THE LESSONS OF THE ELECTIONS: IF YOU DON’T LIKE THESE VOTERS, SEEK OTHERS

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The Vedomosti newspaper reports that the ROMIR Monitoring agency did exit polls with the aim of determining what kind of voters were supporting any given party. The results were very curious. For example, it turned out that United Russia got a lot of support from military personnel (40.3%), white-collar workers with a high-school education (38.6%), rural residents (also 38.6%) – and university students as well (40.5%!). Overall, those most inclined to vote for United Russia were people with a high-school education (35.8%).

Pensioners (23.8%) remained the main support of the Communist Party (CPRF). But rural residents let the Communists down, preferring United Russia.

Dmitri Orlov from the Political Techniques Center notes that United Russia’s main “idea” was loyalty to the current regime. And since conditions in rural Russia have “improved slightly,” rural residents voted for the regime rather than for its critics.

Supporters of the Union of Right Forces (URF) could be found across all social groups: university students, professionals, business owners and managers at all levels, with support consistent at around 10%. URF voters turned out to be the youngest: just over 9% among the 18-34 age group.

Most interestingly of all, the new Motherland bloc (Rodina) attracted votes not only from pensioners and the elderly in general, who are usually patriotically-inclined, but also from fairly young tertiary-educated professionals. In fact, people with a higher education turned out to support Motherland most of all.

According to PR specialists, this can be attributed to Motherland’s successful publicity campaign, designed to reach “underemployed people who consider themselves intellectuals.” In the past, these voters supported Yabloko; but now the situation has changed, says Dmitri Orlov: “The intelligentsia maintained its faith in the unpopular reforms longer than any other group, even as its quality of life declined. The democracy upswing of the early 1990s is now entirely exhausted; intelligentsia votes are now going to those who promise an alternative, even if it’s a populist alternative.”

Yuri Levada, director of the VTsIOM-A polling agency, claims in Kommersant-Vlast magazine that Motherland’s electorate “is primarily made up of communists,” and Motherland’s “tactics were very close to the tactics used by Vladimir Zhirinovsky.” The populist and patriotic ideas used by Sergei Glaziev and Dmitri Rogozin in their campaign are shared by many parties, including United Russia. But Motherland managed to make greater use of them than any other party.

According to Ekspert magazine, “moderate nationalism” is a characteristic feature of the Russian middle class today: “Seventy-eight percent believe Russia should retain its ethnic historic identity, and 57% favor restricting the influx of other ethnic groups into Russia,” with the exception of ethnic Russians from other CIS countries. Finally, 55% of respondents agree with the following slogan: “Only ethnic Russians should rule Russia.” Those are the realities of today, says Ekspert, and “it would be unwise not to take them into account.”

Another important point: it turned out that the war on the oligarchs, although started by United Russia leader Boris Gryzlov, largely worked to the benefit of Glaziev and Rogozin. In an interview with Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Dmitri Rogozin said: “Voters supported the political forces that seek to end wild capitalism in Russia.” And the Motherland bloc turned out to embody those forces in the view of many voters. Rogozin explained: “We are supported by medium-sized companies, nationally-oriented companies.”

Kommersant-Vlast notes that Motherland’s electoral list was compiled with great care, and even with talent. “On the one hand, Motherland appealed to the people’s baser emotions – xenophobia, hatred of the rich. On the other hand, voting for Motherland didn’t seem like a foolish thing to do; it even seemed respectable – the electoral list included Glaziev, and Gerashchenko, and a woman with a doctorate.”

Kommersant-Vlast says: “The 9% of the vote that went to Motherland was made up of LDPR supporters who are not raving xenophobes, and Yabloko voters who have become disillusioned with the author of the 500 Days program, and CPRF supporters who hate Anatoly Chubais personally, and even some United Russia voters.”

Observers agree that the defection of some voters from United Russia to Motherland came as a surprise for the Kremlin; after all, Motherland had been created for the express purpose of taking votes away from the Communists, thus making United Russia’s task easier. Kommersant-Vlast speculates that in the final days of the campaign the Kremlin may have been shocked by the sudden popularity of its new creation, and may even have attempted to restrain it. In any case, Motherland’s campaign ads disappeared from television in the last ten days of the campaign. Yet the Glaziev-Rogozin coalition made it into the Duma anyway, “and now its ambitions are limitless, since it appears to have made it into the Duma against the Kremlin’s will.”

