Dragon’s teeth

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The Vremya Novostei newspaper quotes Goran Lennmarker, president of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, as saying: “We cannot describe these elections as fair, since they failed to meet many of the criteria accepted in Europe.”

This opinion was seconded by Luc van den Brande, head of the observer delegation from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE): “This wasn’t a parliamentary election – it was a referendum in favor of the president.”

Communist Party (CPRF) leader Gennady Zyuganov described the assessments of Western observers as “entirely natural.” Comrade Zyuganov said: “These elections were so dirty, and the numerous irregularities were so glaring, that only the deaf and blind could fail to be aware of all this.”

According to the Gazeta newspaper, the CPRF has yet to complete its parallel vote-count, based on reports from 300,000 CPRF observers at polling stations nationwide. Ivan Melnikov, senior deputy chairman of the CPRF Central Committee, has already stated that the CPRF actually got 20% of the vote – not 11.6%, as reported by the Central Electoral Commission (CEC). Vadim Soloviev, head of the CPRF Central Committee’s legal service, told Gazeta that according to the latest data from the parallel count, United Russia’s share of the vote was only 54.7%, rather than the figure of 64.2% reported by the CEC.

However, after expressing loud and public outrage over election fraud, the CPRF decided to cancel the protest rally it was planning to hold on December 4 outside the presidential administration. Instead, as Gazeta notes, Zyuganov has concentrated his efforts on distributing his party’s nine additional Duma seats.

The Kommersant newspaper reports that CEC Chairman Vladimir Churov has announced the fifth Duma’s quantitative configuration of forces. United Russia’s faction will have 315 lawmakers, the CPRF will have 57, the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) will have 40, and Just Russia will have 38.

The Radio Liberty website quotes political analyst Sergei Markov as saying that the greatest winner in these elections was Vladimir Putin. Since both United Russia (64% of the vote) and Just Russia (8%) were strongly pro-presidential in their campaigns, this gives Putin a total of 72% support.

According to Kommersant, Just Russia leader Sergei Mironov has also proposed “adding up” his party’s votes and United Russia’s votes, and regarding them as votes in support of Putin.

Vladimir Churov declared that no violations that might cast doubt on the election outcome took place in the course of voting. The CEC countered Lennmarker’s criticism by producing a report from CIS observer Bakytzhan Zhumagulov. “The flaws were not of a systematic nature. The elections were open and free,” said Zhumagulov. Vremya Novostei notes that Zhumagulov serves as speaker of the parliament (majalis) in Kazakhstan, where the latest elections produced a one-party parliament after the pro-presidential party got 90% of the vote.

Vremya Novostei notes that in comparison to Kazakhstan’s majalis, the fifth-convocation State Duma will be a model of pluralism: it will have four factions.

Gazeta.ru points out that the Kremlin made a serious slip in the election campaign. While giving the green light for administrative initiatives, it overlooked Russia’s growing use of the Internet – where censorship doesn’t apply (yet). In contrast to the Duma elections of 2003, when reports of bureaucratic and administrative abuses generally came in by phone or fax, in 2007 they were reported online by a huge number of people all over the country.

Gazeta.ru emphasizes that since the use of administrative resources for election purposes is expressly forbidden by electoral legislation, the election results would be open to question if even a quarter of these numerous unconfirmed reports are found to be true.

But aside from those unconfirmed irregularities, everyone could see the extensive media coverage given to speeches by the president, regional leaders, and other senior officials – allegedly “not campaigning,” because they spoke as state office-holders, not as candidates. Everyone could see media dominance of “news” about one particular party and its candidates, and the obvious prevalence of that party’s campaign advertising on the streets and in letter-boxes.

According to Kommersant, regions which failed to meet their set targets for United Russia votes in the Duma elections are preparing to work on their mistakes. Opposition parties claim that the delinquent regions will be punished. In fact, some leaders have already been held accountable for United Russia’s failure to meet targets: a mayor has resigned in Udmurtia because United Russia got only 41% of the vote in the city of Glazov.

At a round-table forum held to discuss election results, Mercator Center Director Dmitri Oreshkin looked at differences across the regions. Radio Liberty reported on this event. According to Oreshkin, Russia is gradually entering the preparation stage for a bourgeois revolution, literally: a revolution in the cities.

Oreshkin said: “Urban support for United Russia is declining. Despite all its administrative resources, United Russia’s share of the vote in urban districts is 10-15% lower than in rural districts. Support for United Russia is concentrated deep in the provinces, where it’s possible to make 100% of pensioners turn up and vote for United Russia. Election statistics showed that Yeltsin was a president of the cities – that is, his share of the vote was always higher in urban districts. Putin and United Russia are the president and the party of the provinces.”

The Weekly Standard has published an article by Michael Weiss (translated into Russian at Inopressa.ru), in which the author stresses Putin’s reliance on the regions. Weiss says: “Many have asked why Putin went to so much trouble to shore up a victory that was inevitable and that, on the surface, only earned United Russia 12 additional seats in an obsolescent legislature. One reason he broke with the post-Soviet presidential custom and aligned himself with a party at all had to do with the governors of Russia’s 89 administrative regions… Sixty-five governors led local United Russia lists this year, giving the party and its new figurehead unfettered control over every regional apparatus.”

Political analysts and politicians seem undeterred by ending up with egg on their faces, over and over again; even though their previous predictions have failed to come true, they are still making forecasts about how the political situation may develop.

