Accessibility links

Russia Report: December 12, 2003

12 December 2003, Volume 3, Number 49
The Central Election Commission (TsIK) on 8 December announced the preliminary results from the State Duma elections, which were held on 7 December.

55.45 percent of all registered voters took part in the election. Only three political parties and one electoral bloc cleared the 5 percent threshold required for parties to receive any of the 225 Duma seats distributed according to proportional representation. Those four groups received a combined total of approximately 70 percent of the vote

PARTY_______________________PERCENTAGE OF
____________________________PARTY-LIST VOTE

Unified Russia_________________________37.09

Communist Party_______________________12.67

Liberal Democratic Party of Russia_________11.61

Motherland bloc________________________9.07


Union of Rightist Forces_________________ 3.96

Agrarian Party of Russia__________________3.70

Pensioners' Party-Party of Social Justice _____3.14

Party of National Rebirth-Russian Party of Life_1.91

People's Party__________________________1.18

All other parties and electoral blocs on the ballot received less than 1 percent of the party-list vote and 4.75 percent of voter cast ballots against all parties.

Unified Russia is likely to receive 118 of the 225 Duma seats distributed according to proportional representation. Candidates backed by Unified Russia won at least 104 of the 225 single-mandate districts.

Approximately 65 independent candidates won single-mandate districts. Some of them may join the ranks of Unified Russia in the new Duma, which would give the pro-presidential party an absolute majority of seats in the new Duma.

The KPRF is likely to receive 41 seats from its party list. Its candidates won 12 of the single-mandate districts. The LDPR will receive 38 seats from its party list. The party did not carry any single-mandate districts.

The Motherland bloc will receive 29 seats from its party list. Its candidates won eight single-mandate districts.

Candidates from the People's Party won 19 of the single-mandate districts, Yabloko candidates won four districts, and SPS candidates won only two districts.

By Michael McFaul

The results of the parliamentary vote on 7 December suggest that Russia has entered a new political era. For the first decade of post-communist politics in Russia, the central cleavage was between left and right, communist and anticommunist, or "reformers" and non-reformers. The central issue was the economy and policies to reform it. The vote tally from the election suggests that a third parameter -- nationalism -- has overtaken these earlier divides and debates. The long-term consequences could be terrifying.

Of the major Russian political parties, three are rising, and three are falling. Unified Russia, the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), and Motherland (Rodina) all won more votes in the 7 December election than in the 1999 Duma election. The Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF), Yabloko, and the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) all won fewer votes in 2003 than in 1999. The last two -- Russia's liberal, democratic, pro-Western parties -- did so poorly that they will not even be represented in the new Duma.

Several factors unite these winners and losers and distinguish them from each other. First, the winners -- Unified Russia, LDPR, and Motherland -- are all parties created initially by the state: the LDPR over a decade ago, Unified Russia (called Unity before) in 1999, and Motherland during this electoral cycle. In contrast, societal actors founded the KPRF, Yabloko, and the SPS. Parties beholden to the state are gaining popular support. Parties beholden to societal forces are losing strength.

Second, the three winners in the 7 December vote are all loyal to the president. Unified Russia ran in this election as the party of Russian President Vladimir Putin and is fully subservient to the Kremlin. Neo-nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovskii, the LDPR leader, and the leaders of Motherland are more colorful personalities than the gray suits leading Unified Russia, but these two parties will also serve the interests of the president on important issues. In contrast, the three losers are all opposition parties that have never fully succumbed to the president's will.

Third, and most importantly, all three winners in the vote are nationalist parties. Running on the coattails of Putin, Unified Russia leaders and campaign materials called for a "strong" state and "orderly" country. Motherland leader Dmitrii Rogozin even more stridently echoed nationalist themes in his campaign appearances, prompting some of his opponents in other parties to publicly use the word "fascist" to describe his ideology. And the LDPR head, Zhirinovskii, is a long-time populist demagogue who has relied on outrageous xenophobic and racist one-liners to keep his party in the parliament since it splashed onto the Russian political scene in the 1993 parliamentary elections by capturing a quarter of the popular vote. In this year's election, Zhirinovskii's main campaign slogan was "I am for Russians, I am for the poor," an echo of the nationalist-socialist cocktail that proved so explosive a half century ago.

