The Peculiarities Of Russian Regional Elections

     (This piece originally appeared on Russia Beyond the Headlines)

The election system in Russia has certain features that make it different from its analogs in other countries.  In many places around the world, the activities preceding Election Day are tightly regulated and consist of a series of mundane and even outright boring events.  Yet, the results of the elections are often unpredictable.  In contrast, in Russia the outcome of elections is usually known in advance.  It is the election campaign period that is always filled with colorful and sometimes completely unanticipated occurrences.

The elections that took place in twelve Russia’s regions on Mar. 13 were no exception to this rule.  Representatives of all four major political parties spared no efforts to attract attention of the voters.  Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR) entertained the electorate with flashy slogans; one of them read: “What is good for Russians is good for everyone!”  The Just Russia party infuriated many ordinary folks in Yurga by registering a candidate with the last name of Stalin.  A leading official of the Communist Party (KPRF) promised to use baseball bats to punish people who “falsify the elections.”  (Is baseball finally coming to Russia through political process?)     

Promises of violence naturally resulted in action.  The leader of Just Russia, Sergey Mironov, got away lightly – he was attacked only with a pillow.  LDPR’s Cyril Cherkasov was not so fortunate: he had a bag of rotten eggs thrown at his head.  Then, the violence became real.  In Arzamas, a fistfight erupted between campaign workers representing KPRF and the United Russia party.  In Perm, brass knuckles and sticks were used to beat up ten United Russia’s activists, one of them a young woman.

Closer to election day, the very foundation of modern science was shaken.   In 12 draws that were held to determine the order of the parties on the printed ballots in each regional election, United Russia – in a remarkable defiance of the probability theory – won six (!) first places.

The election day itself finally put an end to all the intrigues of the campaign season.  The results were pretty much as expected: the ruling United Russia party won the majority in all 12 party-list contests and – aided by the traditionally strong performance of its single-mandate candidates – came away with a combined total of 68 percent of the seats in regional legislatures.  The Communists came in second with 13 percent of the seats, Just Russia with 9 percent, and LDPR with 6 percent.  Among parties currently not represented in the State Duma, unexpectedly strong results gave the well-organized Party of Russia’s Patriots seats in two regional parliaments.  The success of the Patriots is especially impressive given that they competed for the same voters as the major opposition party in the Duma, KPRF. 

Equally predictable were interpretations of the election results presented by different political players.  The opposition called United Russia’s performance “disastrous” pointing that on Mar. 13, the party polled less than in the 2007 Duma elections and even less than in the previous round of regional elections held in October.  United Russia shot back, arguing that the dynamics of the federal and regional elections is so different that any comparisons between them make little sense.  Besides, each Russian region has its own sets of unique electoral issues, rendering any “inter-regional” matching largely meaningless.  United Russia also drew attention to the fact that the average vote in all 12 regions (50 percent) was higher than the one received by the party in the same regions four years ago (43 percent).  Moreover, this increase came against the background of the higher (by 5-7 percent) voter turnout.

The last fact deserves some reflection.  United Russia’s critics, especially among the Communists, have long maintained that the higher voter participation would erode United Russia’s support.  The idea behind this assertion is that growing prices for food and communal services are creating a strong undercurrent of protest in society.  The critics argued that this dissatisfaction would cause new voters to cast their ballots against the party of power.  The results of the Mar. 13 elections, however, have produced no evidence in support of this idea: United Russia seems to have captured the majority of the new voters as well. 

Many Russian analysts and media people predictable dubbed the Mar. 13 elections a dress rehearsal for this year’s State Duma election.  It’s difficult to agree with such a comparison.  None of the seven political parties participating in the elections, including United Russia, has articulated a program appealing to the voters program or employed an innovative campaign strategy.  Far from being a dress rehearsal, the past elections seemed more like a familiar play performed for the 100th time by bored actors whose only motivation is a pay check and the iron fist of the stage director.  Besides, the upcoming performance named the December Duma election hardly needs a rehearsal, for its outcome is already known to everyone: the United Russia will win a majority.  The only intrigue that seems to still exist is whether United Russia will be able to form the constitutional majority it enjoys in the current Duma.  Some cynics suggest, however, that this intrigue will be resolved not at the ballot box, but by the Kremlin.

