Almost everyone now seems to agree that the results of the December Duma elections in Russia have been tainted. Even Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, admitted that 0.5% of the vote was falsified. He didn’t unfortunately elaborate which algorithm was used to come up with such a remarkably precise calculation.
When asked about possible election fraud, Peskov’s boss saw no reasons to be concerned. During the annual telethon on Dec. 15, Putin nonchalantly remarked that opposition was always unhappy with election results. “It happens everywhere, in all countries,” insisted the prime minister. Following Putin’s logic, making opposition in Russia happy isn’t only counterproductive; it’s outright harmful because it will turn Russia into an outcast among democratic countries.
Yet, if the very fact of the elections fraud seems to be established, its extent still remains a subject of discussions. On the one end of the spectrum is the number suggested by Peskov; on the other – claims by the opposition that up to the half of the vote (of the total 49%) counted for the United Russia party comes from outright manipulations.
And then, of course, there is a middle ground. An excellent review of the Duma election results estimates that ”the aggregate level of falsifications is probably at around five per cent, and almost certainly less than ten per cent.” It concludes that “despite fraud, Russia’s election results generally reflect the will of the voters.”
I’m not sure which exactly percentage of the rigged ballots would make a vote non-reflecting “the will of the voters.” What I do know is that the “agreed upon” level of the fraud has resulted in fundamentally different composition of the 6th Duma. Let’s do some numbers. Given that the Duma is composed of 450 deputies, the price of one percent of the vote roughly equals 4.5 Duma seats. Even five percent of the ballots subtracted from United Russia’s vote count would result in the size of its Duma faction being reduced from 238 – as assigned by the Central Election Commission — to 216 seats. And 216 seats is not even a simple Duma majority.
What does it mean? First, as the largest faction in the Duma, United Russia would still claim the position of Speaker of the Duma. However, the only edinoross who could muster the support of the majority of the Duma, including the opposition factions, is the current First Vice-Speaker, Oleg Morozov, an experienced parliamentarian known for his respectful treatment of the opposition. Instead, Morozov is being demoted to a vice-speakership position, whereas United Russia is going to nominate the current chief of the presidential administration, Sergey Naryshkin, who has no prior Duma experience. Second, without United Russia in majority, the Duma would have returned to the tradition – abandoned in 2003 — of giving the position of first vice speaker to the largest opposition faction, to the Communists. