The date is set. Putin signed a decree designating 1 December election day to the State Duma. The vote opens up all 450 seats for election.
Russia’s Duma is based on proportional representation. For parties to gain seats they must get at least 7 percent in the polls–a slightly higher threshold than the previous 5 percent.
There are fifteen parties listed as eligible, but according to polls, only United Russia, Just Russia, the Communist Party and the Liberal Democratic Party will win enough votes to gain seats.
Opinion polls are predicting nothing short of a United Russia landslide. According to a prognosis released by VTsIOM, United Russia is figured to gain 47.7%, the Communists 14.9%, Just Russia 11.7%, and LDPR 8.8%. The other eligible parties–SPS, Yabloko, the Agrarian Party, and the Patriots of Russia are all predicted to fall short of the 7 percent needed.
Once again, polls signal a further collapse of liberalism. If SPS and Yabloko do end up missing the electoral mark, they will have to make some tough decisions about their political future. Would it be better to continue to grind it out alone, or try to affect politics by joining a party that can actually get some power. As always reconciling pragmatism with ideology will prove to be a real bitch.
But not everything will be as smooth as silk for the political favorite. While a landslide for United Russia is expected, if the VTsIOM numbers are close, the proportional breakdown of the State Duma will require its deputies to form a coalition. United Russia’s representation is expected to drop to 257 seats from the 303 they now hold. They need at least 300 seats to pass a bill unilaterally. If that is the case, it won’t be any surprise as to where that coalition will come from. The Kremlin manufactured “opposition” party, Just Russia, will certainly step in to fulfill its assigned role. Polls show that Just Russia is already whittling away at the Communists’ strength.
But when it comes to a war chest, the Communists are in the money. Kommersant reports that tallies for the second quarter report that the Communist Party increased its funds from 46.9 million to 96 million rubles.
But while the Communists hold the blue ribbon for largest proportional increase, probably the most politically important increase in funds is on the part of Just Russia. The party broke the 100 million mark in collections, 106.6 million rubles. A jump from a previous tally of 69.9 million rubles. A lot of that is going to propaganda. Their expenses for getting the word out rose from 4.8 million to 18 million rubles. No surprise there. It is after all a major election cycle. And it seems that all the spending might payoff with a small taste of power.
United Russia is a cash juggernaut by Russian political standards. For the second quarter, United Russia collected 349.9 million rubles, up from 303 million in the first quarter. It too is increasing its expenses. Its spending rose from 275 million to 293.4 million rubles.
What does all this mean? Well the obvious conclusion is like elsewhere money equals power. Given the amount of cash United Russia is raking in, it is no surprise that they will come out on top. Still, one must wonder about the Communist surge. They doubled their receipts. The question is whether this spending capital will translate into any political capital at the polls.
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By Sean — 10 years ago
T-minus five days and counting. Here’s today’s roundup. The Christian Science Monitor, which I heard was once known for its objectivity, has apparently dumped it. In an editorial titled “Putin’s Potemkin Election,” CSM states that the Duma elections signal the end of Russia’s multi-party system. “In reality Russia is becoming a one-party state. One need only examine the coming parliamentary elections to see how this tragedy is happening.” Only two parties will remain in the Duma–United Russia and the Communists. Changes to the electoral law has made it “harder to run for elections.” In 2004, the law was changed to say that a political party must have a membership of 50,000 (up from 10,000) to register and 200,000 signatures to be on the ballot. This and other changes are what makes the Duma election “Potemkin.”
This is really funny, especially when you consider electoral law in California. For a new political party to get registered in the Golden State, it must have 88,991 people (or one percent of the state electorate) complete “an affidavit of registration, on which they have written in the proposed party name as the party they affiliate with.” To get on the California ballot, a party must have 889,991 signatures (or ten percent of the state electorate) from California alone. Strangely, I don’t recall any articles about California elections being referred to as “Potemkin.”
