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Landslide victory for Vladimir Putin's party and collapse of the communists in the russian general elections

Landslide victory for Vladimir Putin's party and collapse of the communists in the russian general elections

14/12/2003 - Results

President Vladimir Putin's party, "Russia Unity" (Edinaïa Rossia, ER), claimed a landslide victory in the general elections on 7th December winning 36.8% of the vote according to the latest results communicated by the central Electoral Commission. The elections take place according to proportional voting; half of the 450 MP's at the Douma are elected proportionally and the other half is elected by a single member vote within the territorial constituencies. The Liberal Democrat Party of Russia (LDPR), led by Vladimir Jirinovski, and Rodina (Mother Country) were the other two victors in these elections. The LDPR achieved its best score ever with 11.8% of the vote i.e. 5.82 points more than during the previous election on 19th December 1999, thereby becoming the third biggest party in the country, close on the heels of the Communist Party. In its Far East bastions the party went as far as winning 15% of the vote. Rodina, a nationalist party lying to the Left and that was created just a few months before the election, managed to break through winning 9% of the vote.

For the first time in the country's history the Communist Party (PCFR) did not lead the elections. It suffered true collapse winning only 12.7% of the vote i.e. 11.59 points less than during the previous elections. The other major losers were the Liberal parties, the Union of the Right (SPS), a party led by Boris Nemstov, and Iabloko (the Apple), led by Grigori Iavlinski, who for the very first time since the beginning of the 1990's, did not manage to rise above the 5% mark, winning 3.9% and 4.3% respectively. They will, therefore, not be represented at the Douma.

The results of the single member vote will be communicated at a later date but will not change these figures significantly. The participation rate rose to 57.56% i.e. 4.29 points less than during the previous election in 1999. Only one third of the inhabitants of Vladivostok (34%) went to ballot. We should note that Akhmar Zavgaïev won the only MP's post available in Chechnya with nearly 100% of the vote (the last general elections in 1999 did not take place in Chechnya where the Russian army had invaded two months earlier). Finally in four constituencies (in the regions of St Petersburg, Krasnodar, Sverdlovsk and Ulianovsk), voters chose mostly to vote "against all candidates", an opportunity for the voter to express his rejection of all those standing for election. A second round will therefore be organised in these four constituencies.

The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), that sent 400 international observers to monitor the election, concluded that the proceedings did not meet the international legal criteria required and comprised a regression in terms of the country's democracy. "In these elections the enormous means provided to the ruling power in terms of access to equipment, funds and public buildings resulted in a major distortion of the results", declared Bruce George, president of the OSCE's Parliamentary Assembly. On December 1st the international organisation published a report confirming "obvious bias" of the state TV channels in favour of "Russia Unity", bearing witness to the fact that this party had enjoyed wide media coverage (17% for the party and 40% for Vladimir Putin), that was always positive or neutral, whilst the Communists only enjoyed little airtime (12%) and that they had always appeared in a negative manner. "Equitable access to the audio-visual media was not ensured", maintained Lord Russell Johnson, an OSCE director. The international organisation denounced the frequent practise of "administrative resources", whereby a manager would order his inferiors on how to vote.

"These elections are a new step on the road to strengthening democracy in the Russian Federation", declared Vladimir Putin on Monday 8th December. The President certainly emerges strengthened from these general elections since, out of the four political parties that won over 5% of the vote two of them (in spite of its declarations against the Kremlin the Liberal Democrat party always ends up voting in the President's projects and Rodina) are ensured of having an absolute majority in the Douma and to win two thirds of the votes required (300 out of 450) in order to modify the 1993 Constitution. Indeed many political analysts believe that Vladimir Putin is planning to aspire to his third presidential mandate, which is prohibited by the Constitution. Former President Boris Yeltsin said he was opposed by any revision of the Constitution.

"One million people believed in our social justice and economic growth programme", announced a satisfied Sergueï Glaziev, leader of Rodina, "People have understood that our intentions are respectable. It was unexpected but it provides us with great responsibility". Rodina, that was almost baptised Tovarich (Comrade), was created four months before the general elections and is an assembly of about thirty small political organisations of all types (Socialists, Nationalists from Narodnaïa Volia, etc.). Its programme is focussed on the redistribution of natural resources to the people particularly the revenues from oil and chasing out the Oligarchs, the billionaires who made their fortunes thanks to the major privatisation programmes in the 1990's. It is suspected that this Leftwing Nationalist movement was created by the Kremlin in order to make inroads on the Communist electorate - and this seems all the more likely since Rodina's number two, Dimitri Rogozine, is a former Kremlin representative on the issue of the Kaliningrad enclave. "We shall give the riches back to the population", he maintained on radio Ekho Moskvi on Sunday evening.

"This shameful farce we are being shown has nothing to do with democracy", declared Guennadi Ziouganov, leader of the Communist Party, adding, "You are all taking part in this disgusting show that has been qualified, for a reason I am not aware of, as an election". The Communist denounced a number of breaches of the electoral law pointing out how much the electoral campaign had been manipulated by those in power. The Communist leaders for their part have been accused of leading a more than comfortable standard of life whilst the electorate are only just managing to survive.

The Liberal parties suffered the consequences of incessant quarrels and division. In addition to this these movements that have never taken a decision on either supporting or rejecting government projects, have still not been clearly understood by the electorate. Boris Nemtsov, leader of the Union of the Right (SPS), maintains that the Douma will now be "dominated by the national socialists and bureaucrats". These general elections probably herald the departure of personalities who have dominated political life since the end of the Soviet Union, such as the Communist leader Guennadi Ziouganov and also Anatoli Tchoubaïs, father of Russian privatisation and the liberal economist Grigori Iavlinski.

On 28th November President Vladimir Putin asked the Russians to elect an efficient Douma leaving no place for "political squabbling". "If the future Douma has to take care of internal fights and that representatives just parade in front of the cameras then the President will be powerless", he declared. The President was listened to and the new Douma should therefore be dominated by nationalist forces since the opposition is reduced to a minimum and liberal values have now lost all influence. If "Russia Unity" wins an absolute majority "the Douma will be even more docile than the previous one and Parliament will disappear as a political unit and will be purely decorative", announced political analyst Iouri Korgouniouk on the eve of the elections.

The general elections on 7th December bear witness to Vladimir Putin's hold on Russian political life and the disappearance of any other Presidential alternative. The Communist Party has been obliterated and has failed again to put forward any credible political opposition. "There is no pure opposition in Russia", declared Sergueï Ivanenko, vice-president of Iabloko just a few days ago, "what counts in the parties' eyes is the influence they manage to have on the ruling power".

These general elections that were a true referendum of the last four years of Vladimir Putin's presidency were therefore marked, as expected, by the regression of the liberals and a new breakthrough by the nationalists. They enable the President to confront quite serenely the presidential election that is planned to take place on 14th March next.

Results of the general elections on 7th December 2003 in Russia:

Participation : 57.56%

Source: Agence France Presse
Publishing Director: Pascale JOANNIN
The authors
Corinne Deloy
Author of the European Elections Monitor (EEM) for the Robert Schuman Foundation and project manager at the Institute for Political Studies (Sciences Po).
Fondation Robert Schuman
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