Elections for three

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All 14 parties that intend to participate in the parliamentary election managed to get their registration applications to the Central Electoral Commission (CEC) by the deadline. Four parties have had their candidate lists registered already: the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), Just Russia, the Communist Party (CPRF), and Patriots of Russia.

The CEC will deliver its final decisions on October 28, approving or denying registration for the federal lists of the remaining ten parties. CEC Chairman Vladimir Churov told Echo of Moscow Radio that the number of parties may be reduced at the registration stage: not all of them will be permitted to participate in the election.

The Kommersant newspaper reports that the CEC has checked the signature lists submitted by the Democratic Party of Russia (DPR) and found flaws in 6% of them – exceeding the permitted threshold by 1%.

According to DPR leader Andrei Bogdanov, the CEC’s initial checks found a flaw rate of only 4.8%. “The signature lists were notarized incorrectly – it was a mistake made by the notaries. We’re submitting re-notarized lists to the CEC and requesting it to take them into account,” said Bogdanov. He expressed the hope that the total flaw percentage would be no higher than 4.1%.

Indirect evidence of the parties’ chances may be found in the first reports on the contents of their campaign funds. As at October 12, seven parties are noteworthy for their resources, and the other seven are noteworthy for their lack of resources. The bank account of the first party to be registered, the LDPR, has received the most money: almost 290 million rubles. The LDPR has also reported the most spending to date: 170 million rubles. It’s followed by United Russia, which has 200 million rubles in its campaign fund and hasn’t spent a single kopeck so far. Next is the Union of Right Forces (SPS), with its campaign fund receiving 97.5 million rubles and spending 72 million rubles. Just Russia (66 million rubles), Patriots of Russia (60 million rubles), and Yabloko (60 million rubles) immediately spent their entire campaign funds on the bonds required to register for the election. The CPRF’s campaign fund has received 51 million rubles and spent 29 million rubles. The remaining seven parties have campaign funds ranging from 3 million rubles (DPR) to 55,000 rubles (the Greens).

According to CEC member Yevgeny Kolyushin, this indicates that seven parties are financially incapable of organizing a campaign, and “you can’t get by without money these days.” He also finds it odd that “everyone’s talking about United Russia, but there’s been no movement of funds from its bank account.” Kolyushin suggests that United Russia “is probably using methods that enable it to influence voters without incurring any costs: administrative resources, or campaigning disguised as news coverage.”

Andrei Vorobiev, head of United Russia’s executive committee, submitted lists of the party’s authorized representatives to the CEC on October 16. He noted that since United Russia wasn’t submitting its registration documents until the deadline (October 17), it had not yet launched active campaign measures that entail spending – but it will do so very soon.

The New Times magazine maintains that the main focus of suspense in this election race is whether anyone will be bold enough to criticize United Russia and its leading candidate.

“For Putin or against Putin? That’s the big question for all parties,” says Igor Bunin, general director of the Political Techniques Center. “What we’re dealing with isn’t really a parliamentary election at all – it’s a referendum on confidence in the president.”

All the analysts and political consultants The New Times approached for comments agree on the main point: in effect, this will be the first Duma election to feature a lack of mud-slinging and negative campaign advertising (known as “black PR”). “Mud-slinging served a purpose in the Duma campaign eight years ago,” says Mikhail Omsky, director of the Image Contact consultancy. “But it’s pointless in the present circumstances – party campaigning will revert to the stone age.”

Sergei Zverev, president of the Public Relations Development Company, points out that the new electoral legislation essentially bans any criticism of opponents.

In effect, the only remaining arena for “black PR” is the Internet – since not even the CEC has managed to bring that under control as yet. But online campaigning is too weak a resource to have a nationwide impact on the election results, according to The New Times.

Last week, for example, the online audience was treated to a music video featuring a song about “Putin’s plan.” The obvious drug connotations (“plan” is slang for marijuana) enabled the songwriters to come up with lines like the following: “Hustler’s fighting Playboy for photos of the president / Putin’s plan does the job every time / What successor, where? Let it be Connie the dog / Or Sergei Medvedev, son of Ramzan. Happy now?” The video file was downloaded about 25,000 times within a few days, and the number of audio-only downloads was too high to count; but this still falls a long way short of the audience numbers for television broadcasts on the Channel One or Channel Two networks.

