Tatyana Stanovaya, «Splitting and Dividing: The Main Uncertainties at the Forthcoming Elections» Slon in Russian 14 Jul 16

There are approximately two months left to the elections, and to judge by preliminary reports, there are three parties with a chance of getting into the Russian parliament’s lower chamber on the party lists: United Russia, the CPRF [Communist Party of the Russian Federation], and the LDPR [Liberal Democratic Party of Russia) and perhaps Just Russia, which is balancing on the verge of the 5 percent barrier for getting in). The current elections, according to the formal signs, imply a broader political offering, but observers do not rule out the possibility that just three forces will get through on the lists. Support for the traditional four is subsiding, but the electorate, remaining conformist, is not prepared for protests and support for the «nonsystemic» parties. That could markedly increase the chances of electoral surprises following the 18 September election of State Duma deputies.
In 2011 all seven registered parties took part in the elections, with four getting in. In 2016 of the 75 parties with the right to take part, 24 have held their own congresses, and of those 14 did not need to collect signatures.
Does the quantitative expansion of choice mean a qualitative expansion of choice?
All 14 participants taking the easier route (which means they have at least some signs of political life) can be divided according to their political functionality. United Russia is the dominant party, with the entire system structured to it getting a majority. There then follows the systemic opposition, whose key characteristic is to refuse to criticize Putin. The systemic opposition is also divided into those who have solid electoral (ideological) foundations and those who are, to put it simply, opportunists. The former should include the CPRF. This is essentially the only main alternative to the party of power which has a historically formed core electorate around which an additional field of support and potential resources could form. The LDPR’s electorate is more volatile and scarcely compatible with the «consistent ideological supporter» concept.
Just Russia’s position is reminiscent today of the position of the Union of Right Forces and Yabloko at the end of 2003: They could get in, but the party itself is in crisis. It has not succeeded in becoming either the opposition (or a moderate social democratic force) or the second party of power. In addition Mironov has lost his status as «Putin’s friend»: First, he tried to flirt with Medvedev (very unsuccessfully); second, he dared criticize Putin in 2010, when a substantial section of the Russian elite believed that there would be no Putin comeback and Medvedev would have a second term; third, the party split in the period of the protests of late 2011 and early 2012, so that all the «living» politicians had to be driven from the party. As a result Just Russia has become something like «Patriots of Russia»: It is no longer laying claim to being the opposition 2011-style or to being a 2007-model rival to the party of power, but rather to being a spoiler for the CPRF.
From here we move to the next category — the spoilers. They include the Russian Party of Pensions for Justice, «Patriots of Russia,» and «Communists of Russia.» Standing apart from these is the «Rodina» project, which tried to resurrect itself last year against the background of the national-patriotic upsurge, but did not actually get proper Kremlin support. The party recently submitted lists for registration, but its leader, onetime United Russia member Aleksandr Zhuravlev, is also running for a district for the All-Russia People’s Front. The spoiler’s main task is to hinder the rivals to the party of power but certainly not to get into parliament. So these are not players but schemes.
The extraparliamentary parties can also notionally be divided into the ideological and the opportunistic. The former include Yabloko, Russia’s oldest party, which is trying to resurrect itself from many years of oblivion, and also PARNAS [People’s Freedom Party]. Yabloko is more cautious when it comes to criticizing Putin; PARNAS is clearly beyond the bounds of propriety as the Kremlin understands it and is 100 percent unelectable.
The Party of Growth may be called an opportunist party despite its ambitions to the role of (yet another) new right-wing force. To a certain extent it is performing today the role of the «Right Cause» party at the time of Mikhail Prokhorov, the only difference being that its policy is more flexible, its position more constructive, and it has less money. It is true that «Right Cause» was left without a head before the 2011 elections as a result of a conflict between Prokhorov and Surkov.
Finally, there are the fragments of the right-wing forces that have become business projects: «Civil Platform (which used to be Prokhorov’s) and «Civil Force.» In March the former rid itself of its last oppositionists, while the latter has expanded with the addition of the «Georgiyevtsy» Orthodox youth movement, making the fight against abortion a key idea of its campaign.
The remaining parties, which will have to collect signatures, may boldly be categorized as political plankton, with one exception, the Party of the Great Fatherland of Nikolay Starikov, a conspiracy theorist and at the same time someone who loves Putin. Of course, this is no kind of party, but Starikov himself is a famous and quite often scandalous figure, a kind of Zhirinovskiy for the Putin era.
As a result the real diversity of parties by comparison with 2011 has not changed that much. The party of power has remained as it was, except that the All-Russia People’s Front has been added to it to give it spice. The Communists, the LDPR, and Just Russia are three candidates for getting into the State Duma, as they were five years ago. In 2011 there were essentially no right-wingers and this time there is a choice between the opportunistic Boris Titov and the discredited PARNAS. Plus a slightly emboldened Yabloko with Vladimir Ryzhkov and Dmitriy Gudkov (in addition to Yavlinskiy) on the list.
