Russia Will Soon Elect New Parliament

In less than a month, on December 7, Russia will elect a new parliament. Sociologists believe that they already know who will win and why.

parliamentAccording to public opinion polls, potential winners are the same as they were even a year ago. The Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) and the centrist United Russia party, which supports President Putin, are still leading in the polls. Sociologists believe that the United Russia party takes the lead. According to various estimates, 25-30 percent of the electorate will vote for it. The KPRF is steadily holding the second place with 18-23 percent of the potential votes.

The rest of the parties are far behind, with only three of them having a real chance to be represented in the parliament. According to Russian legislation, parties that cannot get at least 5 percent of votes are not allocated any seats in the parliament. Such a provision was introduced to eliminate "short-lived" parties, which had been created by "big" parties in order to penetrate the parliament with an evasive maneuver from "the flank" and later create an unexpectedly strong coalition.

Currently, the SPS, Yabloko and the Liberal Democratic Party led by Vladimir Zhirinovski are believed to be able to pass the 5 percent barrier. However, according to present estimates, they will receive 3-7 percent of the votes; therefore, all three parties do not have certain guarantees.

There are two intriguing developments in the current Russian parliamentary elections. First, which party will win more votes - the KPRF or United Russia? This is a rather academic issue, because the difference between them will hardly be big enough to cause, according to the Russian Constitution, any influence on the formation of the government, probably only on the adoption of laws. Secondly, whether two rightist democratic parties - the SPS and Yabloko - will be able to get any seats in the lower chamber of the parliament, the State Duma.

Will the remaining three weeks of political campaigning somehow influence the chances of the parties? There is no doubt about it. Nearly a third of the active voters are undecided. The election campaign's developments often influence undecided voters.

For example, in 1999, the SPS unexpectedly won 7.9 percent largely due to Anatoly Chubais' talent as a public speaker demonstrated during TV debates with his opponents from other parties. Vladimir Zhirinovski won the electorate through aggressiveness and eloquence. During 1993 election campaign, his party won almost 23 percent of the votes mainly because of Mr. Zhirinovski's determination However, it could never achieve the same results later on.

The election favorite, the pro-presidential United Russia party, refuses to participate in TV debates. Their refusal is the subject of heated discussion in Russian mass media. Opposition analysts believe that United Russia, which does not have a prominent charismatic leader, feels very uneasy about ideological debates. United Russia's leaders are afraid of confronting experienced polemists like Anatoly Chubais, Vladimir Zhirinovski or Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinski in front of TV audiences. United Russia wants to convince everyone that it is beneath their dignity to conduct debates with representatives of the parties that can hope to win not more than 3-6 percent of the votes. It is, according to leader of United Russia Boris Gryzlov, as if famous hockey goalie Vladislav Tretyak had to take pictures with an amateur hockey team. The tactics of conducting an election campaign from a "Rose Garden" (or simply not conducting a campaign at all, especially when the government can prove its leadership by economic successes) have not been developed in Moscow. Taking into consideration the specifics of Russian electorate, such a decision of United Russia might still prove to be correct.

The specifics of the Russian electorate could play a significant role during the elections. And not only because the Yukos issue, if it is going to emerge during the elections at all, will play into the hand of United Russia. Russian voters are not particularly keen on the elections in general and many political scientists predict that the participation during the elections will be low. Probably, because the voters are tired of voting for fifteen years in a row without seeing any significant improvements in their lives. The absence of such voters will work against the two leaders, United Russia and the KPRF, which has lost confidence among the voters. But another reason is also possible. Since the latest elections, the Russian legislature has gone through several changes. Those changes have been aimed at minimizing the use of "dirty" election technologies, such as the sleaze war, disinformation, etc. As a result, the present election campaign is certainly less scandalous than the previous one. When there are no scandals, the interest toward the elections on the part of the electorate significantly subsides. And the statistics clearly confirm this fact. Presently, 2,030 candidates and 23 party tickets are competing for 450 deputy mandates, which means that on average there are 9 candidates for each mandate. During the 1999 elections, there were 10 candidates. The number of party tickets has been reduced as well, albeit insignificantly - by three parties.

Russia has made a significant contribution to the development of election technologies, and not only to the "dirty" ones. One such tactic is the nomination of "doubles." During the 1995 elections, a namesake of the extremely popular General Alexander Lebed appeared in an electoral ballot paper. During the present campaign there are many similar and misleading names in the electoral ballot papers which include 23 party names (for instance, there are many variations on the theme "united" in the official names of the parties). The first position in the ballot, according to random casting of lots, is occupied by an obscure political bloc Unity, which can be easily confused by many voters with the favorite party - United Russia.

In one district, two individuals with a strange name Kprf, which is identical to the abbreviation of the popular party, have put their candidatures on the ballot. Both candidates had altered their normal names shortly prior to the elections because the Russian legislation allows Russian citizens to change their names as many times as they want. We can only hope that during the upcoming March 2004 presidential elections the ballots would not contain several "newly-named" Vladimir Putins, apart from the incumbent President himself.

Marina Shakina, RIAN

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Author`s name Petr Ermilin