The Gazeta newspaper presents some research from the Sova Analytical Center, predicting that parties won’t be indulging in nationalist rhetoric during this campaign. “Hate Speech in Regional Elections: Winter 2006-07” is the title of Sova’s research report, based on media analysis in the Moscow region, the Komi republic, St. Petersburg, and the Stavropol territory. The report concludes that regional election campaigns offer no grounds to predict that politicians will be using xenophobic rhetoric intensively in the Duma campaign. It notes that election campaigns in the press “were noteworthy for their extreme dullness, bordering on formalism,” and campaign materials focused on social policy issues, as a rule. Sova staffer Galina Kozhevnikova told Gazeta: “This isn’t just because parties and candidates fear some sort of penalties. It’s simply that some politicians overestimated the experience of Motherland (Rodina), which was widely believed to have achieved a certain amount of success in the Duma election of 2003 by using nationalist rhetoric. In reality, its success was mostly due to its social policy promises. And that’s what people are talking about now.”

The media are still trying to guess how many parties will be in the new Duma. Nezavisimaya Gazeta predicts that contrary to the Kremlin’s plan to have four parties there (United Russia, the CPRF, Just Russia, the LDPR), the new Duma will have only three. As evidence of this, Nezavisimaya Gazeta quotes Senior Deputy Duma Speaker Oleg Morozov: “The new Duma will work effectively if at least three parties are represented there.”

Nezavisimaya Gazeta notes that United Russia is aiming for up to 75% of the vote. The party’s reasoning is simple: Vladimir Putin got 71.3% of the vote in the presidential election of 2004, so he can’t possibly get less in the current election – and the party led by such a record-breaker ought to get even more, up to 75%.

Opinion polls provide some indirect support for United Russia’s confidence, although their figures are lower. Thus, according to the Public Opinion Foundation (FOM) October 13-14 poll, as reported in Nezavisimaya Gazeta, United Russia’s voter support rating has risen by 8% over the past two weeks, from 36% to 44%. Public confidence in President Putin has risen by 4% – from 53% to 56%.

FOM President Alexander Oslon comments on the situation as follows: “President Putin has helped United Russia: this is coming through already, and will continue to do so.” Oslon predicts that United Russia’s rating could rise still further, as a proportion of all respondents, “especially if there are some news events linking Putin with the party (and they will happen), and if United Russia’s campaign portrays the election as a referendum on support for ‘Putin’s party.'”

Figures from the All-Russian Public Opinion Research Center (VTsIOM) reflect the same trend. In commenting on the VTsIOM poll, Gleb Pavlovsky, president of the Effective Policy Foundation, indicated that it’s very likely to continue: “The rating will keep growing for some time: Russia is a large country, and the news is still spreading. With this kind of support, United Russia could get around 65-67% of the vote.”

If United Russia’s own figure of 75% is taken as a constant, that leaves only 25% of the vote for the other three main contenders (CPRF, Just Russia, LDPR). And Nezavisimaya Gazeta points out that 7-10% should be subtracted to cover the votes that will go to ten minor parties. Simple arithmetic shows that the remaining 15-18% isn’t enough to provide 7% for each of three parties.

Nezavisimaya Gazeta predicts around 10% of the vote for the CPRF, based on the 12.5% it recorded in 2003 and the improved living standards of Russia’s working masses.

Nezavisimaya Gazeta goes on to say: “The LDPR got almost 11.5% in 2003, but Vladimir Zhirinovsky has lost a lot of ground since then. Yet it would be foolish of the Kremlin to place Andrei Lugovoi on the LDPR’s candidate list, only to see the party leave the stage. This means – and the rumor-mongers confirm it – that the LDPR will make it into the Duma after all, even if it has to drag itself over the 7% threshold by its teeth.”

Nezavisimaya Gazeta concludes that the unlucky party will be Just Russia, noting that even Just Russia’s own activists admit (off the record) that their party isn’t likely to do better than 3%.

The New Times maintains that the decline in Just Russia’s support rating has been prompted by Vladimir Putin’s decision to head United Russia’s candidate list. Mikhail Vinogradov, deputy director of the Political Conjuncture Center, says that Just Russia has been sent into a coma by Putin’s announcement at the United Russia congress and won’t be able to emerge from that coma before December.

But The New Times also takes the view that no final decision has yet been made on which party will be the third in the Duma: the LDPR or Just Russia.

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