The fact that the Mar. 13 regional elections were dirty, unfair or predetermined in advance is not perhaps their most troubling aspect.  The real issue is that they have yet again demonstrated that the Russian political system is completely outdated.  Created in different times, under different circumstances and to serve different purposes, today it is seemingly incapable of addressing Russia’s most important problem: creating conditions to support political, economic and social modernization of the country.

With public confidence in the Duma and political parties at record lows, Russian elites are busy with things that have little in common with the lives of ordinary citizens.  Or, continuing on the theater theme, Russian politicians are like actors performing a play that the spectators do not understand.  It is only a matter of time that the crowd begins leaving the performance hall.   


About Eugene Ivanov

Eugene Ivanov is a PMI-certified Innovation Management Consultant who helps organizations increase the efficiency of their internal and external innovation programs.
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7 Responses to The Peculiarities Of Russian Regional Elections

  1. Igor says:

    Hi, Eugene
    Thanks for the informative & rather entertaining post. But I respectfully disagree with your “Russian politicians are like actors performing a play that the spectators do not understand. ” – instead, “the Russian politicians are the actors, whom the Russian public does not want to see, but has no other choice. And the play they understand very well, but don’t want to believe that it is what it is” 🙂
    BTW – I suggest to call the big empty space right after the last paragraph the White Paragraph 🙂 (a friendly Russian joke)

  2. Eugene says:

    Hi Igor,
    Thanks much for reading. You seem to be the only one who did it.
    Well, I had a number of good ideas on how to call Russian politicians and their performance. But I also remembered that the RBTH is an outlet of “Rossijskaya Gazeta”, so I watched my mouth a bit. In contrast to my editor who came up with the “farce” in the title on thri site.
    As for the White Paragraph…Which White Paragraph?:)

  3. Futility says:

    It’s not that no-one has read it, it’s just that it’s more depressing than the usual offering. I read, cursed under my breath, and went back to watching Gaddafi’s zany antics 😉

  4. Igor says:

    Your Paragraph is “White” eg
    (1) the same way as Malevich’s square is Black – anyone can look at it & think what they want about the meaning of it
    (2) The “White Paragraph” is a Memorial to the author’s thoughts, which then were blessed with the Editor’s attention 🙂
    BTW – I think “Futility”‘s interpretation is very good (deep) – an American approach, but it is a recipe..

  5. Eugene Ivanov says:

    Futility, Igor-
    You guys are great. Actually, I love Russian political parties and regional elections. My very first pieces (sent to JRL) were all about them. (I still keep somewhere tables with detailed results for every regional election.) No one remembers now how popular it was mocking United Russia back in 2004-2005 (for the lack of “ideology”, strong personalities, etc.) and predicting that it would never establish itself outside Moscow. I was almost the only person who was repeatedly pointing to a danger of underestimating UR. Eh, well…
    However, no one read me, because the topic was so boring. I switched to “merrier” subjects, and my ratings went up. But I still love the subject.
    Futility, you went back to Gaddafi; I’m going to write a response to your other comment.

  6. Igor says:

    What can be merrier than Zhirik offered under the “right” sauce? Or PR achievements of CAPUT, sorry, UR? One only needs to adjust the form, tone & especially, the content so as not to surprise the readers too much & , perhaps, occasionally amuse them with a good turn of phrase…
    I’ll leave you guys to enjoy Gaddafi for themselves – I tried to send a comment in the previous thread, but somehow the system rejected it. Probably, because there was too much poison in it. Or maybe the system did not like that I liked Putin’s ability to tell the truth (well, some of it and sometimes, but still…). Or even, maybe my sarcastic remark that the real reason the “west” hates Gaddafi is the word “Socialist” in the name of the country or his promise to give shares in country’s oil to every citizen (it is not the right thing to do in a democratic society, you know). Or even my mild disbelief that the American taxpayers want to protect human rights in other countries so much, that they want to pay for all the US military interventions including the army of the size they have etc
    Read you later.

  7. Nana says:

    looking forward to the reeviw of it. Especially since we’re filing suits in court per your suggestion, it would be good to know how to figure out the process of filing and what to do if they actually want to go to court with you!

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