaron Sheldrick and Sonali Paul; Editing by David Goodman)

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ASX set for gains; jobs data on tap

2. US coronavirus aid stalemate: Investors were seemingly not perturbed by the continuing stalemate in Washington over coronavirus aid.

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the White House and top Democrats in Congress may not reach a deal on coronavirus aid. Both US parties traded jabs on who was to blame for blocking relief to tens of millions of jobless Americans.

3. Jobs data on tap: Labour force figures for July will give another snapshot of the havoc wreaked by the coronavirus on the Australian economy.

On Wednesday, Australian Bureau of Statistics figures showed the worst wage growth on record. Through the June quarter, the national wage price index increased by 0.2 per cent, taking the annual rate down to 1.8 per cent. Both results were the worst for the index which the bureau started publishing in 1997.

4. ASX set to rise: The Australian sharemarket is poised to open higher thanks to a strong Wall Street lead, with futures shortly before 7am pointing to a jump of 42 points, or 0.7 per cent, at the open.

On Wednesday, the ASX slid 0.1 per cent lower, with miners dragging.

5. Earnings season: A big day is ahead, with AGL, AMP, Breville Group, Charter Hall Retail, Evolution Group, Goodman Group, QBE insurance, Telstra, treasury Wine and Woodside Petroleum due to report. CBA’s result highlighted yesterday’s busy calendar, with the giant handing out a higher-than-expected 98c dividend.

6. UK’s worst-ever recession: Britain’s economy shrank by a record 20.4 per cent in the second quarter when the coronavirus lockdown was tightest, the most severe contraction reported by any major economy so far, with a wave of job losses set to hit later in 2020.

“Today’s figures confirm that hard times are here,” finance minister Rishi Sunak said. “Hundreds of thousands of people have already lost their jobs, and sadly in the coming months many more will.”

7. Gold swings back: Gold stabilised after a series of wild swings that saw the metal hit a record on Friday before suffering its worst day in seven years yesterday. It was down again sharply early before rebounding to close 0.3 per cent higher.

8. Market watch:

ASX futures up 45 points, or 0.7 per cent, to 6133 at 6.11am AEST

  • AUD at 71.62 US cents at 6.16am AEST
  • On Wall St: Dow +1.1% S&P 500 +1.4% Nasdaq +2.1%
  • Spot gold +0.2% to $US1916.35 an ounce
  • Brent crude +1.8% to $US45.32 a barrel
  • US oil +2.3% to $US42.57 a barrel
  • Iron ore +0.3% to $US121.51 a tonne
  • 10-year yield: US 0.66% Australia 0.91% Germany -0.45%

This column was produced in commercial partnership between The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and IG

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Funding boost welcomed but Rio gold heroine says women’s gains still ‘fragile’

“It was really quite disheartening to feel that something like this brought years and years of hard work undone and that women’s sport was so fragile,” Lucas said.

“That the bigger sports appeared to see it as ‘what can we get rid of to cut costs – oh, women’s sport’.

“Everything we’ve built and fought for, that it wasn’t backed with the same conviction. Even in the AFL and NRL it wasn’t until later that people asked what was going to happen to the women’s competitions. It just wasn’t at the forefront of anyone’s minds.”

The Rio gold medallist and 2018 Commonwealth silver medallist is still on JobKeeper while her male counterparts in the 15-player format have returned to competition and 70 per cent of their pre-COVID-19 salaries. She has been taking locum physiotherapy work to make ends meet, while her team mates have returned to teaching, coaching and casual jobs.

Lucas said she and her Aussie Sevens team mates were among the lucky ones, having welcomed a $2.2 million funding grant from the Australian Institute of Sport last month that means Rugby Australia will be keep a fulltime program together for both its men’s and women’s squads.

The richest rugby union in the world, England’s RFU, last week srapped its fulltime sevens programs, moving them back to camp-based models.

Back home, Lucas said part of the challenge of the past few months was juggling her anxiety with the knowledge that, as gold medallists inside a major football code, she and her team mates had it better than many other Olympic athletes.

“I was lucky to be given some extended time away to be with [husband Matt Lucas, a professional rugby player] and my family, but I also sought psychological help to deal with what was happening and had lengthy chats with our coaches,” she said.

“It was also really hard to cope with the guilt around being one of the luckier ones and that, in the scheme of the global crisis, it was just an inconvenience. But that inconvenience hit me quite hard.”

Minerva Network co-founder and Suncorp chair Christine McLoughlin applauded the NSW Government’s funding commitment, which was set to be announced Monday.

Minerva, which connects top businesswomen with top female athletes, will partner with the Government on its Her Sport Her Way program, which encourages state sporting bodies to grow their offerings for girls and young women.

“These athletes are another cohort that have basically been benched pending where sport goes amid this health crisis, but they are still pushing on with being role models in their communities and spreading the word about the benefits of sport to girls,” McLoughlin said.


“Our work at Minerva has always centred on working with our athletes to help them plan and build careers beyond sport, but we were trying to get them to think about what they’d need if they were injured. None of us envisaged a reality in which everyone was benched.”

Minister Lee said the partnership between the NSW Government and the Minerva Network would see increased opportunities for athlete development and mentoring in the lead-up to the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games.

“The NSW Government is proud to back the work of the Minerva Network as their stars receive expert guidance on how to lead and inspire on and off the field,” he said.

“Inspirational role models will have a direct impact on participation as well because young girls and women see the benefits sport and an active lifestyle can bring.”

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China’s factory deflation slows in July as recovery gains strength

FILE PHOTO: Employees wearing masks work at a factory of the component maker SMC during a government organised tour of its facility following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Beijing, China May 13, 2020. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

August 10, 2020

BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s factory deflation eased in July, driven by a rise in global oil prices and as industrial activity climbed back towards pre-coronavirus levels, adding to signs of recovery in the world’s second-largest economy.

The producer price index (PPI) fell 2.4% from a year earlier in July, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) said in a statement, compared with a 2.5% decline tipped in a Reuters poll of analysts and a 3.0% drop in June.

Analysts say China’s industrial output is steadily returning to levels seen before the pandemic paralysed huge swathes of the economy, as pent-up demand, government stimulus and surprisingly resilient exports propel a recovery.

Iron ore futures prices in Dalian have rallied over 50% so far this year while prices of steel bars used in construction have jumped 12%.[IRONORE/]

But some economists warn the recovery could stall amid cautious consumer spending and a resurgence in global infections. Floods due to heavy rainfall have also disrupted production in some parts of the country in recent months.

Consumer inflation edged up in July as the bad weather pushed food prices higher.

The consumer price index (CPI) rose 2.7% from a year earlier, compared with an expected 2.6% increase and a 2.5% rise in June. Pork prices rose 85.7% on a yearly basis.

However, core inflation, which excludes food and energy costs, rose a mere 0.5% in July from a year earlier.

(Reporting by Yawen Chen and Se Young Lee; Editing by Sam Holmes)

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