Make them more predictable and controllable for controlled democracy

The Duma will adopt several laws amending electoral legislation by the end of the session. The Kremlin is correcting the flaws uncovered so far in the course of preparations for Operation Successor.

Putin’s second reform of the electoral legislation last summer (the first took place in 2001-2002, aimed to diminish governors’ political weight) looked logical. It even looked complete. The Kremlin set out to change the principles of elections in the country to make them more predictable and controllable within the framework of the general course for controlled democracy. It even seemed to have accomplished its aim.

Predictability was to be upped by reduction of a number of political parties. They were instructed to boost membership from 10,000 to 50,000, the passing barrier was raised from 5% to 7%, electoral alliances were outlawed, and collection of signatures for non-parliamentary parties made more complicated. The Kremlin expected all these measures to leave by 2007, only a dozen parties strong enough to run for the Duma and to have the three or four already represented in the Duma thus elected. It could not get any more predictable than that, it seemed.

Even before all these amendments passed the parliamentary debates with flying colors last May, Alexander Veshnyakov of the Central Election Commission said that correction of the electoral legislation was over and that no more amendments were expected in the foreseeable future. For some reason, however, draft laws suggesting substantial amendments of the electoral legislation began appearing in the Duma one after another. Their authors differed (United Russia activists, representatives of the opposition, and even the Tver regional legislature), but two nuances always checked. Firstly, the parliamentary majority (United Russia) accepted them enthusiastically. Second, the elements that looked isolated and unconnected when viewed individually fit the puzzle that eventually became identifiable as Putin’s third electoral reform. Unlike the first two rough ones, this one came down to fine-tuning of the electoral system for the 2007-2008 election.

It seems that the Kremlin decided to fine-tune the system when it found that the political situation was developing not just the way its court political technologists had expected it. Instead of crying uncle and appealing to the Justice Ministry, political parties became even more energetic in their attempts to scale the coveted manpower barrier (50,000 members). (Examination has been under way for nearly seven months now, and not one has failed yet.) Democrats set out to consolidate and even managed to pool their efforts in several regional elections. Radical oppositionists went on stirring the general public and threatening the authorities with participation in the election, official registration or not. Last but not least, ratings of Putin’s potential successors went on going up (even though remaining far behind the worst possible candidate – Against Everyone).

Instead of inventing some general strategy, the Kremlin chose to come up with the tactic of precise strikes. Candidate Against Everyone remains ahead of Dmitry Medvedev and Sergei Ivanov? Abolish the column. The Union of Right Forces and Yabloko found a loophole and avoided the ban? Let them not try and get around a more devious one.