26/11/2007 - D-7
Eleven political parties are running in the general elections that will take place in Russia on 2nd December next. Ten of them have met for a TV debate organised as a part of the electoral campaign – the eleventh, Unified Russia, Vladimir Putin's party refused to take part!
"Unified Russia is showing its lack of courage by not taking part in the debate and by hiding behind President Putin's image," maintains Serguei Mironov, chairman of the Council of the Federation, the Upper House in Parliament and of the Pensioners' Party (PP) and member of a new party, Fair Russia (SR).
600 people are standing for Unified Russia, 523 for the Communist Party (KPRF), 342 for Yabloko (Apple), 302 for the Union of Right Forces (SPS), 360 for the Liberal Democratic party (LDPR) and 556 for Fair Russia (SR). According to analysts campaign expenditure will be six times higher in these general elections than in the previous election on 7th December 2003. Hence Unified Russia will have spent 320 million roubles, the Liberal Democratic Party 290, the Union of Right Forces 108 and finally the Communist Party, Fair Russia and Yabloko around 75 million. The electoral law establishes a ceiling expenditure sum of 400 million roubles which does not include campaign funds from the parties' regional branches.
In all 107 million voters are eligible to vote on 2nd December next. Polling stations will be open in 140 foreign countries.
Three major points should be noted with regard to this election. Firstly polls show a decrease in interest on the part of the Russians in comparison with the previous general elections: only 13% of those interviewed said they were following the campaign. Valery Federov explains this indifference by the stabilisation of Russian society over the last few years; "people's main concern today is to make the most of their material prosperity." Then there is the personal involvement of the President of the Federation of Russia in the campaign, an all time first in the country, which has radically changed the very nature of the election in which according to Alexei Sidorenko, political analyst at the Carnegie Centre in Moscow "voters are not really being asked to choose between several parties but to indicate their degree of support for the leadership of Vladimir Putin." Finally ideologies are no longer part of the Russian political arena and each of the parties has focussed its campaign on specific issues and promises rather on the defence of values.
On 14th November last in Krasnoyarsk, Vladimir Putin said, "If we have managed to do everything we have done over the last few years it is mostly due to the fact that during my work I relied greatly on Unified Russia in Parliament. This consolidated strength has helped me take certain decisions and to apply them. I therefore decided to create a real government majority in the Duma. If the majority of voters choose Unified Russia my appreciation of the effectiveness of the work undertaken by all in the Duma and in government with a view to applying the decisions that are to be approved will be justified. Just how I shall do this I cannot yet say. There are several possible options. Depending on the election results on which I am counting – I shall have various possibilities at my disposal." On 20th November he promised a "total renewal" of the Russian leadership after the elections.
We should remember that Vladimir Putin, whose 2nd term in office is coming to an end cannot, according to the Russian Constitution, stand for a third consecutive mandate and therefore he will have to leave the Kremlin in March, when the next presidential election is due to take place. The three personalities most likely to succeed him are the Prime Minister, Viktor Zubkov, the two Deputy Prime Ministers, Sergey Ivanov and Dmitri Medvedev. Political analyst, Dmitri Badovsky, noted that during his speech on 14th November Vladimir Putin said publicly for the first time that the general elections on 2nd December next were, in his opinion, a confidence test. On 20th December last the Chairman of the Council of the Federation, Serguey Mironov, called on the President of the Federation to run in the presidential election on 7th March next. "I think Vladimir Putin should remain president after March 2008. The country and our people need him," he maintained, stressing that the Fundamental Law "is not sent to us from heaven," and therefore it can be circumnavigated.
At the beginning of November, Abdul-Khakim Sultigov, co-ordinator of ethnic policy and co-operation with religious associations for Unified Russia published an article on the party's internet site entitled "The national leader, a Russian phenomenon" in which he asks regional governors and local leaders, political parties and institutions of civil society to sign an oath to Vladimir Putin (in line with a model oath by the first Czar in 1613), and plans to create civic assembly which might be led by the President of the Federation. Abdul-Khakim Sultygov presents his theory as an alternative to western democracy. On 7th November Unified Russia disassociated itself from this suggestion saying that the author only expressed his personal point of view. Apart from being incompatible with the constitution this suggestion would certainly not please many people abroad. On several occasions Vladimir Putin has demonstrated, in spite of his way of ruling – which is far from conforming to democratic standards – that he would like to protect his international credibility as far as possible.
