TAKING THE CONTROLLING INTEREST?

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Preliminary results from the March 11 regional elections

The regional elections held on March 11 identified a quartet of parties which have every chance of crossing the 7% threshold in December’s Duma election: United Russia, Just Russia, the Communist Party, and the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia.


The Central Electoral Commission has released the preliminary results for the regional legislature elections held in 14 Russian regions on March 11. The United Russia party finished first in most regions. These elections not only reveal an approximate picture of the next Duma – they have also given some almost-forgotten political forces an opportunity to be represented in parliaments again.

The regional elections identified a quartet of parties which have every chance of crossing the 7% threshold in December’s Duma election: United Russia, Just Russia, the Communist Party (CPRF), and the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR).

Vladislav Surkov, deputy head of the presidential administration, regards this as an entirely positive factor: “Any healthy democracy has a stable list of leading political parties.” At a news conference yesterday, Surkov said that this list can now be regarded as fairly stable: “Continual miracles in elections may lead to unfortunate consequences.” Surkov assured us that there were no “miracles” in these elections – that is, no unexpected results outside the framework of forecasts.

Surkov said that United Russia, averaging 44-46% of the vote, has “confirmed its status as the dominant political party.” He didn’t fail to add a compliment for United Russia’s chief rival: “Just Russia’s aspirations to become the leading opposition party are being substantiated.”

In the regional election campaigns, confrontation between the two Kremlin parties – United Russia and Just Russia – was fairly aggressive. By election day, however, United Russia’s leader, Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov, told the media that his party is prepared to cooperate with Just Russia if that party really supports President Putin’s policy course. The only question is how realistic such cooperation prospects are.

Simple addition of the seats won by United Russia and Just Russia is not sufficient to secure a controlling interest in either the regional parliaments or the Duma after the December election – although only a few months ago, when Just Russia was established, high-placed sources claimed that this objective had been set for the two parties. Kremlin officials still admit that securing this controlling interest is desirable – but it’s by no means a certainty. Experts say that even if United Russia and Just Russia form a coalition in the Duma, it would not be 100% effective; the two parties have already said too much against each other, and whatever anyone may say, the battle between them is real.

All the same, Kremlin sources maintain that all efforts in party-building and amending electoral legislation have been aimed at motivating parties to form coalitions. The most important of these efforts is the transition to a proportional voting system: electing all candidates via party lists, not single-mandate districts. This is a Kremlin initiative, yet it also presents an obstacle to any one party gaining a controlling interest in parliament. “To achieve that, it would have been far simpler to mobilize many candidates elected in single-mandate districts,” says a Kremlin source. But there won’t be any single-mandate districts in the December election.

“A proportional system makes it very difficult to achieve a simple majority, let alone a constitutional majority,” says another source. Consequently, one likely scenario involves United Russia winning the Duma election but being unable to convert its victory into a parliamentary majority – if all the opposition parties form a coalition.

Valery Fedorov, head of the All-Russia Public Opinion Research Center (VTsIOM), said at a news conference yesterday: “The driving force in this round of regional campaigns has been the battle between United Russia and Just Russia. The CPRF remained outside the focus of attention, and that played a positive role.”

Experts note that by taking second place in the regional elections, the Communists have shown that writing them off is premature. CPRF leader Gennadi Zyuganov said yesterday: “The preliminary results show that we received perceptible voter support almost everywhere. In St. Petersburg and most major cities, we practically doubled our results as compared to the previous elections.”

The Union of Right Forces (SPS) also did surprisingly well: according to preliminary results, it managed to cross the 7% threshold in five regions. This relative success may be attributed to the social rhetoric used by the SPS in its campaigns. “Despite its right-wing orientation, the SPS took the lead in using social populism,” says Fedorov. Some Kremlin officials agree with this view: according to them, in some regions the SPS campaigned from a radical left-wing position.

While there are few doubts that United Russia, Just Russia, the CPRF, and the LDPR will make it into the Duma in December, the parliamentary prospects of the SPS remain open to question. “The SPS is hovering on the threshold,” says Igor Bunin, head of the Political Techniques Center, “since this party still hasn’t achieved the kind of results that would justify confident predictions of crossing the 7% threshold in December.” This still holds true even though various experts estimate that right-wing voters make up 15-20% of the electorate.

Overall, political analysts say that this round of regional elections reveals an approximate picture of the fifth-convocation Duma – although it can’t be seen as a precise prediction of voting results in December. “The exact results achieved by political parties now should not be extrapolated to the federal parliamentary election,” says Fedorov. Not the exact numbers, of course – but political preferences have been expressed very clearly.

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The winners

In the lead-up to March 11, most politicians and political analysts viewed this round of regional elections as a dress rehearsal for the Duma election in December. The average results across the 14 regions are as follows: 45% for United Russia, 16% for the CPRF, 15.5% for Just Russia, 9.5% for the LPR, and exactly 7% for the SPS.

The losers

Strictly speaking, there were 15 regions voting on March 11: the Khanty-Mansiisk autonomous district, a component of the Tyumen region, also took part in voting for the regional legislature (59.5% for United Russia).

But many parties had no luck in these elections. Patriots of Russia fielded candidates in ten regions, but failed in all of them. The Yabloko party, participating in four regions, averaged 3.86% of the vote. People’s Will participated in the Komi republic, the Omsk region, and the Orel region – and failed everywhere. So did the Democratic Party of Russia. The same fate befell Unification, the Russian Communist Workers’ Party, and the Socialist United Party of Russia. The LDPR failed in the Omsk region, the Moscow region, and Dagestan. The Samara region may now claim to have Russia’s most democratic regional legislature: six out of the seven parties in its election succeeded in winning representation.

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