Stanislav Belkovsky, president of the National Strategy Institute, is predicting that the presidential election will take place ahead of schedule; rights activist Alexander Podrabinek has described the circumstances that might lead to dictatorship being established in Russia; and Vladimir Zhirinovsky maintains that United Russia’s dominance in the Duma will lead to the formation of a party-based government.

Belkovsky told RBC Daily that Putin might have a reason for requesting the new Duma to hold its first meeting early; he might be planning to bring the presidential election forward. Belkovsky said: “If Putin remains in the Kremlin until the end of his term, the elite would regard the Kremlin’s presidential candidate as a kind of false front, so there might be some complications with the successor’s election – a second round of voting may be required.” In Belkovsky’s view, having both an outgoing president and an incoming president in the Kremlin would destabilize the situation. And an early election would offer the Kremlin another advantage: making it easier for the successor to stir up the electorate while it hasn’t entirely cooled down after the Duma elections.

Alexander Podrabine, chief editor at the Prima rights protection news agency, says in Yezhednevnyi Zhurnal: “Almost everything is in place for finalizing the establishment of a regime based on personal rule – by Putin himself or his successor. The prerequisites are there: an atmosphere of universal support, a controlled parliament, obedient courts, controlled television broadcasting, reliable special services and Armed Forces.” Podrabinek notes the statement made by Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov, United Russia’s leader, on December 2: he said that the new Duma might consider the question of independence for Abkhazia and South Ossetia as soon as January. Podrabinek points out that by the next day, President Putin had called on the Duma to hold its first meeting early, not waiting until the end of the 30-day period specified by law. Podrabinek predicts that an early Duma meeting might consider the use of force to resolve the Abkhazian and South Ossetian conflicts, thus creating a pretext for establishing dictatorship.

RBC Daily reports that straight after the elections and United Russia’s victory, LDPR leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky immediately suggested that the Kremlin would propose forming a government based on the parliamentary majority: “Otherwise, what’s the point of citizens voting for a party whose representatives remain in the parliament, only passing laws that ministers fail to implement in full.”

RBC Daily emphasizes that the most convincing argument for such a scenario is that it would provide a straightforward option for Vladimir Putin’s employment after the presidential election: he could become the United Russia party’s leader. In that event, Putin would retain a key function: being able to form the government and use it to oversee his successor’s activities.

United Russia itself still hasn’t reached consensus on this issue. President Mintimer Shaimiyev of Tatarstan, co-chairman of United Russia’s high council, says that the Duma’s influence on the formation of the government should be maximized. “Our party intends to form a party-based government for the first time,” said Shaimiyev, even calling on his party colleagues “not to repeat the mistakes of the Duma’s previous convocation.”

Another United Russia member, Pavel Krasheninnikov, chairman of the Duma’s legislation committee, maintains that party affiliation for federal ministers isn’t all that important. Krasheninnikov told RBC Daily: “Members of the Cabinet should be selected for their skills.”

Leaders of the liberal parties that failed to make it into the Duma remain optimistic. Kommersant reports that the Union of Right Forces (SPS) regards its 1% of the vote as “a moral victory over United Russia.” Boris Nemtsov has stated that the SPS is prepared to discuss unification of the pro-democracy forces in the lead-up to the presidential election. The SPS will decide on a course of action at its congress, scheduled for December 17.

Anatoly Chubais, head of RAO Unified Energy Systems, pointed out that United Russia faces the same danger as any other monopoly. “They’re running the same risks as the CPSU – monopolies tend to gradually decay, and that law is equally applicable in politics and economics.” Therefore, says Chubais, the SPS has every chance of defeating the present-day regime sometime in the future.

Yabloko doesn’t rule out the possibility of some opportunities arising in the near future. Yabloko leader Grigori Yavlinsky predicts that the situation during the presidential campaign “will be changing greatly, since it’s extremely unstable.” He regards the new Duma as a one-party parliament, and says that this “greatly undermines the regime’s legitimacy.” According to Yavlinsky, this is “a crack in the regime’s foundations.”

Alexander Kolesnikov, deputy editor-in-chief of The New Times magazine, says at Gazeta.ru that Yabloko and the SPS now have an opportunity to establish themselves as informal “street parties,” not represented in parliament: “This is not an easy fate, especially at a time when political repression is becoming an instrument of government.”

Kolesnikov maintains that there is some chance of new leaders emerging, or even new parties. He draws comparisons with Poland’s experience: “The liberal Freedom Union was almost entirely annihilated, but it was replaced by Civil Platform, which is now winning one election after another, and is already in government.” Kolesnikov emphasizes that this became possible because Poland’s democratic institutions – especially electoral legislation, freedom of speech, freedom of the press – have never ceased to function normally.

Inopressa.ru posted a translated article by Newsweek observer Owen Matthews, in which he warns: “In destroying the mechanisms of Russian democracy, instead of nurturing them, Putin has sown dragon’s teeth for the future.” Matthews maintains that high-flown speeches about the need to “manage” democracy for the sake of stability are a cover for baser motives: Putin and his friends have eliminated democracy in order to keep themselves in power and in business indefinitely.

Matthews offers a prediction: “Moreover, Putin has played on ugly nationalism to boost his already sky-high popularity. He has created creepy, loyalist youth groups to act as shock troops against the enemy of the moment – whether it’s Kasparov or troublesome neighbors like the Estonians or the Georgians – whose xenophobic credos could metamorphose into something far darker and more dangerous if Russia’s economy starts to crash.”

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