The recent fall of the United Russia party’s popularity rating was rather scandalous. However, the Sunday edition of “Vesti” solemnly declared that there was no reason for concern: according to the latest data, United Russia regained its 28% of votes, having substantially outdistanced the Communist Party’s 23%.
Still, observers keep asking questions. Did the rating of the party really fall or it was a technical mistake in calculations. What could cause such a sharp fall and rise of the rating? How does a party without a program and ideology is carrying out its agitation campaign and earns political dividends? How can such things affect the party of power in the future?
The most popular opinion is that the popularity rating fell due to replacing well-known names of Shoigu, Shaimiev, and Luzhkov with not known enough Gryzlov in VTsIOM’s questionnaires.
Therefore, as Vyacheslav Igrunov, head of the Humanitarian Political Research Institute, noted in Nezavisimaya Gazeta, the issue concerns not the essence of the party’s activities but the image: “Since the image has changed the campaign is about the image, the rating fell.”
Another expert of the Nezavisimaya Gazeta newspaper, Igor Bunin at the Political Consulting Center, views the situation similarly. Bunin has no doubts that the Shoigu-Shaimiev-Luzhkov trio adds at least 8-10% to voter support for United Russia. As for Gryzlov, Bunin says he has a serious drawback: “He is a policeman, and people dislike the police.” It is not ruled out that Gryzlov was the main reason for the United Russia party’s rating fall.
Now, in order to improve the situation, the authorities can demonstrate that all popular leaders are back to their positions and “look what will happen.” Or on the contrary, they may “restructure, reform” and even “disembowel” the party of power completely and change “faces, techniques, and ideology retaining only the name.”
One way or another, experts agree that the popularity rating of United Russia is a derivation of political techniques and any technological failure or an image mistake can become fatal for the party.
As famous politician Duma deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov noted, this party does not have the so-called “core electorate”, or voters who can remain loyal to the party under any conditions, “Voters of such parties keep moving forth and back.”
However, the fate of United Russia, according to Ryzhkov, will become clear only after the beginning of the election campaign, depending on which party the Kremlin will support, what the team and the advertising campaign will be, and whether the party’s positions in regions will grow stronger. Vladimir Ryzhkov says the party has no reasons to panic.
In fact, there is nothing impossible for the party with “an image rating”. The Izvestia newspaper writes, “It is not for nothing that on the threshold of an election campaign different actors, televisions stars, and producers, as well as popular politicians from other parties are being urgently recruited to United Russia.”
According to the paper, United Russia is currently secretly negotiating with Dmitry Rogozin, “who has a chance to become the Duma speaker next session.” There are other contenders for the speaker positions, in particular, Boris Gryzlov, Oleg Morozov, Alexander Zhukov, Vyacheslav Volodin, Lubov Sliska.
Present Duma Speaker Gennady Seleznev will obviously be unable to retain his position due to his conflict with Gennady Zyuganov and loss of support of the Communist Party.
Izvestia philosophically concluded about the new personnel style in politics: “The deficiency of personnel and the stake on the majority is the main symptom of present.”
According to the Vremya MN newspaper, United Russia is unlikely to repeat the results of the previous party of power – Unity – at the coming elections.
Vremya MN says regions with traditionally strong administrative resources – Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, other ethnic republics – can partially improve the situation. While in Moscow, Vremya MN predicts, the party of power will be unable to gain even a third of the votes Fatherland received in 1999: “Most Muscovite voters don’t like United Russia any more than Luzhkov does.”
The attempt to repeat the successful experience with Putin’s call to support the party of power will be dangerous for the head of state, “the rating of the party of power entirely depends on Putin, and the call may bring little use and will not guarantee the first place, while the second place will be considered as Putin’s defeat three months before the presidential election.”
The paper says with the present trends preserved, the Communist Party is likely to have the same 25% of votes; the Yabloko is also likely to receive its traditional 6% of votes. As for the Union of Right Forces, whose rating has been falling of late, according to Vremya MN, only extraordinary measures can save it, first of all, “tremendous financial investments.” Hence, the author of the article, political consultant Alexei Khramchikhin says, “there will not be a pro-presidential majority in the next Duma: it could happen only if United Russia gets no less that 35% of the vote, but even 20% will be a problem for it.”