In the same interview with Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Dmitri Rogozin said: “We consider ourselves an opposition which would like to shoulder responsibility and take part in government.” Rogozin believes that Putin may well decide to form an “effective government” on the basis of the Motherland bloc: “Then we shall achieve prosperity and strengthen the spirit of the nation.”

According to Andrei Piontkovsky, director of the Strategic Studies Center, the LDPR and Motherland ought to be viewed as components of United Russia. These two organizations got a combined total of over 20% of the vote, says Piontkovsky in Rossiiskaya Gazeta: “These were mostly votes from the periphery of the Communist electorate, lost by the CPRF due to the very strong campaign to discredit the Communists” in the media. United Russia finished 20% ahead of the CPRF. Piontkovsky says this result “is the consequence of an aggressive television campaign aimed at turning voters into zombies.”

According to Piontkovsky, Mao Tse Tung’s maxim “political power grows out of the barrel of a gun” should be changed to “political power grows out of television.”

The pro-presidential majority (including supporters of Zhirinovsky, Glaziev, and Rogozin) will now make up two-thirds of the Duma, making it possible to amend the Constitution – if the president wishes to do so (to date, he had asserted that his team is not considering any such options).

What’s more, as Piontkovsky emphasizes, the pro-presidential majority in the Duma has changed in quality as well as quantity: “The significance of the LDPR and Motherland – parties using nationalist-populist rhetoric – could shift the center of gravity of the pro-presidential majority in the same direction.” This is an alarming sign, says Piontkovsky, especially since “similar shifts have recently taken place within the presidential administration.”

Moskovskii Komsomolets observer Alexander Minkin fully agrees that “elections in Russia are shaped by television.”

In Minkin’s view, this thesis is the best explanation for a variety of phenomena, including the lost power of Boris Berezovsky, fugitive oligarch and former Kremlin puppet-master.

Minkin says: “Ever since Berezovsky lost control of television and the Kremlin, all his projects and prophecies have fallen through.”

In 1999, Berezovsky managed to create the Unity bloc within three months, just in time for the parliamentary elections. However, his attempt to repeat the trick this year with Liberal Russia didn’t work: “That party fell apart: some of it turned into Automotive Russia, somebody died, somebody went to jail, millions of dollars were wasted and disappeared somewhere – and the results were negligible.”

All the same, Berezovsky continues to drop hints about being powerful. On many occasions, ever since 2001, he has “foretold” the end of the Putin regime.

“Why?” everyone asked him.

“I know it!” he answered. “You just wait and see!”

However, in the wake of the parliamentary elections it is clear that the Kremlin has fully mastered the techniques developed by Berezovsky: the Motherland bloc was created within three months, without external assistance.

These days, says Minkin, “virtual reality is no longer in the hands of the oligarchs. But neither is it in the hands of the public. Virtual reality has been taken over by the regime.”

Deftly manipulating television airtime, the regime achieve the result it wanted. The democratic parties lost out in the process. However, says Minkin, even that minority of democratically-minded voters who “weren’t too lazy to get their backsides off the couch on Sunday” numberd 9 million people.

Minkin believes that many of those who remained on the couch that day are now regretting that “they didn’t vote, because their votes could have ensured that those who represent their ideas and hopes would be in parliament.”

The revanche is scheduled for March 14, says Minkin: “They will turn out to vote in March.”

According to the Vedomosti newspaper, the status of “demiurge” – the designer of the new political layout – has now passed completely from Berezovsky the oligarch to Vladislav Surkov, a presidential administration official. Correspondingly, the political field has been entirely reformatted: now in the interests of the senior bureaucracy rather than the top oligarchs.

Over his four years in the Kremlin, Surkov has managed to “close off almost all political uncertainties” for the Kremlin.

Surkov, now deputy head of the presidential administration, started working in the Kremlin on May 15, 1999: three days after Yevgeny Primakov was dismissed from the post of prime minister.