Such pontificating and hypocrisy are expected from the West. In addition to noting the obvious facade of the Duma elections, Western governments are continuing to line up to condemn the arrests of participants in anti-Putin protests in Moscow and St. Petersburg. To think President Bush had to nerve to throw his two cents in. “I am deeply concerned about the detention of numerous human rights activists and political leaders who participated in peaceful rallies in Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Nizhniy Novgorod, and Nazran this weekend,” he said. “I am particularly troubled by the use of force by law enforcement authorities to stop these peaceful activities and to prevent some journalists and human rights activists from covering them.” You gotta be kidding me. I don’t recall any statement when the NYPD locked up 1000 people protesting the RNC Convention in 2004 in what became known as “Guantanamo on the Hudson.”
It should come as no surprise that Moscow’s Meshchansky Court upheld Kasparov’s arrest.
Sure it’s easy to point to the hypocrisy. But I have one more. Or really it’s a request. Can anyone explain to me what Anne Applebaum’s point is in her column on Slate called “The New Dissidents“? Among other things like comparing Other Russia to Soviet dissidents of yore, she writes, “Odder still is the fact that we hear anything about [Other Russia] at all.” What!? When is the last time she’s done a Google News or Yandex News search? Apparently she’s the only one that finds the voluminous amount of reporting in English and Russian on Kasparov et al. as “odd” I mean Kasparov is a contributing editor of the Wall Street Journal of all things.
The Russian Duma elections will not be fair or perfect by any standards. Sure Putin’s United Russia is popular and would win even if they had one hand behind their back. Even so, that doesn’t mean that in some nefarious ballot stuffing won’t take place in Russia’s nether regions. The election might be a hark back to the days of Stakhanovism when competitions between factories pushed productivity quotas beyond capacity. I’m sure no regional governor is going to let the other eclipse his own sycophantic pandering to the center. No one seems to deny this. A senior election official quoted in the Moscow Times says that “have been ordered to make sure that United Russia collects double the number of votes it is expected to win in State Duma elections on Sunday — even if they have to falsify the results.” How would this be done? The best way according to this unnamed official is to change the polling station’s protocol, that is the record of how many people vote and how many votes go to a party. “During past Duma elections this was the most common way to falsify the results,” he told the Times. “We would do it in front of foreign observers because they didn’t understand anything on what was going on.” If this is true, I sure hope that whatever elections monitors arrive, they aren’t as stupid as the last ones.
I assume this how election monitors from Nashi will spend their time. According to Lentna.ru, Nashi, along with VTsIOM and FOM, will be conducting exit polls. Exit poll monitoring will be one of the ways “Our Elections,” a coalition of Nashi, Young Guard, and Young Russia, will ensure that the ballots don’t get hijacked by colored revolutionary wreckers and saboteurs–all of which they label one kind of fascist or another. One wonders if they will do something like posing as “vampires” of votes, rather than vampires of blood like they did in an action to get Muscovites to donate blood in September. I can see it now. Nashisty running around saying “I’ve cum to suck yur votes!”
The Kremlin appears ready to fight election fraud of its own. Election Commissioner Vladimir Churov called upon voters to “not subvert” the elections by drawing “smiley faces, horns, or any other drawings” on or next to parties on ballots. Voters are also urged to not make the ballot an editorial. So, he warned, no one is to write “this party is the worst of all” next to the party of their choosing. Also, election workers are to avoid engaging in “boisterous discussions” with voters who share different opinion. Man, Churov is taking all the fun out of voting!
And by far the best election story of the day comes from Dagestan. There, Nukh Nukhov, a candidate for SPS, has been charged with “hooliganism,” “causing bodily harm,” and “illegal possession of weapons.” According to Lenta.ru, the story began way back in March this year. On 11 March, during the regional Dagestani elections, a “skirmish” broke out between Nukhov, who was then standing for reelection, and four of his people with Mohammed Aliev, who is the head of Dakhadaevksii district and United Russia, and his brothers. When the smoke cleared two of Nukhov men were killed and two, including Nukhov, were wounded. Aliev and his men fled the scene but a subsequent investigation landed his brothers in jail. Nukhov is said to have “fled with help of his contacts with security organs.”