The main conclusion is that Russia will again have a left-wing Duma.
However, it is an open secret that in Russia “liberal rhetoric based on the ideals of private property, reduction of state participation, and maximal freedom of competition now has little chance of winning voter support.” (A quote from the Vedomosti newspaper.)
Liberal civil society has not formed in Russia. A graphic example of this is an “unnaturally high” – according to the majority of observers – presidential popularity rating.
The rating reflects the paternalistic consciousness of Russian citizens, as well as the stably high electoral ratings of the communists: the popularity of the left wing is also a hope for a dialogue with the state, and the hope to eventually make it take care of its citizens.
As for the present party of power, despite all its attempts to pose itself as “Putin’s party”, it is still considered as “either a president’s fan-club or a queue for the feeding-trough”.
Evidently, the phenomenon of Putin’s popularity rating has been given to Russia in order to prove that “Even a very popular president is still too little for normal development.”
Stability is a necessary but not sufficient condition for such development: the unanimity and love for president cannot replace the “natural competition of public ideas” concerning the state and social system, “for which a normal party system is needed.”
Meanwhile, at present it is rather difficult to speak about competition. As the Novaya Gazeta newspaper says, if look at numerous elections in Russia closer, it is possible to notice a certain pattern, “Every time there is less and less conscious choice – it is replaced with a ruled voting of the crowd, which determines everything eventually.”
According to the paper, the power has not only learned now to manipulate the people, but also “managed to make them deeply indifferent to the results”.
Therefore, Russia has unnoticeably returned to the stagnation situation – to the election with the results known in advance.”
Of course, at present it is unrealistic to have a one-party system according to the Soviet patter. That is why, the paper says, the Kremlin has made a “ruled few party system” its ideal. The essence of the idea is very simple, says Pavel Voschanov in Novaya Gazeta, “between elections, every party has the right to carry whatever banners and to sing whatever anthems. However, there are situations – for instance, elections – when everything must be subdued to the interests of the State Stability”. Hence, there is a stable construction: the center, the allowed criticism from the right wing, and a sanctioned left wing opposition.
Evidently, centrists are the basis of the construction. On the one hand, they have a better position than the others. On the other hand, they have difficulties of their own, “the center is awfully overcrowded.” There are multiple claimers for leadership, “Everyone is willing to be in big politics without having any “public disposition”, or charisma.”
The left wing has similar issues. As Novaya Gazeta notes, there is the same lack of personalities in Zyuganov’s surrounding as in the center. Over the past years, the Communist leader has failed to find a popular successor. At the same time, Pavel Voschanov says, the society is tired of seeing the same faces, “Zyuganov, as well as Zhirinovsky and other politicians, is no longer causing strong emotions.”
So Zyuganov is unlikely to be a success at the next presidential election, and it will be “participation for the sake of participation: the political chance has been finally missed.” However, the author does not doubt that eventually, there will be a new leader, “The Kremlin will invent him.”
The right wing does not have problems with charismatic leaders, “A bunch of famous names!” Overall, the observer of Novaya Gazeta thinks the right wing has almost everything for success, “money, media resources, good teams”. The only thing it lacks is the voters.
Voschanov writes the main concern of the right wing is the “insufficient number of voters who are rushing between the Union of Right Forces and the Yabloko. Over the past years the number of supporters of the liberal idea has not increased – therefore, the votes will be put from one pocket into another.” According to the author, the example of the right wing is good evidence that the idea of “ruled few party system” is very successful for the Kremlin. The left wing is opposing not the authorities but new left wing formations; the right wing is trying to win democratic voters over to its side. A whole crowd of leaders and parties are fighting for the president’s attention in the center.
The result is more than sufficient, “No one is fighting for power, all are fighting with one another.” So the Kremlin only has to “regulate the intragroup political selection.”
The Expert magazine commented on another failed attempt to form the Unity of Right Forces and Yabloko election bloc and presumes that the alliance failed mostly due to the prevention measures from the Kremlin.
