A portrait of the electorate against the backdrop of the campaign: no outstanding interest in elections expected


At the start of the week, the press triumphantly announced the end of another stage of the election campaign: nominations for Duma candidates had closed.

Alexander Veshnyakov, chairman of the Central Electoral Commission, told journalists (as quoted in Nezavisimaya Gazeta), that 21 parties and five electoral coalitions, which include more 12 parties, have been admitted to the elections. Overall, 2,700 people have announced their intention to run in the elections in single-mandate districts.

According to calculations of the Central Electoral Commission, on average ten candidates are being nominated in each single-mandate district; however, there will be 28 candidates in one single-mandate district in St. Petersburg. Nevertheless, these are mere declarations of intent on the eve of elections: only those who manage to either collect the required number of signatures in their support by 6.22 p.m. on October 22, or lodge an election bond, will be registered as candidates. The size of the bond is impressive – 37 million rubles for a party’s list or 900,000 rubles per candidate.

In order to gain attention of the electorate, both parties and electoral coalitions have attempted listing as many prominent names as possible, primarily of representatives of the executive branch of power and, besides, current Duma members, famous generals, show-business celebrities, and athletes.

As should be expected, says the Kommersant newspaper, United Russia leads the field in the number of state officials on its list. Two federal ministers, Boris Gryzlov and Sergei Shoigu, and two regional leaders – Yuri Luzhkov and Mintimer Shaimiyev – are the focus of its electoral list. The regional lists have 27 more regional leaders.

Kommersant lays a stress on the “turncoats” – Gennady Khodyrev (of Nizhny Novgorod) and Alexander Tkachev (of Krasnodar territory), who deserted the left wing in favor of the United Russia party. Kemerovo Governor Aman Tuleyev, former co-chairman of the People’s Patriotic Union of Russia, is also on the electoral lists of United Russia. However, notes the newspaper, regional heads have no intention to become deputies and “officials of the second echelon” will occupy their seats in the Duma.

The communists have preferred “proven specialists” – experienced party activists. The federal list of the CPRF has Valentin Kuptsov, and Ivan Melnikov, both of them deputy chairmen of the CPRF’s central council, and Sergei Reshulsky, coordinator of the CPRF faction in the Duma.

The electoral lists of the left also contain several oligarchs, says Kommersant: in addition to Alexei Kondaurov and Sergei Muravlenko (13th and 14th places on the federal list), both representing YUKOS, Igor Linshits, president of Neftyanoi Bank ranks 3rd in the “Kuznetsk-Altai” group.

Vedomosti newspaper enumerates many representatives of the business class, who are ready to run for Duma – primarily on the lists of United Russia and the People’s Party, Party of Life, etc. Among them are also candidates from single-mandate districts. Vedomosti gives an opinion of independent deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov, who links activity of the “consumer lobby” in the parliamentary elections to the boom, which id available in this economic sector.

Ryzhkov notes that the sales of the leading consumer’s companies amounts to hundreds of millions of dollars, and “political ambitions arise where large capital is available.”

The papers say that political ambition is precisely what a certain part of the presidential administration, so-called “security ministers,” doesn’t like about representatives of big business.

The media agencies have recently informed us about a new phase in the case of YUKOS: the Prosecutor General’s Office carried out more search operations in the structures affiliated with the company. According to Vremya Novostei, “over the entire period since the searches in July, the investigators have been studying the materials obtained.” They were trying to figure out where YUKOS might be hiding its archives containing compromising evidence. And they have finally guessed it: “The cache proved to be an orphanage sponsored by YUKOS, where a computer previously owned by the Menatep Group was taken as far back as 1997.”

Predictably, the search at the orphanage owned by YUKOS aroused a storm in the press.

“Few people have known until now that YUKOS has its own children’s home in the Koralovo settlement. The children living there are the children of soldiers and police killed in the line of duty,” says Nezavisimaya Gazeta.

According to YUKOS spokeswoman Tatiana Ismailova, the arrival of four trucks of armed soldiers and a carload of armed police at a children’s home shocked both the adults and children present.

Simultaneously, search operations were carried out at the YUKOS business center in Zhukovka, and an office belonging to Duma member Vladimir Dubov. The owner of the office was told that this did not involve violating his parliamentary immunity, since “the search is not related to his parliamentary activities.”

“The parliament was disbanded by force a decade ago in order to pass a new Constitution. The current Constitution is virtually stained with blood. The latest precedent has proven the low worth of this blood,” said Nezavisimaya Gazeta.

