What will the Duma look like after 2007?

A year before the Duma election campaign begins, the Kremlin seems to have made its decision regarding a two-party system: if it ever emerges at all, it certainly won’t be in this election cycle. So the next Duma might look like the present Duma – yet nothing like it at all.

A year before the Duma election campaign begins, the Kremlin seems to have made its decision regarding a two-party system: if it ever emerges at all, it certainly won’t be in this election cycle. So the next Duma might look like the present Duma – yet nothing like it at all.

Talk of Russia (including the Kremlin) needing an “alternative large party” started in late summer, when the Russian Party of Life (RPL) posted on its website a transcript of the speech made to RPL lawmakers in March by Vladislav Surkov, deputy head of the presidential administration. Surkov complained that “our society lacks a ‘second leg’ to which it could shift its weight when the first leg goes numb, and this makes the system unstable.”

Although Surkov emphasized that the emergence of such a party will be “a matter of time,” and such a party only “might replace the currently-dominant party at some point in the future,” his reference to a “second leg” was taken literally – as a guideline for action. Some people even started saying that the Kremlin, contrary to common sense, had launched two election campaign projects simultaneously: alongside the traditional favorite, United Russia, it would also promote the RPL, led by Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov – or whatever the RPL becomes after its merger with the two other “relevant left” parties, Motherland (Rodina) and the Russian Party of Pensioners. The RPL itself believed this most strongly of all.

According to our sources, however, Kremlin officials were “reluctant” to support the RPL in the capacity of the Kremlin’s second party. They only agreed to do so “under the influence of arguments from Mironov,” who is said to have received approval for his party-building activities from President Putin himself.

Moreover, this support for the “relevant left” party was guaranteed only if certain conditions were observed. Most importantly, the party must not use administrative resources, neither at the federal level nor in the regions. At the meeting in March, Surkov made it clear to the RPL that he is apprehensive about “a battle between our own.” The Kremlin concluded, rationally enough, that a positive effect from creating such a two-party system is by no means certain, while the harm of creating two centers of gravity for the ruling elite is self-evident. As one Kremlin official puts it, “the most dangerous thing we could do would be to tear administrative resources apart and pit one part against another.”

And this is precisely what has happened already. According to our sources, the most intense conflict between the “resources” of United Russia and the RPL is in the Sverdlovsk region, where the regional election commission first disqualified the RPL, then reinstated it (after a successful appeal to the Supreme Court). Rumor has it that Mironov approached Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika, requesting him to exert some influence on his Sverdlovsk region subordinates, who initiated the disqualification. United Russia sources say that when Duma Speaker and United Russia leader Boris Gryzlov learned of this, he reportedly called his old classmate FSB Director Nikolai Patrushev and asked him to set the Sverdlovsk FSB Directorate straight regarding the campaign situation. Given that the RPL has been reinstated in the Sverdlovsk region, it appears that Mironov managed to reach the Prosecutor General.

A senior United Russia functionary says: “The RPL is positioning itself as a party that’s within the system, but more and more frequently they’re acting outside the system.” He seems absolutely certain that United Russia itself is within the system.

And this is probably why, according to our sources, it has been decided to adjust the format of next year’s Duma election campaign – abandoning attempts to have two Kremlin parties in the race. A political consultant with close links to the Kremlin told us: “The pragmatic objective of Mironov’s party should be to pick up the leftist-patriotic votes of the former Motherland’s electorate and keep them in safe hands, preventing those votes from slipping away to the radicals. It would be more appropriate to restrict the RPL to this objective – otherwise support for United Russia might fall, along with the RPL’s already-low support rating.”

Yet the burgeoning quasi-confrontation between United Russia and the RPL (largely over administrative resources) has been just about the only attempt to create the illusion of a political battle in the lead-up to the election of 2007. If the Kremlin manages to pacify the convention-breakers (and it certainly will: despite those accusations of acting outside the system, Mironov’s party is thouroughly part of the system), the likely configuration in the next Duma will be obvious. Essentially, apart from a few details, the Duma of the fifth convocation in 2007-11 will be similar to the present Duma; although some outward complexities will be added to it, of course, via minor political improvements.

The current model of the Russian parliament, which emerged in the third-convocation Duma of 1999-2003, is a satisfactory model for the Kremlin. Within its framework, the parliament’s main objective – to be completely controllable – is achieved by two methods.

The first method entails establishing control by having one pro-Kremlin party (United Russia, of course) win an absolute majority of seats (preferably a constitutional majority – over 300 seats). It’s worth noting that United Russia in its pure form doesn’t have 300 seats in the current Duma: of the 310 United Russia faction members, only 286 are members of the party, while the rest are either members of no party (17 people) or members of other parties (Agrarian Party, People’s Party, and so on – seven people).