Nukhov has been in hiding all this time. Or so says the Dagestani prosecutor. But Nukhov dutifully showed up to the court to answer for his behavior. There was even a 200 person strong protest calling for his immediate release. OMON quickly showed up and cordoned off the square.
The Nukhov-Aliev brawl makes me wonder. How much of this election is really about politics and ideology? Perhaps, especially in the localities, it is about clans from the top of the power vertical to the bottom securing their continued right to plunder. If this is the case, perhaps it’s time to dump all the finger wagging about “democracy” and see Russian politics for what it is, rather than what we want it to be.Post Views: 51
By Sean — 9 years ago
“I’m out of it for a little while and everybody gets delusions of grandeur.” Now I understand how Han Solo felt after being defrosted from carbonite. I go into the basement for two weeks and there are rumors of me being in a post-election hangover, or worse, murdered. Well, I assure you dear readers that I’m alive and well. Los Angeles may be ablaze (again) but I’m safe from the rings of fire, that is until I kick the bucket and meet the dark lord.
For the past few weeks I’ve been devoting my Bolshevik will and strength to finishing a dissertation chapter. “Bolsheviks can storm any fortress” read the Stalinist slogan, and I did. I do have to finish this damn dissertation at some point. And well if I have to pick between you my dear reader and my career, well my petite-bourgeois sensibilities win out every time. Just don’t hate the player, hate the game. So over the next few months expect more periods where I go underground . . .
But the delusions of grandeur aren’t about me and my rumored doom. They have more to do with what’s been going on in Russia over the last few weeks. Well, not in Russia exactly, but more how it’s being interpreted by the gatekeepers of English language reporting. As we know, Obama was elected President of the United States, and Dima Medvedev instead of showing the proper deference to the new Emperor decided to address the Duma where he blamed the US for the global economic crisis (he’s right) and threatened to put missiles in Kaliningrad to match American intentions of putting missiles in Poland. Was this the challenge to Obama’s “lack of experience” that everyone predicted? The New York Times thought so. It called Medvedev’s move “a cold-war-tinged challenge for President-elect Barack Obama.” After all, the Times reasoned, “Russia’s leaders know full well that the American missile defenses pose no real threat to their huge nuclear arsenal. But playing the victim is an easy way to divert attention from Russia’s shrinking democracy, and now from declining oil prices.” A new President but the Times plays the same old record. So much for hope and change. Russia’s just the same old big bully, they say. Sigh.
But digging at the US wasn’t all, or even the real focus of Mr. Medevev’s speech. Sorry to disappoint my fellow Americans, but sometimes you aren’t at the center of everyone’s existence. To quote the NY Times again, “The dark flashbacks didn’t end there.” Surprise! Medvedev isn’t the liberal everyone hoped, prayed, and sacrificed small animals and virgins for. He’s a Putinist of perhaps a lighter shade, but still a Putinist. Dima’s most recent affront to Western democratic sensibilities was his proposal that the Russian presidential term be extended from four to six years. Immediately, pundits cried “authoritarianism” and revived the corpse of Putin’s impending return to Russia’s top job. The logic goes that since Putin didn’t want to risk international condemnation for changing the Constitution when he was President (as if there wasn’t enough condemnation already), he sent is little bear to do the dirty work.
The changes were submitted to the Duma on Friday and they passed without a hitch. No surprises there or in the Guardian‘s Luke Harding usually predictable analysis: The changes entrench “the Kremlin’s grip on power and paving the way for an early comeback by Vladimir Putin.” In fact, rumor has it that Putin will be back as early as 2009! For the life of me, I can’t figure out why this signals Putin’s “early comeback” especially since people like Harding believe that he never went anywhere in the first place. After all, isn’t Putin the de facto President anyway? Is Medvedev Putin’s puppet or not? Make up your damn mind.
In addition to extending the presidential term, Medvedev also proposed extending the terms of Duma reps from four to five years. This will certainly make representatives of United Russia happy. Since the majority of Duma seats are based on lists and not direct candidate elections, this will solidify their place for one more year. Rest easy, comrades. But not too easy . . .