In fact, obviously, there will be two favorites in the upcoming election race – the Communist Party and United Russia. From the business viewpoints, neither party has prospects: it is rather unrealistic to “flood the Communist Party with money to have it lobby for tycoons’ interests in the next Duma.”
The United Russia, as the magazine says, is full of officialdom and is extremely influenced, “Even if there is a smallest conflict between the interests of the state and businesses, this party will definitely defends the interests of the state. What should business people do?” Hence, the Union of Right Forces is still considered to be the main support for large business. However, the popularity ratings of the party are causing concerns, “sponsors’ means may be wasted”. This is the reason for the tycoons’ initiative to merge the Union of Right Forces and the Yabloko, thus trying to guarantee their presence in the Duma.
However, the Kremlin interfered and decided to from a controlled right wing opposition. According to Expert, it has chosen Yavlinsky as there are much more issues with the Union of Right Forces, “Which has over two dozens of sponsors not subdued to the Kremlin – it is rather difficult to cut the air to the right wing.” Moreover, there are several different “parties” in the Union of Right Forces, while the pro-Kremlin bloc means a strict discipline.
On the other hand, the alliance of the Union of Right Forces and the Yabloko is quite likely to become a rival for United Russia at the Duma – it will be able to block the Kremlin’s initiatives. That is why, Expert says, a year ago, the Kremlin made a plan to tame Yavlinsky. By that time, the Yabloko had serious financial issues: its previous sponsor Vladimir Gusinsky was gone from Russia. Law enforcement bodies suddenly became interested with the leader of Legprombank Andrei Droinin, who sponsored Yavlinsky’s latest presidential campaign. As a result, the magazine noticed, by spring 2002 Yabloko leader had become more obedient than ever.
At the end of summer, Expert reminds, Yavlinsky read lectures on present situation in Russia in a number of western countries. His lectures were “extremely respectful of the Russian president and his politics.” As a result, the press started rumoring about possible new appointments for Yavlinsky, and the president estimated his attempt to participate in settling the situation during the terrorist act at the Dubrovka theatre rather positively.
However, the main thing is that Yabloko has resolved its financial difficulties – currently, the party is funded by YUKOS.
Expert shortly summarizes the reasons for choosing the Yabloko as the “right wing opposition for his majesty”: it is more profitable to be friends with Yavlinsky than with the Union of Right Forces. The former is more obedient and easier to manage. Besides, Yavlinsky may also come rather handy for Putin at the presidential election, since his party is taking votes away from communists. And of course, the magazine says, “It is much easier to buy Yavlinsky for a proposal of a post at the government, which can also be useful during the election race.”
The Yezhenedelny Zhurnal says that the brawl between the Union of Right Forces and the Yabloko has in fact become the first informational war of the upcoming election campaign. Having used the old but still popular cliche “Gaidar and Chubais have robbed the country”, Yavlinsky published the construction of his future election campaign: honest politicians – Putin and him – against dishonest politicians (the Union of Right Forces and tycoons).
Hence, the magazine writes, “It became obvious that like in the 1990s Yavlinsky will base his election campaign on contrasting himself with the right liberals as the only democratic alternative for bureaucratic capitalism.” Therefore, the magazine says, the Yabloko leader has managed to retain his polemic enthusiasm when it is restricted to criticize the power. Thus, he “has remained the opposition, but to the power which no longer exists rather than the power which is difficult and non-profitable to oppose.”
Concerning Yavlinsky’s steadfast viewpoint, Denis Dragunsky recollects in the Novoe Vremya magazine the nickname of former Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko: the West called him “Mister No”. At all international forums Gromyko earnestly spoke about security and cooperation; however, as soon as he was to make real moves, he said firm and principal “no”.
Of course, Yavlinsky supports creation of a united democratic movement, but only as a principle, some day later. “He is exactly like the Soviet diplomat.”
Apparently, Yavlinsky is losing compared to Gromyko, Novoye Vremya says – he is not backed with the former Soviet military power. However, the Yabloko is backed by the principle democratic electorate that is gradually losing interest in the debates of democratic leaders. A strong democratic alternative is much more important for it.