“What have we got? It turned out that a decade after the Constitution was passed, nobody and nothing is really protected. Everybody is afraid,” says Novaya Gazeta. The fears vary: “Citizens are afraid of abuses, humiliation and poverty; business fears protection rackets, attacks and illegal confiscation of property. The media are afraid of being shut down under the pretext of a business dispute. In their turn, the bureaucrats are afraid of the media. The government on the whole and each minister individually fear being dismissed at any moment without explanations.” The politicians fear the approaching elections, “the president fears the truth about the country and himself.” In the opinion of Novaya Gazeta, security ministers alone have no fears: “They are certain that they’ll always have the club in their hands, that no rival or anybody else will seize it tomorrow.”

The events in Russia nowadays “are a fight between clans, rather than a fight against corruption, says Novaya Gazeta.

In opinion of Nezavisimaya Gazeta, “those who now have plans to become members of the new Duma have been shown: no parliamentary immunity actually exists and each deputy can be regarded as a potential criminal “in cases which are not related to the parliamentary activities, which is an instrument of pressure already.”

However, pathetic references to October 1993 are hardly likely to impress the readers. As reported by the Kommersant newspaper, the public attitude towards the events of 1993 has undergone a considerable change. A decade ago, over 50% of respondents had no doubt that it was lawful to use force during disorders in Moscow. In the meantime, almost 80% of respondents now think that the conflict should have been settled peacefully.

Another indicative fact is that in 1993 some 19% of citizens gave readiness of the communist and extremist organizations for a coup as the reason accounting for the conflict, only 10% of respondents holds this opinion now.

Only two figures haven’t altered: as in 1993, one third of respondents thinks that the general decay initiated by Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev had been the cause of that tragedy. Some 28% of respondents more proclaimed irresponsible policy of Boris Yeltsin and his circle to be the reason for armed clashes.

Prominent politician Viktor Sheinis writes in Nezavisimaya Gazeta: “Undoubtedly, the building of national parliament under fire of tanks in the eye of the country and the entire world is a bad sign of the Constitution, which was later approved, and the democracy, which had thus been defended.” Nonetheless, he provides no answer on whether or not any options had been available: it is high time to remember that history won’t tolerate oblique moods.

However, notes Sheinis, after the shock of the military operation faded away, the public opinion evidently tends to disfavor the winners.

Nevertheless, thinks the author, in October 1993 had crowned the period of dangerous instability in history of Russia.

This had been the time when the legislative power had been dominated by the executive power, which has lived until now.

Those events entailed other consequences as well – the ancient Russian tradition of disrespect for the law had become stronger. Although the Constitution adopted in December 1993 promised civil rights and freedoms at the level of global standards, the system of state, it infringed on the system of “balances and counterbalances,” which opened wide opportunities for “extensive violation of the declared rights, lawlessness on various levels.”

Simultaneously, the practice of settling state and public problems using violence took roots in Russia.

In general, admits Sheinis, “combating state socialism the democrats made their contribution to the making of the oligarchic-bureaucratic system in the country.”

Analysts have repeatedly stressed that “disappearance of public politics from public life, substitution of citizens’ activities with “controllable democracy” having its own demagogy has been a significant peculiarity of this system.

Anyhow, Kommersant is saying referring to results of public opinion polls, over the past several years the electorate “has to a considerable extent reduced its political activity” and will display the least possible concern for the upcoming elections.

The gubernatorial elections which have lately finished in St. Petersburg prove that. Valentina Matviyenko finally managed to gain her victory in the second round and even thinks she’s been enjoying support of the St. Petersburgers. However, in the first round the attendance rate was 29% and even less in the second round, which is too insignificant for politically active city as St. Petersburg is.

Nezavisimaya Gazeta has religiously calculated: in her second attempt, the presidential envoy gained 63.12% of the vote, but the attendance rate was only 28.24%, which means that only 17.8% of St. Petersburgers assigned the right to vote elected Matviyenko as their governor.

The figures differ in relation to Akhmad Kadyrov, who gained victory in the presidential elections in Chechnya last Sunday. According to NG, unprecedented attendance rate of 86.8% was fixed (81.1% of them voted in favor of Kadyrov), which means that 70.4% of the Chechen electorate supported the current president of Chechnya.

Observers, however, tend to think that both elections could hardly be regarded as convincing victories.