After the 1993 election, many (including this writer) worried about the specter of fascism in Russia. After his strong showing in 1993, however, Zhirinovskii and his ideas seemed to fade from the center of Russian politics. In 1999, his party barely made it into the Duma, winning a mere 6 percent of the vote. At the end of the decade, it seemed as if one of Russia's greatest successes was that nationalism did not take hold as a major force in Russian politics -- a sharp contrast to the deadly and destructive role that nationalism played in Serbia, the only other empire to collapse after the fall of communism.

Today, Zhirinovskii is back. And so are his clones. In ideological terms, the losers in this election can be mapped on the traditional left-right scale. The KPRF is the left of center party and the SPS and Yabloko are right of center (with Yabloko closer to the center). For most of the 1990s, those on the right battled to keep those on the left out of power. As in Western party systems, economic debates defined the battle lines between left and right in Russia. Now, this battle is over and serious debates about economic issues are no longer a central theme of Russian politics.

To be sure, the KPRF has tried to capture the nationalist, patriotic vote before, but never with any success. And SPS leader Anatolii Chubais has recently floated the idea of Russia as a "liberal empire," but the concept did not steal votes away from the three winning nationalist parties. Instead, these parties won votes in the past without inflaming nationalist sentiments within the Russian electorate. This time around, their non-nationalist themes seem less important to Russian voters.

It is premature to predict Russia's long-term political trajectory after a single vote. We made that mistake back in 1993. That said, the trend line after the elections does not look promising. Throughout his presidency, Putin has sought to eliminate or emasculate alternative sources of political power. Since becoming president in 2000, Putin has chased away or arrested oligarchs with political ambitions, seized control of all national television networks, emasculated the power of the Federation Council, and tamed regional barons who once served as a powerful balance to former President Boris Yeltsin's presidential rule. The individual rights of Russian citizens, including especially those living in Chechnya, are abused now more than at any time since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Putin believes that he is on a mission to clean up the mess left behind during the Yeltsin era and create a new and powerful Russia state. "Managed democracy" is the euphemism for this agenda of democratic erosion.

To this less democratic regime, the Kremlin has now added nationalism as the principle ideological theme, and helped to empower nationalists as the rising political leaders. Under the control of the more moderate, Western-oriented Putin, the increasingly centralized, less pluralistic political regime in Russia today has not been deployed to carry out massive repression against the Russian people or threaten countries on Russia's borders. But who takes power after Putin? The electoral results suggest that the liberals have no chance, while the nationalists of a more virulent sort than Putin are up and coming. In their hands, the regime that Putin has built could become truly threatening to the people of Russia, to Russia's neighbors, and eventually to the West.

Michael McFaul is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, associate professor of political science at Stanford University, and a nonresident associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

By Laura Belin

Communist Party (KPRF) leader Gennadii Zyuganov charged on 10 December that some 3.5 million falsified ballots were cast in the 7 December elections to the State Duma, Russian media reported. He added that his party's alternative vote count, based on protocols issued at polling stations across the Russian Federation, suggests that Yabloko won nearly 6 percent of the party-list vote, while the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) also cleared the 5 percent threshold.

A common technique of vote fraud is to fill out ballots on behalf of citizens who did not turn out to vote. Zyuganov claimed that turnout on 7 December was about 53 percent, significantly lower than the figure of 55.45 percent released by the Central Election Commission (TsIK). According to Zyuganov, the forged ballots were used to increase Unified Russia's share of the party-list vote.