Vedomosti notes that shortly before that, the Communists, led by Primakov, “almost succeeded in throwing the first president of the Russian Federation out of the Kremlin.” Once the impeachment attempt had been defeated, there remained the task of taking the strategic initiative away from the left.

Within a week of Surkov’s arrival in the Kremlin, “Operation Successor” began: FSB director Vladimir Putin was appointed as acting prime minister.

In the 1999 elections, with the direct involvement of the presidential administration, the newly-create Unity movement demolished the Fatherland movement led by Yevgeny Primakov and Yuri Luzhkov; then all the leadership posts in the Duma were divided between Unity and the Communists. The next focus of attention was television: bringing ORT under state control, sorting out NTV, restoring control over the Rossiia channel. And then Unity merged with Fatherland, which had learned its lesson, while the Communists, having failed to assess the situation correctly, became the Kremlin’s main target.

Meanwhile, the URF and Yabloko, according to Vedomosti, “treasured their friendship with Surkov, contributing as best they could to creating the cult of Putin.”

Now their aid is no longer required. On December 8, Surkov relegated the right wing to the scrap-heap of history, along with the Communists: “Imperceptibly, United Russia has become the guarantor not only of consolidation, but of democracy as well.”

Actually, Surkov himself has completed his historical mission, just like the right-wing parties; and just like them, he may be set aside, Vedomosti warns: “The political field is now completely centrist, and can function without a hitch under the guidance of far less creative people than Vladislav Surkov.”

In Izvestia, Andrei Kolesnikov says the defeat of the democratic parties in the elections has already generated several myths among the general public.

The first and most important of these, according to Kolesnikov, is that the right wing has fulfilled its historical mission and may now depart.

In Kolesnikov’s view, those who express such opinions are claiming “the functions of God” for themselves: “Why is it suddenly the case that even though the historical mission of the right wing is not complete in North America, South America, Western Europe, Eastern Europe, or anywhere else, it is nevertheless complete across the expanses of Eurasia?” Right-wing ideas are “a lot older than the dark grey walls of Old Square, and their scope extends beyond the small sheltered enclaves where leaders live.” Kolesnikov asks: Might not the opposite be true? Perhaps everything is only just beginning.

The second myth is that “the people are tired of the current right-wing leaders, so they must be replaced.” But the question is who might replace them. “Alexei Chadaev? Vladimir Ryzhkov? Automotive Russia?” Perfectly worthy people are everywhere: “Only a few minor details remain lacking: charisma, a selection of fresh ideas, and finally some sort of reasonably substantial approval rating.” Without all that, no one can claim the vacant niche, says Kolesnikov.

The third myth: “The activities of the right-wing parties has not met the expectations of the middle class.”

Kolesnikov notes that it’s long been known there is no direct correlation between incomes and voting preferences. Even in progressive Moscow, “with numerous residents who have adapted well to the new way of life, Motherland – using slogans aimed at the plebs – got 15% of the vote.” This is evidence that oddly enough, there are many well-to-do people among the supporters of “take it away and share it around” slogans. In other words, not all members Russia’s small middle class uphold liberal values. To all appearances, even the most progressive part of the middle class is distinguished by its conformism: “These people are quite satisfied with the moderate economic (not political) liberalism of the regime, the president, and the president’s party.”

Nevertheless, in Kolesnikov’s opinion, this historically-determined defeat of the right-wing parties should not be viewed as conclusively discrediting liberal ideas in Russia: “Rather the reverse. The social and political basis for liberal ideas has only just started to sprout. And unless the seedlings are deliberately poisoned by pesticides, we may assume that the liberals and/or the democrats will return to the parliament.”

But will they be the same democrats?

The Kommersant newspaper reports that the URF political council has so far refused to accept the resignations of the URF co-leaders.

Leonid Gozman, political council member and Russian Joint Energy Systems executive, has called on his colleagues “not to submit to the demands of the crowd.” Gozman noted that in 1995 there were demands for Yegor Gaidar to resign: “But without him, we wouldn’t have won in 1999!”

This point of view is shared by Yevgeny Yasin, research director at the Supreme School of Economics, who has stated that he will not support the resignations of Boris Nemtsov, Irina Khakamada, Anatoly Chubais, and Yegor Gaidar.

