In the election to the Legislative Assembly of the Perm territory held yesterday, the liberal Union of Right Forces (known by its Russian acronym as SPS) won a surprising second place in the party list race with 16.4 per cent of the vote. SPS has lost to the expected winner, the United Russia party (34.6 per cent), but has come ahead of the Liberal Democratic Party (13.8 per cent), the Pensioner’s Party (11.7 per cent), and the Communist Party (8.6 per cent).
At first glance, there is no reason to overestimate the significance of the SPS electoral success.
SPS has sat out the previous election marathon (on October 8) going through what one SPS official called a "period of reflections and search for a new direction." Whatever it was, financial and human resources haven’t been spread thin in nine electoral battles but, rather, preserved for a single one.
One cannot deny, however, that the timing of the return was chosen wisely. Perm has a long-standing reputation of a liberal-minded city. Besides, the current SPS leader, Nikita Belykh, comes from Perm, not a minor factor in Russia where voters still cast ballots for familiar faces, rather than (largely ignored) parties or ideologies. Mr. Belykh led the SPS list and promptly promised, after having being elected, to play active role in the newly-formed Assembly (despite holding an office in Moscow).
On the other hand, one shouldn’t underestimate SPS’ achievement, either.
At a time of the massive brain-wash of the Russian voters at the hands of populist budget-spenders, it’s not a trivial thing for a right-of-center party not only to overcome the 7 per cent threshold, but to win the same fraction of the vote as all "new" (Pensioners and Rodina) and "newest" (Russia’s Patriots) lefts combined.
At a time when the victory of United Russia in every election is all but assured, the SPS strong performance has almost denied the "party of power" of even a single majority in a regional parliament.
At a time when the "democratic" camp has already concluded that there is "no free election in Russia anymore," an opposition party proves — primarily to the "democrats" themselves — that if you’ve got a program, an election campaign plan, a charismatic leader, and, most importantly, if you want to fight, then supposedly cryptic "democratically-minded electorate" (30 per cent of the total vote according to some, arguably questionable, polls) will start leaving their closets and vote.
Something the "democratic" leaders ought to chew on before deciding to boycott the next Duma and presidential elections.