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Volume X, Number 3 (January - February 2000) 1999)

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Alliances, Russian-style
By Aleksandr Sadchikov
Parliamentary commentator, Izvestia

With the election of the new Duma, one of the main characteristics of the Yel'tsin period--the opposition between the Duma and the presidency--has ceased. The new Duma that convened on 18 January 2000 differs radically from the previous Duma in its composition and therefore should be much easier for the executive to manage. The strength of the new "party of power," the Yedinstvo bloc, lies in its ability to maneuver, forging temporary tactical alliances with parties to the left and right.

While earlier elections showed voting patterns in line with regional socioeconomic interests, the results of the recent polling corresponded with the political alliances and wishes of the regional leaders. This points not only to the authority of the regional boss with local voters, but also, most likely, to corruption. As regional bosses are poised now to elect the country's president in March, the democratic process clearly suffers.

The Results
Although the Constitution provides for the election of 450 deputies to the lower house, only 441 deputies (225 from federal party lists and 216 from the single-mandate constituencies) were returned in the first ballot. Elections in eight constituencies were voided because the majority voted against all the candidates and polling was not held in the Chechen single-mandate constituency due to the war. Of the 108 million Russian citizens who are eligible to vote, over 60 million (61.85 percent) participated in the election.
Of the twenty-six parties and blocs participating, only six surpassed the five-percent barrier needed for representation on the federal party list: The Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF); the Interregional movement Yedinstvo-Medved' (Unity-Bear); the Otechestvo-Vsya Rossia bloc (OVR-Fatherland All Russia); Soyuz Pravykh Sil (SPS-the Union of Right Forces); Bloc Zhirinovskogo (BZh); and Yabloko.

 Since deputies changed alliances after the December 1999 elections, new factions have emerged. Affiliations of the new factions are indicated by shared symbols
 Faction:  Number of Deputies:
 @Communist Party of the Russian Federation  90
 #Yedinstvo  82
 #Narodnyi Deputat  57
 ~Otechestvo-Vsya Rossiya  45
 ~Russia's Regions
(Union of Independent Deputies)
 @Agro-Industrial Deputies Group  39
 Soyuz Pravykh Sil  32
 Liberal Democratic Party of Russia  17
 Unaffiliated  16

At first glance, the election results look like another victory for the Communists. This time, however, even though their proportion of the vote rose, the Communists actually lost seats in the Duma, as more parties passed the five-percent hurdle, so that the major parties no longer could obtain a disproportionate number of seats. While the left majority controlled some 188 seats in the previous Duma (plus a fluctuating number of independents), the Communists and their affiliates (Agro-Industrial group) have far fewer seats in the new Duma--129, plus some independents. Since most decisions (including passage of federal laws) made in the lower house require a simple majority of 226 votes and federal constitutional laws need 300 votes, the left in the new Duma has lost its ability to pass legislation on its own.

The majority status lost by the Communists and their allies was not gained by the party of power, the political forces that support then-Prime Minister, now acting President Vladimir Putin. These are, first of all, Yedinstvo and Soyuz Pravykh Sil, which together received about 36.6 percent of the vote. Never before has the Russian government enjoyed such support in the Duma.(1) However, the two parties combined received some 171 seats, including Yedinstvo affiliates (such as "Peoples' Deputies"). Moreover, the orientation of the SPS increasingly has become the object of controversy which will not be resolved fully until the party congress at the end of February. For openers, SPS as a whole and Yedinstvo fell out in the immediate wake of the elections, when Yedinstvo made a deal with the Communists, dividing almost all committee leaderships between them. As a result, SPS joined OVR and Yabloko in a boycott of the new Duma, which ended only recently. Since then, differing appraisals of Putin's leadership have rendered deep cleavages within the SPS. Renowned moral authorities such as Sergei Kovalev and Lev Ponomarev condemn Putin's authoritarian tendencies and threaten to move to the Yabloko camp, while the technocratic members of SPS, such as Boris Nemtsov, Sergei Kirienko, and Irena Khakamada, decided to endorse Putin in light of practical considerations such as being associated with the party of power.