Election monitors have the right to request copies of the official protocols issued at each polling station. KPRF representatives are bringing those protocols to Moscow by train and by airplane, because they do not trust the postal service or telegraphs, Radio Rossii reported. As of 10 December, the party had summed up data from some 11,000 polling stations, representing approximately 16.5 million votes. Party officials expect that completing the alternative vote count will take several days.

TsIK Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov dismissed Zyuganov's allegations as "political intrigue" and argued that they illustrate the Communist leader's lack of professionalism, Russian media reported. However, Veshnyakov did not address some oddities of the official results.

On the evening of 7 December and the morning of 8 December, the TsIK issued hourly updates about the party-list voting. The early returns from the Far East and Siberia, where Yabloko and the SPS have never been strong, put those parties' shares of the vote at 4.2 percent and 3.8 percent, respectively.

Those percentages hardly budged as the hours passed, which immediately raised suspicions among some observers. Yabloko and the SPS traditionally do better among voters in European Russia, so one would expect their overall share of the vote to increase once votes from major cities had been tallied.

Indeed, RIA-Novosti reported on 8 December that Yabloko and the SPS both received about 9 percent of the vote in St. Petersburg. Yet the final preliminary results released by TsIK gave Yabloko 4.34 percent and the SPS 3.96 percent of the vote.

Speaking to Ekho Moskvy radio on 10 December, Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii noted that only 25 percent of the electorate lives in the Far East and Siberia. Yabloko has monitored Russian elections in 1993, 1995, 1996, 1999, and 2000, Yavlinskii said. Never before has the party's result remained essentially unchanged once votes from European Russia had been counted.

Yabloko member Sergei Ivanenko announced on 10 December that the party is using protocols from at least half of the country's polling stations to conduct its own vote count.

Speaking to Ekho Moskvy the same day, Irina Khakamada, one of the leaders of the SPS, agreed that there was falsification in the Duma elections. However, she said her party has no plans to file a lawsuit, since "we understand very well that all of this is pointless."

Some media have cast doubt on the accuracy of other figures released by the TsIK. Citing the daily "Kommersant," Ekho Moskvy reported on 10 December that different pages on the TsIK's official website contain different figures for the number of registered voters. The newspaper sought an explanation from the TsIK members in charge of the website and the lists of voters, but they said they were too busy to comment.

Although the fraud allegations seem plausible, proving that the SPS and Yabloko were robbed of representation in the Duma will be difficult. Even if incontrovertible proof of forged ballots emerged, compelling official agencies to acknowledge it and revise the election returns would be virtually impossible.

Some politicians uncovered persuasive evidence of fraud in the December 1993 parliamentary elections and constitutional referendum, but their research did not alter the composition of the Duma or prevent the constitution from becoming the law of the land. Similarly, KPRF leaders compiled evidence of vote fraud in some regions of the Russian Federation after the 1996 presidential election, but they were unable to force the TsIK to alter the official election results.

The parallel vote counts are likely to deepen opposition groups' cynicism about the fairness of the electoral process. They could also reveal the extent to which "managed democracy" has taken hold in Russia.

Laura Belin has written extensively on Russian politics since 1995.

By Laura Belin

The decline of the Communist Party (KPRF) is one of the big stories of the 2003 State Duma elections. According to preliminary official returns, the party's share of the 7 December party-list vote was 12.67 percent, down from 24.3 percent in 1999. Communist-backed candidates won approximately 12 of the 225 single-mandate districts, compared to at least 46 in 1999 (by some counts, as many as 55 seats -- as some Communist-backed candidates campaigned as independents). This year's single-mandate district losers included some big names in the KPRF, such as former Duma Security Committee Chairman Viktor Ilyukhin.

Given the huge success of Unified Russia, which won a near-majority of Duma seats, it appears at first glance that the "party of power" was responsible for the KPRF's troubles this year. Indeed, candidates supported by Unified Russia carried many of the single-mandate districts once held by Communists.