Medvedev also made some other interesting proposals in his speech that went virtually unnoticed in the Western press. One is to change appointments for governors. Instead of being appointed by the Kremlin, candidates for governor would chosen by their parties and be elected by a majority vote in their respective provincial Dumas. Ekspert called this move “the most radical of all presidential initiatives.” If this is implemented, governors would be more accountable to the regions they represent rather than to the Kremlin. True, the Kremlin will certainly have a hand in the process via the back door–United Russia, after all, dominates every regional parliament–but it is a move toward some semblance of political decentralization.
The question, however, is why? Why extend terms of President, Duma reps, and propose altering regional politics? Many have pointed out that it’s all about the boys in the Kremlin tightening their grip. Perhaps, but I have a different take.
Taken together, Medvedev’s proposals are a gift and a check to bureaucratic power. Extending Duma terms gives reps a bit more time to rest on their laurels. Score one for the national political elite. Making governors accountable to locals is feather in the cap of local elites. Score one for them. Extending the presidential terms to six years, however, is a potential check against this transfer of power. The President will be in power longer than any one Duma member and given more time to put pressure on regional governors and their parliaments.
Extending the presidential term also suggests something else. In his speech, Medvedev spoke of “effective government.” In one sense, his proposals are exactly about effective government. They potentially, and I say potentially, increase the President’s effectiveness in influencing governance. But this doesn’t mean that it’s about the Kremlin strengthening itself. Quite the opposite, in my view. Extending the top dog’s term says to me that the center still can’t trust its regions to implement its agenda. Therefore the President needs two more years to ram it down their throats.
Political power in Russia is indeed centralized because the history of regional politics from the Tsars to Putin have been one of autonomy, localization, stonewalling, foot dragging, or worse, exploiting the center’s directives. Russian rulers’ solution has been to centralize its power. But here is where the inner contradiction of centralization rears its ugly head. The center must weaken the periphery to run the country as effective as it can, but in that weakening it makes itself the only real political force of reform, negating the power local need to prosecute the center’s policies. The center is thus weakened by its very effort at becoming more effective. The question then becomes how do you rule effectively and subordinate the machinations of regional boyars without giving them too much power to muck up your agenda? It sounds as if Medvedev, with his proposed changes, is faced with the same conundrum. Whether they will provide some semblance of an answer remains to be seen.
To think people believe that Putin wants this job back?!Post Views: 209
By Sean — 10 years ago
Two steps back, one step forward. It’s not the Watusi. It’s certainly not the hokey-pokey. Perhaps it’s a waltz. Whatever the dance step Vladimir Putin is leading Russia’s political future with, it’s certainly keeping everyone on their toes. Let’s just recap the last few weeks. Prime Minster Mikhail Fradkov resigns only to be replaced by a seemingly unknown technocrat and Putin ally Viktor Zubkov. This move caused many to immediately shoot Zubkov to the top of the successor list. Others were more cautious, seeing Zubkov’s becoming Prime Minister as simply a way to Putin to have an ace in the hole against the Kremlin clans. Zubkov is said to be an outsider of sorts and not beholden to any clan, that is of course if you don’t think Putin has a clan of his own. Further Zubkov, as the head of the Federal Financial Monitoring Service, has access to what RFE/RL’s Victor Yasmann calls “a unique political weapon“: intimate knowledge about the legal and illegal flow of capital in and outside of Russia. In Zubkov, Putin has his own financial spy.
But Zubkov’s nomination was only the beginning. A new PM surely meant a new government, and the speculation over which fresh faces would inhabit the cabinet kept everyone on edge. But last week’s announcement proved hardly climactic. No one was surprised by the sacking of German Gref and Mikhail Zurabov and the removal of Vladimir Yakovlev, the head of Regional Development, made no stir since no one cares about regional development anyway. Most were surprised that Gref and Zurabov lasted so long. The appointment of two women, Tatyana Golikova to replace Zurbaov as Health and Social Development Minister and Elvira Nabiullina to take over for Gref as Trade Minister, caused some statements about the cabinet’s feminization. Who would have ever though Putin was a partisan for affirmative action. The Presidential cabinet got two new ministries, the revival of the Federal Fishing Agency to be headed by Andrey Krainy and a committee on youth, the head of which has yet to be announced. (I suspect Nashi’s Vasili Yakamenko will eventually fill this position.) On the whole, however, the big surprise was that there was no surprise, though according to Kommersant’s Andrey Kolesnikov Putin even kept his own ministers on pins and needles as to their future until the last minute.