One could conditionally categorize Bloc Zhirinovskogo (the new name for the Liberal Democratic Party, LDPR) as pro-government. Vladimir Zhirinovsky and his associates repeatedly asserted their independence in the old Duma, but always supported the Kremlin in crisis situations. Possibly due to this contradiction, Zhirinovsky loses supporters with every election. (In 1993, LDPR received 22.9 percent; in 1995, 11.18 percent; and in 1999, 5.98 percent.) But even including the BZh votes, the government will be able to control the Duma only with the aid of the KPRF.

The democratic opposition to the Kremlin, represented by Yabloko, was also not very successful in the elections. While 7.86 percent voted for the Yavlinsky-Boldyrev-Lukin bloc in 1993, and 6.89 percent two years later, only 5.93 percent of the electorate supported the bloc in 1999 (21 seats). Most analysts attribute this loss to the party's position on the war in Chechnya. Yabloko is the only major political party today that openly opposes the "antiterrorist operation" of the federal forces in the region.(2)

The independent deputies elected by single-mandate constituencies should be discussed separately. In general they are territorial lobbyists whose main goal is to obtain budget subsidies for their regions from the parliament. They intentionally refrain from proclaiming their political positions. In theory, these deputies may find a common language with the party of power and with the opposition. In fact, their financial goals render them dependent on the executive power and compel them to play by the government's rules. In the last Duma, these deputies-lobbyists were united in the Rossiiskie Regiony group. The new Duma has an analogous group: Regiony Rossii-Nezavisimye Deputaty (affiliated with OVR). In general, the voices of some independents, together with Medved', (some members of) SPS and BZh, may give the Kremlin a slight advantage in the lower house.

At present, there seems to be no single party that can dominate the Duma. Therefore, important decisions can be made only through a combination of the leading parties. Yedinstvo commands a sufficiently large faction and has the clout with the executive to maneuver successfully, to make "deals" with other parties. Thus, to elect Gennady Seleznev (KPRF) speaker of the new Duma, Yedinstvo and its satellites (the deputy group Narodnyi Deputat) joined forces with the KPRF and its affiliates (the Agro-Industrial deputy group). More seriously still, as mentioned above, Yedinstvo rushed (behind the backs of its allies) to divide the Duma committee "plums" with the Communists. On other issues, pertaining to the budget or the land code, Yedinstvo could move to the right, should it so decide, garnering support from the SPS and independent deputies with liberal economic attitudes.

Political Geography
In 1993 and 1995, geographic and socioeconomic patterns were evident from the vote results. The black earth regions in the south earned the sobriquet "red belt" due to the substantial support the KPRF garnered there. These agricultural regions, such as Krasnodar or Voronezh, suffered substantially during the transition to the market system and hence voted against the Kremlin's economic policies. The populations of the industrial regions farther north, such as Kuybyshev or Nizhny Novgorod, benefited from transition and were more likely to vote for the party of power in the recent elections. Unlike the 1993 and 1995 contests where ideological and social factors played a role, the explanation for the composition of the present Duma should be sought in the provinces, in the gubernatorial ability to summon "administrative resources" to benefit political parties.

The power of the governors over the election campaign was demonstrated on 19 December 1999. The regional leaders were more active in the parliamentary election campaign than they had ever been. In fact, one of the leaders of the federal information center Vybory-99, Dmitry Oreshkin, noted: "Almost everywhere, the winners were the parties and blocs supported by the president or the regional governor."

The governors supported Putin due to two major factors: First, he wields tremendous personal influence. Recently several governors indicated their willingness to part with the system of regional elections in favor of Kremlin-appointed governors. This represents an unheard of concession to Putin. By comparison, Primakov's efforts along these lines in the Fall of 1998 were rebuffed unceremoniously. Now the governors are willing to give up their popular mandate, the strongest asset vis-à-vis the center, in order to please the executive. Secondly, in comparison with 1993 and 1995, the center has greater economic levers over the regions, such as control over subsidies and investments.

Once a governor decided to back a particular party, he had powerful means at his disposal to ensure that the region voted according to his preference. Often, the governor controls or influences the local media and can ensure that his party gets a widely publicized official endorsement and that other parties are omitted from the reporting. The governors influenced the elections in an even more direct manner: They simply called in the local administrators and told them what sort of vote was needed. The message was then transmitted down the administrative ladder to enterprise and farm managers or school principals. In most cases the voters are inclined to cast the ballots as they are told by these influential authorities, particularly if they are promised financial benefits for their region.