But when it comes to the party-list voting, it is by no means clear that Unified Russia gained at the KPRF's expense. Unified Russia grew out of the pro-government Unity bloc and the Fatherland-All Russia alliance of regional heavyweights. Some 37 percent of voters chose Unified Russia on the party list, roughly equivalent to the sum of the 23.3 percent who selected Unity in 1999 and the 13.3 percent who favored Fatherland-All Russia that year.

Upon closer examination, several other parties seem to be more likely suspects in the case of the vanishing KPRF voter.

First, there is the Motherland-Patriotic Union bloc headed by Sergei Glazev. It is usually classified as a nationalist party, but Glazev was the No. 3 candidate for the KPRF in 1999 and was the author of its economic platform. Motherland's economic proposals therefore coincided almost exactly with Communist plans for the economy: harnessing Russia's natural-resource wealth for the state budget rather than the personal enrichment of "oligarchs," restoring people's lost savings, increasing wages and pensions, and stimulating industrial production.

The main difference was that Motherland had a large advertising budget. As a result, commercials in which Glazev rails against the oligarchs or expounds on his economic platform reached a wide audience. The KPRF for the most part could not afford to buy advertising time.

Motherland commercials also hailed No. 2 candidate Dmitrii Rogozin as a tireless advocate for ethnic Russians. KPRF leader Gennadii Zyuganov has incorporated nationalist rhetoric in his campaigns for the last decade.

The No. 3 candidate for Motherland was Valentin Varennikov, whom commercials hailed as a "hero of the Soviet Union" and a "symbol of the patriotic movement." As one of the plotters of the August 1991 coup, Varennikov is admired by many Russians who are otherwise likely to sympathize with the KPRF.

Motherland gained some 9 percent of the party-list vote, and it is reasonable to assume that much of the new bloc's support came from voters who had previously backed the KPRF. Marat Gelman, deputy general director of ORT, boasted on 8 December that "we have something to be proud of, because we have been working toward [the decline of the Communists] since 1996," reported. The same report identified Gelman as the "ideological inspiration" for the Motherland-Patriotic Union bloc.

Some parties that failed to clear the 5 percent threshold might also have chipped away at the KPRF's electoral base. Consider the Agrarian Party of Russia (APR), which was an ally of the KPRF for most of the 1990s until APR leaders joined Fatherland-All Russia in 1999. The Communists clearly view the APR as a competitor for rural voters, not a partner, which explains why former APR member and current KPRF candidate Nikolai Kharitonov has sharply attacked the APR leadership in recent years.

The APR contested this year's Duma elections independently, and the party's campaign was straightforward. In debates and free-airtime videos, its candidates focused solely on appeals to the rural electorate and workers in the food industry. Agrarian candidates criticized "wild capitalism" and the buying and selling of farmland, positions also held by the KPRF.

The APR gained 3.7 percent of the party-list vote, according to preliminary returns. That is almost the same as the 3.78 percent the Agrarians won in 1995, but the left-leaning electorate as a whole is smaller now than it was in the mid-1990s.

The Russian Pensioners' Party-Party of Social Justice bloc also targeted a group that has disproportionately favored the KPRF in the past. As the name suggests, the bloc advocated increased benefits for pensioners. Its television commercials, featuring actors and fictional dialogues, reminded viewers that the party has appealed to the Constitutional Court to help pensioners live with dignity.

In a clear reference to the door-to-door campaigning on which the KPRF depends, one spot for the pensioners' bloc showed a young man calling his grandfather to the door: "Politicians have come, and they're promising to defend us." The old man tells his grandson to send them away: "Now we're politicians ourselves."

Preliminary returns indicated that the Russian Pensioners' Party-Party of Social Justice bloc received 3.14 percent of the party-list vote, up significantly from the Pensioners' Party's 1.95 percent in 1999. Since pensioners have traditionally been a reliable voting bloc for the KPRF, it is safe to assume that the Pensioners' Party's gains cut into the KPRF's share of the vote. Communist politicians have complained for years that the Pensioners' Party exists solely to steal votes from the KPRF.

