THE UPCOMING FEDERAL ELECTIONS AS REPORTED BY THE CENTRAL MEDIA
Some time will pass until the Central Election Commission publishes the official results of the parliamentary election, but they are unlikely to differ greatly from what is already known. According to the preliminary results, the Duma of the next convocation will comprise six factions, namely the CPRF (which has received 24.22% of the general vote), Unity (23.37%), Fatherland-All Russia (12.64%, the bloc may split into two Duma factions), the Union of Right Forces (8.72%), Yabloko (6.13%), and Zhirinovsky’s bloc (6.08%). The results were published by Segodnya.
From Izvestia’s viewpoint, the main sensation of this election was that “to all appearances, the electorate has come to love the powers that be.” The pro-governmental blocs have received such a great number of votes that from now on there is no sense in speaking about “the Duma in constant opposition”. The Russian voters seem to be fairly satisfied with whatever scanty number of ideas and actions the powers that be have been able to offer them – the general attitude towards the counter-terrorist operation in Chechnya has consolidated politicians and ordinary people around the government, whereas high oil prices and expensive exported commodities “have reminded residents of Russian regions what pensions and wages mean.” As a result, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and the political blocs supported by him simply did not have any rivals left on the eve of the election, and the executive branch “received a fairly controllable Duma in exchange for ‘correct’ behavior”. Now this executive branch should make the best of its acquisition, i.e. it should try to maintain stability in this country at least until the 2000 presidential election. Izvestia remarks that the new Duma’s composition leaves the left wing no opposition no chance of passing a vote of no confidence in the government. The opposition will have to seek other ways of making the Kremlin reckon with it. Thus, just as Kommersant-Vlast’ weekly predicted prior to the election, “The Frankenstein-esque idea of urgently creating the Unity bloc was implemented, suddenly for everybody.” According to the results of a poll conducted by the Public Opinion Foundation, after Putin (with his unbelievably high approval rating) declared his support for Unity, the bloc’s rating doubled.
Vremya MN is certain that the pro-government Duma coalition is here to stay “at least until the presidential election, in which the Union of Right Forces and Unity will support Putin’s candidacy.” What the prime minister has received is a loyal Duma: apart from the right-wing forces and Unity, whose loyalty is above suspicion, the Zhirinovsky Bloc’s members are also difficult to suspect of any anti-government ideas; and as for Yabloko, the paper remarks: “Judging from Grigory Yavlinsky’s latest statements, his movement is ready to negotiate with the White House.” At the same time, Vremya MN draws its readers’ attention to the growing number of people voting “against all candidates”, “The number of voters dissatisfied with all of the current politicians is growing from election to election, and this disturbing fact should not be neglected by society.”
“Now the Communists will no longer be able to dictate their candidacies for the highest posts in the lower house of Parliament,” Vedomosti states when commenting on the results of the past parliamentary election. The paper quotes Alexander Shokhin, who asserts that “the powers that be have finally managed to form a ‘party of power’.” Apart from the major sensation, namely the great number of votes cast in favor of Unity, Shokhin points out another phenomenon – the decrease in Yabloko’s rating: according to Shokhin, the Union of Right Forces “has replaced Yabloko in the arena of liberal political parties.”
Vitaly Tretyakov, Editor-in-Chief of Nezavisimaya Gazeta, is of the opinion that the electorate showed unprecedented pragmatism in the parliamentary election: “People voted for those who, in their opinion, are willing or able to solve Russia’s major problems in general and those of individual citizens in particular.” If one party or another demonstrated the correct approach towards a specific problem, people voted for that party; if it failed to do so, voters “shifted their attention and support to another party, the one closest to the former in terms of its political views.” Tretyakov believes that the Chechen conflict became a sort of litmus test for all parties. On the other hand, this particular conflict might well have been replaced by something else: “If there had not been a Chechen conflict, there would have been some other issue found, something to test various parties’ willingness or unwillingness to work under the voters’ control.” “Pragmatism wins,” Tretyakov maintains. “Chubais and Berezovsky proved to be the greatest pragmatists, so they won.”
Segodnya believes that the election’s results actually mean a victory for Putin in the first stage of the presidential election. On the other hand, the paper notes: “Given this efficiency of implementation of administrative and informational resources, (…) anyone at all may become president in this country – Karelin, Khakamada, Chubais, or Putin.” The paper believes that Unity’s sensational success is “a sign of the people’s distrust of present-day politicians.” As it turned out, “new personalities, those not yet widely-advertised, are more important than any ideology and economic programs.”
Novye Izvestia disagrees with the opinion that the winners enjoyed exclusive media advantages during the electoral campaign. The paper reminds its readers that “Fatherland-All Russia, the bloc that suffered the greatest losses through media warfare, owns no less influential TV networks than its opponents; it also has its own print media.” The paper does not deny the role of the media in electoral campaigns, nor does it disagree with the fact that campaign techniques are being constantly honed. Nevertheless, Vremya MN states that “the capability of manipulating the electorate is not unlimited, and those who treat voters as sheer fools will inevitably lose in the end.”