In many regions the split between the leaders in the election race and the other participants was so great that it provoked the losers to charge electoral fraud. For example, in 1995 the difference between KPRF and NDR was 15 percent on average. In the December 1999 elections, Yedinstvo and KPRF came in with roughly equal numbers overall, but only a few regions showed this parity. Most constituencies clearly favored one bloc or another. The parity between the party of power and the opposition was registered only in the Penza and the Perm oblast's. It is interesting that the Krasnoyarsky krai, famous for mirroring the federal election results, favored Yedinstvo slightly, and completely ignored Otechestvo-Vsya Rossia, not even allowing it to cross the five-percent barrier. However, given that the leader of the region is Aleksandr Lebed, a long-time rival of one of the OVR leaders, Yuri Luzhkov, the result does not seem quite so strange.

At the same time, voters in Tatarstan, where President Mintimer Shaimiev endorsed the OVR, not only supported that bloc, but gave it over 75 percent of the votes. Other parties lagged far behind. Less impressive but still clear are the results in Moscow and Bashkiria, where the support of Mayor Yuri Luzhkov and President Murtaza Rakhimov, respectively, provided the OVR with 40 percent of the votes. In Mordovia, Ingushetia and Kabardino-Balkaria, the leaders of the regions also endorsed the OVR, with similar results.

Yedinstvo also had record highs in certain regions: for example, the Tuva republic (70.87 percent) and some autonomous okrugs, in which leaders entered the pro-government bloc (i.e., Chukotka--42.94 percent). Even where the discrepancy with the KPRF was not so great, the success of the interregional movement was indubitable. Part of the so-called "red belt," Vladimir, Tyumen, Vologod, Chitin, Rostov, Novgorod, Voronezh, Amur, Archangelsk, Tomsk and Tver oblast's can no longer be chastised for KPRF sympathies. The Yedinstvo bloc also won in Udmurtia, Khakasia, and Yakutin, where voters previously favored the Communists. It is notable that, in the recent elections, the leaders of these regions either openly supported Yedinstvo or remained neutral.

At the same time, Communists not only maintained primacy but won by a large margin in a number of regions. In Dagestan, Bryansk, and Orlov oblast', the KPRF received over 40 percent; in Chuvashia, Marii-El Republic, Krasnodarsk and Stavropol' krais; and in the Kurst and Tambovsk oblast's, the party obtained over 30 percent. Moreover, in most of the southern regions of Russia, the KPRF remains somewhat more popular than Yedinstvo. Thus, the infamous "red belt," although it has noticeably "lost some weight," is still visible on Russia's map.

Who Got In?
Some have noted that elements in Putin's biography remain somewhat obscure; the same can be said about members of his party. In many cases there is simply no biography available other than official campaign information. It is highly unusual for a seasoned political commentator with myriad sources of information to be unable to unearth any sort of background information about Duma deputies. Yet, the important public figure Boris Gryzlov, the Yedinstvo faction leader, has no verifiable history. Similarly, there is no basis on which to draw conclusions about the backgrounds of other Yedinstvo deputies--members of this highly influential parliamentary faction could have come from any walk of life, including the security services.

However, the Kremlin did make attempts to bar representatives of the criminal world from the elections. Boris Yel'tsin had called for an "honest and clean" election back on 31 March 1999, and the bureaucracy listened. The Centrizbirkom (Central Electoral Commission, CEC) and the law enforcement organs worked to remove from the race figures like Sergei Mikhailov, Anatoly Bykov and Viktor Averin, to whom the press and the law enforcement organ representatives often refer as "authorities" of the criminal world.

Other deputy candidates deemed "undesirable" by the government were still able to register as candidates, but they lost in single-mandate constituencies. For example, one "authority" of the criminal world, Yuri Shutov, suffered a fiasco in the 211th constituency of St. Petersburg. This allowed the chairman of the CEC, Aleksandr Veshnyakov, to declare: "The majority of those who were said to be to be connected with the criminal world in the media were not elected deputies to the State Duma."

