On Sunday, March 12, citizens of the Russian Federation tried out what the national newspapers described as “perhaps the most important innovation in Russia’s electoral system” – a common voting day established for regional and local elections. From now on, such elections will be held on only two days each year: the second Sunday in March and the second Sunday in October.
As Central Electoral Commission (CEC) Chairman Alexander Veshnyakov has explained on numerous occasions, this has been done in order to cut costs and increase voter turnout.
The voter turnout situation remained unclear – at least in Moscow, where the Medvedkovo district held a by-election for the Duma to replace Georgy Boos, promoted to governor of Kaliningrad.
The Kommersant newspaper reported that this by-election, as expected, “was won easily by United Russia’s candidate Leonid Govorov, whom the electoral commission’s efforts had left without any substantial rivals.”
Meanwhile, Govorov’s disqualified rivals – Andrei Babushkin, deputy leader of Yabloko’s Moscow branch, and well-known former GRU colonel Vladimir Kvachkov, charged with attempting to murder Anatoly Chubais – claimed that actual turnout was around 15-17%, in contrast to the electoral commission’s figure of 28%. The minimal required voter turnout in Moscow is 25%.
Babushkin, who visited polling stations personally, assured journalists that as at 6 p.m. (on voting day) no station had recorded turnout greater than 17%, “and all the electoral commission chairs were saying that the required minimum wouldn’t be reached.” Kvachkov’s campaign team reported that most of the added votes came from portable ballot-boxes.
One way or another, minimal turnout was secured; the Moscow by-election was declared valid, like the elections held in 68 other Russian regions.
This time again, United Russia was undisputed leader, winning 197 out of 359 seats in regional legislatures. In eight regions there are new regional parliaments in which United Russia is the monopolist.
The results of other parties are much more modest: the Communist Party (CPRF) won 39 seats, and the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) won only 16.
United Russia leader Boris Gryzlov estimated the results of the passed elections as “average level of the party’s support” in the talk with a columnist of Kommersant.
However, as the Vedomosti puts it, “in some regions – for instance, in the republic of Altai or the Kirov region” – United Russia didn’t even manage to get 30%.
Rostislav Turovsky, an expert from Regional Policy Institute, explained to Vedomosti that United Russia performed well where the party lists were headed by regional leaders. For instance, that happened in Nizhniy Novgorod and Khanty-Mansyisk autonomous district. However, as Turovsky puts it, “the party isn’t very popular in Russia.”
Meanwhile, Turovsky emphasizes, United Russia has to obtain about 45-50% of the votes to win a constitutional majority in the next Duma. Regional leaders of United Russia, where such result had not been obtained, link their “conditional victory” with the sequences of the housing services reform – a rise in housing and utility rates in early 2006.
Nevertheless, in the party’s General Council they do not doubt that on the threshold of the 2007 elections, the party would manage to gain popularity at the expense of more active policy in the regions, as well as at the expense of using “federal media channels.”
Still, Nikolay Petrov, manager of Political-Geographical Research Center, estimated the present result of United Russia as its “electoral limit” in Vedomosti.
“As Soon as United Russia Evaporates” – an article under such headline was published by Kommersant-Vlast magazine on March 12.
On the one hand, as the magazine puts it, United Russia has something to be proud of: on the threshold of elections, United Russia leader Boris Gryzlov declared about they had surpassed a wonderful line of 1 million members.
At present, no party could be compared with them in the respect of quantity. There are about 180,000 communists, according to the data provided by CPRF management, 105,000 of “granted” members in Motherland, 90,000 – in LDPR, while Union of Right Forces and Yabloko managed to surpass the required threshold of 50,000 only – the minimal line.
On the other hand, notes Kommersant-Vlast, the ruling party’s plans at the time it was established in 2001 were more large-scale.
In May 2002, a United Russia political council member Franz Klintsevich promised that a million would be reached by the end of that very year (at the establishing moment there were 60,000). Moreover, Klintsevich promised two million by late 2003.