Unified Russia which would like to win 60% of the vote on 2nd December next has asked each of its members (1.69 million in all) to win over at least 10 people before the vote takes place. "The formation and rise to power of Unified Russia is founded on the long term. The party's aim, especially tailored for Vladimir Putin, is to reduce political competition. But Russia can still undergo a serious crisis. This is why Fair Russia was formed, in order to avoid this danger," says political analyst, Tatiana Stanova, from the Political Techniques Center. The majority party has 192 outgoing MPs, 65 regional leaders and over 20 mayors from the regional capitals on its electoral lists.
The Communist Party which likes to believe it is the only party standing against Vladimir Putin has focused its campaign on social justice and is promising to improve the Russians' daily lives as well as the status of the army and the military. "If the country's resources were distributed fairly each Russian would receive 160,000 dollars," declared the party's leader, Guennadi Ziouganov. The latter would like to fight against the ageing population and the drop in the birth rate that is affecting Russia; he does not hesitate to talk of the "genocide of the Russian people." The Communist Party is strong due to the immense support on the part of the most motivated categories of the population: the retired and those aged 40-60.
"We convince the right and we reassure the left," this is the motto adopted by the Union of Right Forces in these elections. The party tried to prevent President Putin from standing in the general election but this was in vain. The Central Electoral Commission indicated by means of its chairman Vladimir Churov, that this candidature was "as fair as when the President of the USA led his party in the elections and as fair as when the Norwegian Prime Minister stood as leading candidate for his party in the general elections." The Union of Right Forces like many others has complained of the obstacles it has encountered when organising its electoral meetings and of the confiscation and destruction of some of its campaign material. Many parties have made similar complaints.
The Agrarian Party (APR) has made food the heart of its campaign, running under the banner of "Bread for All". The Green Party (Z) was not allowed to stand in the elections due to the invalidity of some signatures that it presented; it has called for a vote in favour of the Liberal Democratic Party led by Vladimir Jirinovski. Both parties signed a co-operation agreement on 14th November.
Former chess champion Gary Kasparov, one of Putin's main rivals is calling to vote blank on 2nd December next since the possibility of voting "against all candidates" was cancelled in the new electoral law. "The Kremlin is not even trying to hide that fact that these general elections will be decided behind closed doors," comments the leading candidate of the "Other Russia." Garry Kasparov was given permission to hold a rally in Moscow on 24th November. The Union of Right Forces announced that it intended to take part in this demonstration. However Mr Kasparov was condemned to serve five days in prison on 24th November for holding an illegal demonstration and for refusing to obey police orders!
Finally the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) decided on 16th November to cancel its observation mission for the Russian elections. In reaction to this decision, diplomatic spokesperson Mikhail Kamynine said that "the OSCE could decide what it wanted." "The elections are more a grand show than a necessary phase in the country's political development," indicated Nikolay Petrov, a political analyst from the Carnegie Centre in Moscow. The reception of observers during the elections is however an obligation on the part of OSCE members. In October Vladimir Putin decided just to receive a lower number of observers than during the elections on 7th December 2003 (1,200 people monitored the electoral procedure then including over 400 OSCE observers). He accused the OSCE of "being biased" with regard to Russia, since the OSCE said at the time that the general elections were not held according to all the criteria of a democratic election. The Union of Right Forces leader, Nikita Belykh said that Vladimir Putin's refusal was a sign that "the ruling power had been planning from the outset to break the law and falsify the election results."
According to a poll undertaken by VTsIOM, published on 21st November only Unified Russia and the Communist Party are due to win over 7% of the vote, a figure necessary to be represented in the Duma, the lower House in the Russian Parliament. Unified Russia, led by Vladimir Putin, is forecast to win 63.8% of the vote, the Communist Party, 7.3%. Fair Russia is due to win 6% only and the Liberal Democratic Party, 5.2%. Finally the Union of Right Forces should win 0.9%, Yabloko 1.2% and the Agrarian Party, 1.4%. 74.1% of those interviewed said they were certain they would vote on 2nd December.
"The Communist Party carries the opposition on the left, the Union of Right Forces that of the right and all of the others express their support. It seems to me that this election does in fact make political sense: it is a fight to ensure that we shall not just have two parties in the Duma, Unified Russia and the Communist Party but three," stresses political analyst Dmitri Oreshkin. "Voters who want to express their opposition to Vladimir Putin are forced to vote for the Communist Party," maintains Leonid Sedov of Levada.
The future of the political parties which do not make it into the Duma is, in all events, greatly compromised.