This does not mean that all members of the new Duma have an unblemished past. There are enough persons in the new deputy ensemble who are practically unknown. They have satisfied the formal requirements of the law: They indicated their criminal record (or the lack thereof), declared their income, publicized their assets. But in Russia such documents must be carefully examined. The CEC and the district electoral committees were not able to ensure the authenticity of the materials submitted by 2,318 candidates in single-mandate constituencies and by the 3,736 candidates of the federal party lists. In addition, there are some new deputies who may never had open conflicts with the law, but obtained assets by taking advantage of the contradictions and imperfections in the law. A system to monitor the legislative branch, particularly by the media and other public institutions, has not been sufficiently developed. For its part, the CEC has taken a clear stand on this question: "Only the first steps towards preventing criminal elements from infiltrating the ruling bodies have been accomplished."

According to Veshnyakov, one of the positive aspect of the parliamentary elections is that the "new law concerning the elections allowed the liquidation and restraint of the negative tendencies that began to emerge in regional elections." For example, the use of so-called "twins" and "dirty technology" was negligible in comparison with 1993 and 1995. "Twinning" refers to the practice by which a person with the same or similar name as the leading candidate registers to divide the front-runners' vote, so that a third candidate can win the election. This time there was only one curious incident of the use of "twins." In the 163rd Kamensk Uralsk single-mandate constituency, candidate Pavel Putin pretended to be Vladimir Putin. But having the same name as the prime minister did not help the candidate--he lost the elections. "Dirty Technology" represents a whole range of practices, from simply buying votes to more elaborate tactics. For instance, residents of a particular constituency are awoken in the middle of the night by telephone calls asking them to vote for a particular candidate. Of course, they vote for his opponent.

From 19 December to 26 March
Boris Yel'tsin refrained from publicly expressing his political sympathies. Besides his appeal to keep elections honest, the president indicated none of his preferences. On the other hand, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was extremely active during the election campaign. He did not confine himself to supporting the Yedinstvo bloc. Instead, during trips to the regions and when speaking in Moscow, Putin indicated that the victory of the pro-government blocs would be taken as indication of the region's loyalty to the central power. Hence his ability to mobilize the "administrative resources" of the regional governors and presidents.

In 1993 and in 1995, Boris Yel'tsin was unable to get the kind of Duma he wanted. Vladimir Putin managed this on the first attempt. Now the acting president has a very manageable parliament. In the old Duma, power was concentrated in the hands of a few large factions (e.g., the KPRF and Our Home is Russia) which could establish a stable majority with minimal agreement among themselves. In the old Duma there were seven deputy blocs; in the new Duma there are nine. This creates a different situation within the parliament. A "multipolar" and politically "colorful" Duma gives the executive power practically unlimited room to maneuver. The new Kremlin boss, whoever is elected on 26 March, will have to rely on schemes and intrigue, but this should not be difficult to manage. The scandal that occurred within the first days of the new Duma over the Yedinstvo-KPRF "deal" to grab committee chairmanships demonstrates how easily such schemes can be implemented.

The first steps of the major candidates for the presidency (especially Vladimir Putin and his team) show that the leader of Russia will be elected mainly by the heads of the regions. Now that these local leaders have begun to flex their political muscles, one can assume that the 26 March 2000 elections will constitute the logical continuation of the December parliamentary results. This is hardly a democratic election system. The more entrenched it becomes, the more reasons the West and, especially, modern Russian society, have to worry about the fate of democratic institutions in the Russian Federation.

1. In the 1993 elections, the pro-government bloc Vybor Rossii (Russia's Choice) had 15.51 percent; in 1995, Nash Dom Rossiya (Our Home is Russia) obtained 10.13 percent of the vote.

2. The political blocs that didn't make it into the Duma deserve a brief mention. Two electoral blocs passed the two-percent mark: Zhenshiny Rossii (Women of Russia) and Kommunisty, Trudiashchiyasia Rossii-Za Sovetskii Soyuz (Communists, Workers of Russia-For the Soviet Union). Two more, Partiya Pensionerov and Nash Dom Rossiya, received over one percent of the votes. Sixteen blocs did not receive one percent of the votes.

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