There’s another way to establish control: forming a majority of the same size, made up of several parties loyal to the Kremlin. This option proved quite useful in the third-convocation Duma, where a coalition of four centrist factions (United Russia, Fatherland-All Russia, People’s Deputies, and Russian Regions) controlled enough votes to pass ordinary laws (250-260 seats), while the 40-50 additional votes required for constitutional laws could be gained via support from the left (the Communist faction controlled 81-95 votes) or the right (the Union of Right Forces plus Yabloko had 50-60 seats) or non-faction lawmakers (10-24 seats) and the ever-loyal LDPR (13-7 seats) – depending on the ideological direction of any particular law.

It’s this second model that is likely to be chosen for the next Duma. Members of the fifth-convocation Duma will be elected via party lists only, so United Russia is most unlikely to win over 300 out of 450 seats. (United Russia leaders themselves love pointing this out, stressing that abolishing elections in single-mandate districts will hit hardest at their own party, “but will help develop a multi-party system.”) In order to win even two-thirds of seats in parliament, United Russia would need to get 75% of the vote – which is reminiscent of elections in Turkmenistan, and would not enhance the image of a G8 member state.

Consequently, the controllability of the next Duma will be achieved by means of creating another centrist coalition. Judging by reports from political consultants close to the decision-making center, the Kremlin already has a “preliminary outline for next autumn.”

One Kremlin-linked analyst told us: “The calculations are based on the idea that the pro-Kremlin United Russia party needs to get around 250-260 seats, and the Kremlin can pick up the remaining 40-50 seats required for a constitutional majority either from Mironov’s party, if it manages to get past the 7% threshold, or a loyalist right-wing party that might arise if the right-wing movement produces some leaders who are acceptable to the Kremlin and possess Chubais-type organizational talents.” After 2007, the Kremlin is sure to have another “untapped reserve” in the form of the LDPR’s 50-60 seats: as the Duma’s Kremlin handlers admit off the record, “working with Zhirinovsky’s faction is annoying, of course, but we can’t get by without them at present.” Officials say: “The public will support the LDPR. It should get about 10% of the vote.” The Communist Party (CPRF) could get 10-15%, “depending on the campaign situation and the success or failure of Mironov’s party.”

There are a couple of other interesting aspects in the next Duma election: for example, the votes cast for parties that fail to get past the 7% threshold. Let’s say the people elect several Yabloko candidates, but the party as a whole fails to get over 7% of the vote. What happens then?

Extra seats go to the victorious parties. Therefore, some experts say that the ballot-papers in the 2007 election might include the names of “duplicate candidates,” who will make the campaign landscape far more colorful, while actually serving the same purpose: to ensure a constitutional majority for the pro-Kremlin forces. The second aspect is that the “against all candidates” option will be abolished. So, if people turn out to vote at all, they’ll have to vote for somebody – unless they just spoil their ballot-papers, of course.

Social discontent has accumulated to a greater extent than the Kremlin perceives, so a few unexpected developments cannot be ruled out. For example, the LDPR – or even the Communists – might get a surprisingly high proportion of the vote. For some reason, the Communists have been permitted an unusual amount of television coverage lately. And another point that shouldn’t be forgotten: in the election of 2003, public demand for a strong hand to “restore order” (including opposition to immigration) was expressed as votes for Dmitri Rogozin, and public demand for social justice was expressed as votes for Sergei Glaziev. It’s hard to imagine Sergei Mironov filling these roles – he’d look like a ballet dancer in a boxing-ring. Yet no other substitutes for Rogozin and Glaziev are apparent so far. In general, all parties have a severe shortage of colorful, charismatic politicians. Their objectives are different; and politicians are afraid of standing out. The Kremlin is well aware that outstanding individuals only cause problems in day-to-day operations, so it’s mediocrities who are valued these days. And in some situations, charisma would be more likely to lead to events like the Kondopoga riots. This is why many believe that the next Duma will resemble the present Duma: the Kremlin is strong enough to get rid of any candidates it doesn’t like, so we shouldn’t expect the sudden emergence of any new Rogozins.

On the other hand, the “outside the system methods” mentioned by United Russia functionaries aren’t confined to phone calls to the Prosecutor General. What a fright everyone got when a number of young, vigorous, not at all asocial figures turned up in Kondopoga! Everyone tried not to mention this, but it’s a fact: there are more and more well-organized, well-informed, mobile brigades in Russia. These movements have quite a few supporters – people who don’t find Gryzlov or Mironov inspiring at all. And even if such forces are excluded from the next Duma (the Kremlin’s strategists are strong and clever enough to ensure that), such attitudes won’t dissipate of their own accord. No one in the Kremlin or the Duma has any idea what to do about this. The more astute politicians and strategists are trying to seize the initiative, reach agreement with the movement leaders, and bring these mobile groups under control, to some extent. But they understand that this problem can’t be solved with a phone call to Patrushev or Chaika. As the elections approach (first the parliamentary election, then the presidential campaign of 2008), requiring public life to be portrayed as particularly stable, the “outside the system problem” will become more acute, threatening to turn into a problem within the system.

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