Two other groups might have hurt the KPRF's results this year, even though they did not explicitly campaign as opposition parties. Longtime KPRF member and Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev headed the Party of Russia's Rebirth-Party of Life bloc, which, like Motherland, had a large advertising budget.

Commercials for Seleznev's party largely resembled those promoting Unified Russia, with apolitical happiness set to soothing music and the sound of children's laughter. The main difference was that the Party of Russia's Rebirth-Party of Life commercials also contained specific policy proposals, which echoed elements of the KPRF platform: "Pensions higher than the subsistence minimum." "Salaries of at least 6,000 rubles [$180] for doctors and teachers." "Increased spending on health care." "Interest-free loans for apartments for young families."

While the KPRF attacked the "anti-people regime," the People's Party postured as "the only party of the people" and used other slogans which have been a staple of KPRF campaigns: "For the people!" "For the Motherland!" Although People's Party leader Gennadii Raikov and his People's Deputy Duma faction are fairly reliable allies of President Vladimir Putin, the party did not emphasize its role as a pro-presidential force.

In one television commercial, Raikov calls for raising family incomes and says, "We want to gain authority in order to change the current state of affairs." His colleague Colonel General Gennadii Troshev, a presidential adviser, called for spending more money to strengthen the armed forces. Nikolai Derzhavin, the Russian Orthodox Church official who rounded out the People's Party top troika, repeatedly said that the party's goal was to ensure the public's well-being.

Seleznev's bloc won approximately 1.9 percent of the party-list vote, and the People's Party won just under 1.2 percent -- not enough to win any Duma seats distributed according to proportional representation, but perhaps a blow to the KPRF nonetheless.

Russian sociologists will eventually learn more about which parties caused the KPRF's share of the party-list vote to decline so precipitously this year. For now there appears to be plenty of credit to go around.

12 December: A plenum of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) to announce the party's candidate in the March 2004 presidential election.

15 December: Political council of the Union of Rightist Forces to consider the party's performance in the 7 December Duma elections and decide whether to accept the resignations of senior party leaders.

14-19 December: Chinese Defense Minister Cao Gangchuan to visit Russia

15-17 December: Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov to visit Tokyo

18 December: Central Election Commission to certify official results of 7 December State Duma elections.

21 December: Second-round presidential election in Bashkortostan between incumbent President Murtaza Rakhimov and businessman Sergei Veremeenko.

24 December: Central Election Commission will begin accepting registration documents from would-be presidential candidates, commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov announced on 10 December.

26 December: First plenary session of the fourth Russian State Duma, which was elected on 7 December.

29 December: Lenin's tomb will reopen after repair work has been completed, according to RIA-Novosti.

30 December: Date by which cases against Menatep head Platon Lebedev and Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovskii are to be submitted to the courts, according to separate Moscow court decisions.

January 2004: President Putin to visit Kazakhstan.

16 January 2004: The Vyborg city court to begin hearing a case challenging the legality of the election of Federation Council representative Grigorii Naginskii by the Leningrad Oblast legislature.

23 January 2004: some 94,000 polling stations for presidential election to be selected.

28 January 2004: 6:00 p.m. Moscow time is the deadline for candidates to submit registration documents for the presidential race to the Central Election Commission.

7 February 2004: List of registered presidential candidates to be finalized.

20 February 2004: Presidential election ballot papers to be printed.

12 February-12 March 2004: Period during which free airtime will be provided to presidential candidates

27 February 2004: Early voting in presidential election to begin for citizens in remote areas of the Russian Federation.

9 March-14 March 2004: Publication of opinion polls on the likely outcome of the presidential election will not be permitted.

14 March 2004: Election for president of the Russian Federation to be held.

26 March 2004: date by which official results from the presidential election will be released

4 April 2004: second round of presidential election to be held if no candidate receives 50 percent of the vote in the first round on 14 March