At the same meeting of the URF political council, Boris Nemtsov himself described the reason for his party’s defeat as follows: “Society is like a pendulum. This time, it’s swung to the left, in the direction of national-socialism.”

In Nemtsov’s view, there was little to be done about that: “Twenty million voters have benefitted from the democratic reforms. But the number of the aggrieved is even greater.”

Self-critically, Nemtsov added: “We never did tell the voters whose side we are on: with Putin, or in opposition.” Kommersant says that lack of clarity on this point may have been the final reason for the defeat.

In an interview with Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Irina Khakamada observed smoothly that the democratic parties as they are now “do not entirely correspond” to “liberal-minded voters and trends in Russia today.”

Thus, the challenge the parties will now have to meet is “creating a substantial project, perhaps on the basis of the URF, Yabloko, and other democratic forces, but with new faces and new leaders.” It would also involve “attracting broader financial support from civil society.”

However, Khakamada believes that any attempt to create a democratic faction in the new Duma is doomed to fail – unless it is formed under the Kremlin’s supervision. But in that case, there wouldn’t be much point in having such a faction at all, since it would only be “a simulation of democracy.”

The word is that all the flowers in this garden may be planted artificially: “Soft nationalists in the establishment, and some fringe parties for the proles; the Communists have made it into the Duma on their own; and finally, a right wing.” A right wing to display to the West. Well, what other options are there if democratic parties don’t grown on their own in contemporary Russia?

As Ekspert magazine commented: “If you don’t like these voters, seek others.”

Irina Khakamada told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that she herself no longer aspires to leadership roles. In fact, it seems the democratic parties may have some problems with their leaders – or rather, with what is known as “the face of the party.”

As soon as the election results became known, the URF opened consultations with Yabloko about a single presidential candidate, according to the Vedomosti newspaper. However, the talks have led nowhere so far.

URF representatives approached independent Duma member Vladimir Ryzhkov, but it turned out that having Ryzhkov as the candidate did not suit Grigori Yavlinsky; and Ryzhkov himself turned down the offer. So did the URF’s second choice: President Nikolai Fedorov of Chuvashia.

Vedomosti explains that Yabloko generally considers that the democratic presidential candidate “should be a leader of one of the parties, someone who is well-known and has a good reputation.” It isn’t hard to guess the person Yabloko has in mind.

As Vladimir Ryzhkov told Kommersant, for Yabloko leader Grigori Yavlinsky, running for president “means an opportunity to politically rehabilitate himself and his party.”

However, Vedomosti notes that in the 2000 presidential election Yavlinsky got 5.8% of the vote. And opinions vary about his prospects now.

Stanislav Belkovsky, general director of the National Strategy Council, says that if Yavlinsky runs on his own, he would get no less than 6-7%, “or more than any single right-wing candidate.”

Marat Gelman, leading political analyst and current affairs programming manager at the First Channel (ORT), believes Yavlinsky’s figures would be higher: around 10%. In Gelman’s view, if Yabloko nominates Yavlinsky, the URF will have no choice but to support him.

But the URF is still insisting on a “neutral figure.” Vladimir Ryzhkov observes: “I get the impression that the two sides are further apart now than they were a week ago.”

The Gazeta newspaper points out with some concern that the democratic parties don’t have much time left to reach agreement. As parties not represented in the Duma, they will have to collect 2 million signatures in order to nominate their candidate – a difficult task, given the upcoming New Year and Christmas holiday season. The Central Electoral Commission will be accepting registration applications from January 24 to January 28.

Political Techniques Center director Igor Bunin told Vedomosti that the URF and Yabloko are losing their last chance: they “haven’t learned any lessons from their defeat at the Duma elections.” Bunin offers a very modest estimate of Yavlinsky’s chances in the presidential election: around 3% of the vote.

Overall, according to Vedomosti, there is the danger that in March we will face a choice between undisputed presidential favorite Vladimir Putin and his “support group” – Gennadi Zyuganov and Vladimir Zhirinovsky.

The nature of Russia’s middle class determines the capacities of the politicians who represent it.

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