Even now, a week to the election day, one can draw conclusions about the outcome. This autumn's race has been mainly about the campaign waged by the so-called party of power against the Communist Party. In 1999, the former's key rival was the Fatherland - All Russia bloc (OVR), led by ex-premier Yevgeny Primakov and Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, who were very popular figures at the time.
Fierce attacks were launched against them by the government-controlled media, especially against Primakov who was considered a significant presidential hopeful. The situation has changed since then, however. The OVR first became an ally of the pro-government Unity party, and then merged with it forming United Russia, the current party of power and this year's clear front-runner. So, the government-controlled media have aimed their heavy blows at the Communist Party (KPRF) instead, which apparently had not expected an information attack on this scale. Somewhat bewildered, the party has failed to deal with the pressure, which is most clearly seen on state-run TV channels. In any case, preliminary estimates suggest the Communists' rating is way below that of United Russia.
The Communist Party, which has won the most votes in two consecutive State Duma elections, has apparently made a serious strategic blunder this time. It left a weak spot for "enemy strikes" by putting a number of major businessmen - or oligarchs - on its list. They served as perfect targets for criticism. United Russia, on the other hand, chose their correct pre-election tactics by drawing the voters' attention to the progress made during President Putin's tenure: notable economic growth and slight improvement of people's living standards. The party actively supports Putin. It refrained from appearing in TV debates, possibly because it has no interesting popular leaders who could sustain sharp polemics. A dull presentation could have adversely affected the party's rating. The refusal to accept the televised challenge, of course, aroused a lot of criticism in the media, and even CEC chairman Alexander Veshnyakov said United Russia should not have avoided the TV duels. However, the election law does not say that every party has to take part in such events, so United Russia reacted to the criticism calmly.
This party, led by such prominent politicians as Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov, Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu and Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, is bound to win the elections. It could take up to 30% of the vote which, added to the single-seat constituencies winners, would ensure it 250 to 270 seats out of 450 in the lower chamber of parliament - the much desired parliamentary majority.
The Communists will have to settle for second place this time. It can hardy be expected to net more than 20% of the vote on party tickets, even though its leader, Gennady Zyuganov, has greater ambitions. Vladimir Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democratic Party, or the LDPR, is likely to come third. It has long had a committed electorate of its own, people whose sentiments are responsive to Zhirinovsky's populist slogans, and who ensure LDPR a permanent pass to the Duma. As for the right-wingers, SPS and Yabloko seem likely to claim certain numbers of Duma seats. Both are represented in the current Duma, but only one can be expected to remain after December 7. Which one remains to be seen. The two parties' leaders, Boris Nemtsov and Grigory Yavlinsky failed to find common ground, thus making it more difficult for them to get into the Duma. However, the newly formed patriotic alliance Rodina stands a good chance of overcoming the 5% eligibility barrier. Its leaders are well-known economist Sergei Glazyev, chairman of the Duma foreign affairs committee Dmitry Rogozin, and former Central Bank head Viktor Gerashchenko.
One must expect four to five factions to form in the new Duma instead of the current six. Since United Russia will have the parliamentary majority, we should be able to avoid a period of Duma opposition to the executive authority - a common situation during Boris Yeltsin's presidency, when the KPRF had the largest faction in the Duma. The Kremlin will enjoy complete parliamentary support and the opportunity to see its reforms through without any hitches.
Vyacheslav Nikonov, Doctor of History, President of the Politika Foundation