As a matter of fact, the growth of United Russia ranks has not been so rapid – there were both take-offs and slumps.
In general, as Kommersant-Vlast puts it, the membership dynamics of United Russia greatly resemble the corresponding line of its predecessor – the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, “of course, if we take the year of 1917 as a starting point, not 1898 when the RSDRP was established.”
Actually, there are a great many amusing parallels: for instance, the first dashing growth of Communists’ membership numbers happened during the Civil War, while United Russia saw the same trend in 2001-03 when “federal troops were bringing rebellious Chechnya under their control and the Kremlin was running a cold war with regional leaders aiming at bringing regional laws into compliance with federal law.”
Reducing of growth rates in the Communist Party could be correlated with the dynamics of United Russia in calm 2004-06.
If we continue drawing parallels, the magazine continues, then in 2010-12, i.e. two years after election of Vladimir Putin’s successor, United Russia should expect substantial internal conflict (that happened to the Communists in 1937).
In 2023, United Russia will have to destroy the cult of personality – “it does not matter whether it would be Vladimir Putin or any of his closest companions-in-arms.”
Furthermore, in 2039 there will be another reconstruction of United Russia, and complete liquidation in a couple of years.
Still, if another methodic of counting the party’s members is applied (the Communists counted not only actual members but candidates as well), the picture gets much more fascinating.
As Kommersant-Vlast puts it, having such counting system, clearings up in the party analogous to those in 1927, could begin yet in the year of 2007.
One could wait for destruction of the cult of personality in 2016 and reconstruction with the following liquidation of the party – in 2027.
The total present ruling party life cycle under such variant, as columnist of Kommersant-Vlast Dmitri Kamyshev says, “almost correlates with the Vladislav Surkov’s, deputy of the President’s administration manager, decree, who set a task “to dominate Russian politics” during upcoming 10-15 years for United Russia.”
However, many observers doubt that such task could be fulfilled.
Chief editor of Moskovskye Novosti weekly Vitaliy Tretyakov, analyzing Vladislav Surkov’s report to United Russia members, declared that he was not agree with him in assessing “the party-political situation in this country.”
Admitting, together with Surkov, the possibility of creating democracy in Russia (in its “sovereign” variant, which Tretyakov calls “autocracy” – a Russian analogue), chief editor of Moskovskye Novosti doubts the possibility of establishing the party system “analogous to those in Germany, Sweden or Japan.”
There is other truth, since the authors notes that “it is out of my duties to create such a system. In this sense, certainly, I am more free than Vladislav Surkov even with all his administrative might and power.” On the whole, from thw viewpoint of Vitaliy Tretyakov, attempts to orient United Russia at tasks and aims set by Surkov resembles both “the labors of Sisyphus and genial liquidation of ignorance” – since “one his performance is broadcast by hundreds of channels together with contrary products of mass culture in the respect of ideology and aesthetics.”
Not taking into consideration the present reality, “surviving, which demands other forces – not those declared by Vladislav Surkov.”
It seems that the main ideologist from the Kremlin invented a dialectical method independently, as Nikolay Gulko puts it in Kommersant-Vlast magazine. He did it independently, since “in the respect of several biographical grounds,” Vladislav Surkov had hardly studied the Marx-Lenin philosophy.
The dialectical method, according to the definition of Kommersant-Vlast, is a method “of convincing the audience, at which the indirectness of conveying ideas and even logical contradictions are considered to be advantage by the author.” Such method is especially effective, as the magazine stresses, “when the orator is a leader for the audience, and the employees’ carriers are in his hands.”
The essence of what Surkov said, from the viewpoint of Kommersant-Vlast, is rather simple: anyone who wants to rule the country unless its present leaders pushes it to the past.
At the same time, these “pushers to the past” create various “cynical alliances, since they do not have any ideology.”
While those to whom Surkov appeals have ideology – that proposed by himself.
