The thrilling spectacles offered by the U.S. presidential election, the U.K. referendum on leaving the European Union and even Austria's cliffhanger presidential vote have overshadowed an election campaign in Russia, which will get a new parliament on Sept. 18. That's because, even though they have all the the trappings of democracy, the Russian elections are mostly theater, whose actors are shadows from the country's brief experiment with competitive politics.
In theory, the elections shouldn't be boring. The previous ones, in 2011, gave rise to the most meaningful and vigorous protests against Vladimir Putin's corrupt system of his more than 15 years in power. Then, tens of thousands of Muscovites took to the streets to protest what they saw as the falsification of vote results: Statistical analysis suggested that United Russia, the pro-Putin party, owed its majority to widespread ballot-stuffing.