Commenting on the outcome of the St. Petersburg elections, Vedomosti is saying: “People who have their individual opinions didn’t attend the elections and therefore the void, an idea that politics should be avoided, has gained victory in St. Petersburg. To win there was certainty that it would be senseless and not nice to interfere with a duel of two teams of political consultants, one of which had used more resources than the other.”

As far as results of the Chechen elections are concerned, Vedomosti found another very expressive term for describing them: “The operation of electing Akhmad Kadyrov as Chechen president has been a success… Chechen voters had been shown that former mufti and former separatists Akhmad Kadyrov would lead them into peaceful living. The electorate had to agree to that.”

According to many observers, something similar is expected to take place in the federal elections. Novoye Vremya magazine gives data from the Agency for Regional Political Studies (ARPI): only 29% of respondents agree that “the power is changed in Russia over the course of fait and free elections” (possibly, those 29% had attended the elections in St. Petersburg), while 68% hold the opposite opinion.

United Russia with 29% of the vote is on top of the rating of parties, followed by the communists, whose popularity rating has fallen from 14% to 12% during September. According to the ARPI, the following three contenders are on the level of 5% required for passing into the Duma: the LDPR, the URF, and Yabloko.

Here comes a fact which worries organizers of the election campaign: 8% of respondents replied they’d vote against all. There’s a suspicion, writes the magazine, that the share of similarly-minded is bigger, but they are giving other replies so far: “haven’t decided yet whether or not vote in the elections,” “can choose no party yet,” etc.

Very curious are explanations of those who intend to refrain from voting in the elections: 36% are saying nothing depend on their vote, another 20% are explaining they are not interested in politics; 17% tend to think that no party which would express their interests exists so far and another 17% are certain that “politics is dirty” and deserves no attention.

According to the magazine, 39% of respondents are certain that “big money,” in case a party has it, can be the decisive factor in favor of winning the elections. Only 6% and 5% of respondents are ready to recognize the importance of such dignities as a program or a brilliant leader respectively. Some 6% more tend to think that significant is the support of president, while 5% mentioned the campaign developed in the press.

However, 17% of respondents assume that “trust of people” will help a party to gain victory.

These results are surprising since, on the whole, at most 1% of the population trusts political parties as a social institution and slightly over 3% of the population has trust in the Duma and the Federation Council each.

Besides, the government and the army enjoy the trust of 10% of respondents each; 12% have trust in the church and only 9% to the media agencies. As could be expected, 51% (most of all) trust the president.

By attempting to portray an average voter of nowadays, Kommersant has concluded that as compared to 1999 – the year of the previous elections – the portrait of a voter has undergone drastic changes. First of all, the population has improved its welfare. Moreover, these days the Chechen problem has become akin to a chronic disease – we have got used to it and try to think less of this fact.

As far as the sway of democracy, corruption and crime as concerned, they cannot yet be solved and therefore there’s no need to worry.

Mikhail Tarusin, head of the department for social and political studies with ROMIR-Monitoring proposed a general conclusion to Kommersant: “Comparing a portrait of an average Russian in 1999 and 2003, we arrive at the following conclusion: it no more has fear.”

However, adds the newspaper, it has been replaced with anxiety – where to get money? “Preoccupied with the problem of improving their welfare, many residents of Russia are unwilling to think which innovations the parties may propose to them in the elections – most importantly, that the situation wouldn’t get any worse.”

Leaders of parties realize that. Vedomosti said on Monday, members of centrist Duma factions managed to talk Prime Minister Mikhail Kasianov into raising the 2003 budget spending by 68.9 billion rubles. At the same time, specifies Vedomosti, 31.2 billion rubles will be allocated as financial aid to the regions, 7.7 billion rubles to repay the debts for state arms procurement. The amount of money allocated for the agricultural sector will be increased by 10.9 billion rubles. An extra 1.5 billion rubles will be spent on the law enforcement activities and computers for schools. No voter group has been left out. Given its lobbying opportunities, United Russia has a right to hope for some support from the electorate.

Quite naturally, United Russia’s rivals are dissatisfied with this gift the government has made to the centrists on the eve of the elections. Nevertheless, Vedomosti experts say the current budget has some reserve capacity thanks to high oil prices, and will easily stretch to meet the claims of the centrists.

But 2004 hasn’t come yet, says Kommersant, and the portrait of a voter in 2003 is a picture that is “rather vague politically”: “a resident of central Russia, who has been given some money and relieved of the threat of terrorism, but cannot yet decide whether to vote or find something more important to do.”