Will get through — won’t get through
Some uncertainties have already been observed. The first is the fight for second place between the CPRF and the LDPR. According to the FOM [Public Opinion Foundation] figures (percentages of the total number of respondents) in July, Zhirinovskiy’s party is overtaking the CPRF by 1 percent (giving the parties 11 and 10 percent respectively). VTsIOM [All-Russia Center for the Study of Public Opinion on Social and Economic Questions] gives 10.4 percent as against 9 percent (for the CPRF and the LDPR) but two previous polls in May and June put the LDPR ahead. The Levada Center confirms, rather, the last VTsIOM figures with 11 percent for the CPRF and 9 percent for the LDPR. But the media are saying that the CPRF’s rating is stagnant while the LDPR’s rating is rising.
There is probably a speculative side to this too: The Kremlin’s game against the CPRF could be built inter alia on downplaying expectations for its results. And there is cause to be concerned here: According to the Levada Center, 18 percent of those who go to vote could vote for the CPRF as against 11.5 percent in 2011. At the last elections Zhirinovskiy’s party got slightly over 8 percent, while the party could get 14 percent this time. So the systemic opposition’s ratings are nonetheless growing.
The second uncertainty, also to a certain degree involving manipulation, is the Just Russia party getting into the State Duma. The FOM and VTsIOM figures show that the party could get in. Counting from the number of those who will go to vote, the Levada Center gives Sergey Mironov’s party just 5 percent (or 2 percent of all those polled). Whether to bring it up to the mark or not — that is the question facing the Presidential Staff Domestic Policy Administration.
On the one hand the Just Russia members have settled down and are no longer going to Bolotnaya Square (indeed, there is no Bolotnaya anymore). In addition it does at least provide some kind of political diversity. On the other hand, if the party really does end up with less than 5 percent, it will be hard to bring it up to the mark, considering the mood of administrative inertia displayed by the electoral power vertical toward counting votes in favor of the party of power. It is likely that so far the Kremlin is minded to bring it up to the mark, but will decide as the situation dictates.
Undecided but dissatisfied
Finally, the third uncertainty is certainly not the results of Yabloko and the Party of Growth but how the «don’t knows,» those who do not know whether to vote or who to vote for, behave. The Levada Center indicates that the population’s motives for voting are changing: Going to the polling places is losing its political meaning for the population. There has been a drastic decline in the number of those who vote out of a sense of duty (of belonging to the life of the state) and of those who want to express a political stance, but there has been an increase in the number of those who vote out of habit. The figure for those who stated they do not trust any politicians was 31 percent (compared to 18 percent in March 2016). The result of the FBK sociology center poll introduced an uncertainty of its own. According to the center’s figures, 25 percent have not made their choice, while 19 percent do not know. According to FOM, 31 percent have not decided whether they will go to vote.
To all appearances, what is taking shape (and this was predicted by the Kremlin, which decided to return to the mixed system and to support the All-Russia People’s Front) is an electorate that is tired of the four parliamentary parties and which at the same time is not prepared to support the nonsystemic opposition. That electorate, which according to different methodologies may number 20 to 30 percent, is prepared to vote for notional «systemic other» parties, which already include Yabloko and the Party of Growth. Their result (the rating for both is currently below 1 percent) could end up as a surprise to observers, but their chance of topping the 5 percent barrier nonetheless remains low.
In any event the new parliament will be Putin’s whatever political colors the deputies may deck themselves in. But it will also be less harmonious. We often overlook the fact that the new factions, not counting United Russia, will be far smaller in the new Duma in terms of their numerical strength, because half the Duma seats in the districts will be allocated according to the plurality system. So the new composition could be more atomized (outside United Russia) and only the party of power will succeed in retaining a large faction. For instance, in 2003 the «Rodina» bloc, which got 9 percent on the lists, received 56 seats. It will be hard for single-seat candidates to swell the factions’ numbers: United Russia has ceded only 18 districts to its colleagues in managed democracy and even then in some districts real pro-regime candidates are running as independents, reducing the chances of the systemic opposition.
An atomized parliament will then be simpler to unite under the roof of the All-Russia People’s Front or some other pro-Putin movement. It will be harder for the oppositionists to mobilize their forces in this parliament. That is probably what the main political thrust of the campaign will be — splitting and dividing, which the United Russia primaries fully showed. Parliament’s pronouncedly more fragmented nature markedly expands opportunities for the most diverse combinations of political forces. That is convenient for the Kremlin in a crisis. But it also shapes a demand for manipulators as an obligatory add-on to the new Duma on the Kremlin spin doctors’ unwritten lists


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