Though the Russian government’s “reshuffle” was lackluster, Zubkov, surely seasoned by his years on the kolkhoz, already appears to be a force to be reckoned with. His first cabinet meeting began with a session of “criticism” for the government’s failures to implement reforms, infighting, and neglect of fulfilling regional requests for resources. Zubkov then pulled an old arrow from the quiver of Soviet governance and ordered his minister’s underlings to the provinces. Next, Zubkov made a tried and true Russian political move. He began an anti-corruption campaign, calling for the Duma to adopt an anti-corruption law that’s been languishing since 1992. As of now the Russian Criminal Code has no laws explicitly defining corruption. And though anti-corruption campaigns are usually no more than a populist ruse, (anti-corruption and anti-bureacratism were favorites in Soviet times), Zubkov might have actually scared the Russian elite into thinking that he’s serious. A few weeks ago Zubkov created the Investigation Committee under the Justice Ministry especially for investigating corruption. The Committee took its first casualty on last Thursday when a man dressed in black pumped three bullets, including one “control shot,” into Nazim Kaziakhmedov, a chief investigator on the Committee, as he left the Bakinskii Dvorik restaurant in northeastern Moscow.
Zubkov’s exhibition of a strong hand in governance only propelled his status as a possible successor to Putin. So far he’s deflected reporters inquiries, saying that wants to score some successes as PM before moving to something bigger. Assumed front runners Sergei Ivanov and Dmitri Medvedev now seem to have taken a back seat in the presidential “chatter.” Even Putin threw his own curve ball or sorts. After praising Zubkov as “highly professional,” “a man of integrity with sound judgment, responsibility, and wisdom” and “a man of strong character and expensive experience” (platitudes that are sure to spark jealously in his inner circle), Putin contended that “there are at least five people can run for president and can be elected. It’s good that another person [Viktor Zubkov] has appeared. Russian citizens will have a selection of candidates to choose from.” Who the five are, besides Zubkov, he didn’t say. Interestingly, Boris Kagarlitsky thinks Putin is just winging it as a means to keep it interesting.
And here today we witness the newest Putinian dance step. United Russia’s party congress has begun, an event that will surely be overshadowed in the West by its fascination with political nobodies like Garry Kasparov. And lo and behold who is sitting at the top of United Russia’s Duma candidate list? Why it’s Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin himself! Putin gleefully accepted the nomination from the party in power. This of course immediately sparked questions about him becoming Prime Minister after the elections. “As far as heading the government is concerned – this is a quite realistic suggestion but it is still too early to think about it,” Putin answered. According to the Financial Times, while some might argue that Putin the Duma candidate is all part of an elaborate plot to bring back Putin the President in 2012 and thereby trampling Russian democracy for the umpteenth time, there is one class that will be happy: the vampires of the global financial class. “Irrespective of one’s view of Putin’s democratic credentials, markets respect the stability and prosperity he has brought to Russia, and should react positively to the latest development,” says Tim Ash, an economist at Bearns Steerns in London. And why wouldn’t it? Russia might be, in the words of Dmitri Trenin, a “very rough, brutal and cheerful capitalism”, but it is capitalist nonetheless. And the only capitalists that hem and haw about Russia lack of “democracy” are usually the ones losing their shirts. Lots and lots of people are making lots and lots of money, meaning that Putin is and will continue to be good for business. Having him close to the Russia’s political helm in the future will no doubt put many capitalists in Russia and abroad at ease. So if Putin wants to take one step forward after taking to steps back, there is no doubt in my mind that some will be urging him to take a few steps more.Post Views: 71