Kommersant’s opinion of the election’s results is very cautious. The paper states that “the preliminary results of the election cannot serve as evidence of an unconditional victory for any particular political force.” The only thing evident so far is that “the Communists and their allies will now be forced to postpone the fulfillment of their dream of ‘300 patriots in the Duma’ for at least another four years.” The papers takes the conclusions about the formation of a parliamentary majority loyal to the government to be over-hasty. After the Duma factions are formed and single-mandate deputies determine their inclinations, it will become clear whether the pro-government faction’s capabilities are equal to those of the opposition. According to Kommersant’s calculations, an alliance with the right-wing forces and Zhirinovsky’s Bloc may bring Unity slightly over 120 votes, whereas a possible alliance between Fatherland-All Russia and the CPRF will result in a faction comprising at least 170 deputies (this number may yet grow with the addition of independent deputies). Therefore, the paper states, “in order to form a more-or-less stable pro-government parliamentary majority, Putin’s supporters will have to win not only Yabloko (22 deputies) but also at least 80 out of 100 independent deputies over to their side.” In short, the fate of the pro-government faction fully depends on single-mandate deputies.
Lilya Shevtsova, a well-known political analyst and a leading research assistant of the Moscow Carnegie Center, stated in an interview with Vecherny Klub that the Kremlin’s violent struggle against Fatherland-All Russia and tolerance toward the Communists were all part of the Presidential Administration’s well-considered strategy of repeating the 1996 plan, i.e. the plan of opposition between a Kremlin-nominated candidate and a Communist one. This tested scheme will allow the Kremlin to attain the needed results in the upcoming presidential election. Shevtsova does not rule out the possibility that after Yeltsin’s retirement a flood of “show trials” will be seen in Russia: “Whoever Yeltsin’s successor may be, he will be forced to consolidate his regime. The quickest way to do so is to dissociate himself with Yeltsin’s heritage, and organize political purges of Yeltsin’s inner circle.” Therefore, nothing unexpected will happen in the presidential election. In other words, Shevtsova explains, “our high-ranking manipulators will artificially prolong the CPRF’s life in order to promote their candidate to president.”
Of interest are the election’s consequences for the Russian media. Izvestia remarks that as politicians were counting their scores, the TV networks were licking their wounds, which had turned out to be rather deep. Previously it was customary to treat politics as a dirty matter, but now “there is nothing dirtier in ordinary people’s eyes than current affairs programs on TV. Any attempts to find out whose work was dirtier – that of Dorenko or Khinstein – are simply ridiculous.” Nevertheless, all the main characters of the TV soap opera are hoping to manage to wash their images clean before the presidential election and receive new orders, now that the campaign techniques have been thoroughly drilled.
As for the sudden good performance of the Union of Right Forces, it was certainly secured to some extent at the expense of Yabloko, which lost nearly one-third of its usual electorate in this parliamentary election. The press has long been discussing the reasons for this exodus of Yavlinsky’s supporters, who have up to now been known for their political loyalty. As a rule, papers assert that Yavlinsky lacks resolution and energy. At the same time, Tribuna quotes Professor Vladimir Zazykin, a political psychologist, who maintains that if previously Yavlinsky enjoyed the image of a person “of high intellect, a politician fighting for humanity in politics” and thus was an attractive candidate for intellectuals, now he has sharply changed his behavior. “Yavlinsky’s style of behavior during this past electoral campaign included such traits as aggression and accusations. As a result, he has begun to resemble the early Zhirinovsky.”
We should note that, unlike many other politicians, Yavlinsky is certain that the new Duma will not be any better than the current one. In an interview with Komsomolskaya Pravda he predicts that Fatherland-All Russia and Unity, the two parties of power, will engage into a long-running battle with each other, “which will render the Duma unable to function properly”. Yavlinsky recalls that there have been cases of such “squabbles within one party” already, namely in 1991 and 1993, and each time the consequences were fairly grave. “Now this internal conflict may become permanent, and result in a complete paralysis of power.”
To all appearances, a battle between the two parties of power in the Duma is inevitable. Either party has its own presidential candidate. On December 17, two days before the parliamentary election, Yevgeny Primakov announced his desire to run for president, despite his previous repeated statements that he would make his final decision only after reviewing results of the parliamentary election. Vremya MN holds the opinion that that was “a competent electoral move: such a rapid change of Primakov’s intentions was very advantageous for Fatherland-All Russia”.
However, according to the same paper, Putin’s reaction to Primakov’s statement was fairly unambiguous: “The list of presidential candidates has grown by one more person. A good person, in my opinion. In my time, I myself tried to persuade Primakov to do so. However, at that juncture he was actively rejecting all my arguments. Well, now he appears to have changed his mind.” The prime minister added, “However, we both are former military officers, and it is an unofficial tradition in the military not to offer anyone the same post twice.” Thus, Vremya MN states, Putin “explained to Primakov gently that he is too late.”