And that is why “you can, i.e. you have both to struggle against them and to enter any alliance you like.”
The key problem sounds like that, “Does this tactics guarantee success in life?” The answer is simple, “Surely not. Wish you good luck, colleagues.”
“For whom is Surkov doing so much?” asks prominent journalist Olga Romanova in Newsweek Russia magazine. “For Putin, who has been a lame duck for a long time already? For Ivanov, for Sechin, for Medvedev or for Shoigu?”
“It’s not likely that he’s doing this for himself only – as Vladimir Lenin did with the Bolsheviks and Iskra.”
This “young, handsome, dark-haired man,” as Romanova describes him, is tired of working “for somebody else.” Moreover, he was in charge of project Successor three times in a row: for Eltsin in 1996 and for Putin twice.
Indeed, for how long? “Now Surkov is acting for himself,” Olga Romanova insists. “Surkov wants to be a successor. Study the thesis – perhaps they will be of use.”
Furthermore, as Novye Izvestia puts it, Putin may step down early.
Novye Izvestia informs its leaders that it got the corresponding information from “senior members of several parties in the Duma.” According to their information, in December of 2007, the parliamentary and presidential elections may take place simultaneously.
Experts approached for comments by Novye Izvestia do not doubt that United Russia would support such scenario, in case it is voiced, since “having taken the electoral wave of Vladimir Putin,” the ruling party may get additional votes providing the constitutional majority in the next parliament.
Secretary of the Union of Right Forces Political Council Boris Nadezhdin admitted in the interview that such variant is rather possible.
The matching of elections, from his viewpoint, is profitable for United Russia and unprofitable for all the other parties. That is why these leaders are not able to help their parties at the elections. As for the Kremlin project, the situation differs here, “the rating of the informal leader is two-and-a-half times higher than that of the party,” and, participating in the electoral campaign, United Russia could get many more votes than in 2003.
However, the question is whether President Putin is ready to step down early.
Still, head of the National Strategy Institute Stanislav Belkovsky is sure that Vladimir Putin has some real motives for such a move. “This gesture may be addressed to the West as a demonstration of goodwill and to show that Putin isn’t power-hungry,” Belkovsky told Novye Izvestiya. “After all, it certainly seems like some position of power has been prepared for Putin at the international level, after he steps down.”
Somehow or other, the past elections, as Kommersant crowns it all, demonstrated that monopoly of United Russia has no threats today.
The status of “principal oppositionists” on the voting results was confirmed by the Communists, simultaneously proving the fact that they were not ready to struggle for power.
Another result of these elections, as Kommersant puts it, “is a complete failure of democrats, which doubted the very idea of establishing the united democratic opposition until the federal election of 2007-2008. The democratic parties did not manage to overcome a set threshold in any region.
As Sergei Ivanenko, Yabloko deputy leader, told Kommersant, the ground of a failure is “the atmosphere in this country,” which leaded to one-party system.
As well as complete disappointment of the voters, “After democrats ruling this country for 15 years, the life had not changed for the best – it is difficult to believe that there are other, honest democrats, who are ready to fulfill ambitious plans.”
It is also interesting that the Motherland party, disqualified in all regions except the republic of Altai, took the second place in that election, tripling its 2003 result.
Political scientist from Altai Alexei Kuchigashev told Kommersant that Motherland was kept in those lists for finding out its chances.
The result shocked everyone: it became clear that Rogozin’s supporters have the population’s support and that could threat results of United Russia at the upcoming parliamentary elections.
However, as the Gazeta newspaper puts it, in the article devoted to the results of March 12 elections, on the whole they were rather satisfactory, “The Kremlin may draw a picture with pleasant colors.” According to Gazeta, only color “against all” does not match everything else, which got 16% of votes in Kaliningrad and was ahead even of the Communist Party with its protest electorate.
However, this very candidate, following trends of the Russian electoral legislation, to all appearances, is to be completely liquidated.