However, it is impossible to create it. Yavlinsky has found another obstacle in the form of Chubais’ plans to restructure the Russian Joint Energy System. He explains in detail in his interviews that the real aim of the reform is to “make a narrow circle of people wealthier”. Novoye Vremya writes, “Once they taught in Soviet schools that the main and the only aim of capitalism is to taunt labor people.”
In fact, Dragunsky writes, Yavlinsky does not think like this, “He is an educated man, a pro-westerner, and a democrat.” According to the author, the Yabloko leader may have different reasons to say this. The simplest is a primitive PR action: any criticisms of tycoons raises popularity rating as people hate tycoons.
However, the magazine thinks there is a more realistic explanations for this, “Yavlinsky does not want to tease the Kremlin,” which has not determined about the democratic flank as yet but has already given certain attention to the Yabloko. Hence, the Yabloko leader hopes to preserve the liking of the power. On the other hand, he should not forget about his voters – their patience also has limits.
“Mister No cannot say “no” forever, find faults with the procedure, and suspect his allies of disloyalty.” Moreover, very soon the Kremlin may require a complete certainty from him. So Novoye Vremya concludes, “Time will tell what democratic voters say to it.”
One way or another, not only Yabloko is trying to take advantage of the present anti-tycoon mood of the electorate. The left wing is still using a social protest as the traditional ideological basis and is currently trying to modernize its positions and to attach more cogency and scientific character to them.
As the Vremya MN newspaper notes, at present there are two formations on the left flank. One of them can be conditionally called “Communists backward!”; the other one is “Communists forward!”
Long-time leader of the Communist Party incarnates the first formation. He is nostalgic of the Soviet past – however, the newspaper thinks the attractiveness of his position is gradually falling and is likely to come to null eventually.
New and prospective left wing politician Sergei Glazyev incarnates the second position – forward to the scientific and technical progress and to reduce the social disagreements with the help of a fairer distribution of the so-called “natural revenue”.
Vremya MN says, “Currently, the tiredness of the human material in the left wing is too obvious. The ideological crisis is also evident. Glazyev is only 42, he has ideas.” He is a type of a “scientific communist”, who can convincingly use figures to demonstrate “the possibilities of ruled economic development leading to prosperity.” The people are clearly missing “educated leaders who allegedly know how to carry out the economic break-through, take the money away from tycoons, and simultaneously, to protect the people from social troubles.”
Moreover, the paper stresses, Glazyev’s efforts are well-combined with the attempts to create “some Russian version of Putin’s stagnation conservatism”.
The Unity neo-conservators also repeatedly criticize the government, liberalism, and often discuss “the state industrial policy” and social partnership.
That is why Glazyev is quite likely to become an ideologue for United Russia if the reputation of an opponent and communist would not be more profitable for him.
At the same time, despite all the attempts to earn voters’ love, United Russia has to be cautious. On the one hand, the Kremlin posed an objective to win the majority in the next Duma, or at least 300 seats. It is difficult to do it ignoring the protesting electorate: according to opinion polls, the majority of people are still dissatisfied with their present lives. “This majority still hopes for paternal care of the state which should limit the excessive appetite of tycoons, and reject reforms that are too noticeable for the pockets of ordinary voters.”
On the other hand, the essence of creation of the Duma majority is creation of the legislative basis for the reforms, which call such an annoyance of the electorate.
Vremya MN says it is a difficult dilemma, “If you go right, you will lose the electorate; if you go left, you will lose the liking of governmental structures.” Therefore, the party of power has to maneuver, carry out loud presentations with distributing party-membership cards to famous actors, showmen, public activists, and sportsmen. Besides, the party hopes of the administrative resource.
Clearly, such tactic does not help win stable voter support – this causes rating fluctuations. On the other hand, United Russia does not need stable support – it would be content with a short but passionate love affair on the eve of the elections.
The left, the right, and the center are absolutely convinced that Russian voters prefer the principle “to own just for a month” and it is easier to win them over to one’s side by a beautiful picture on television.
So the present rating figures are not a final verdict yet. The main thing is to be more active closer to December!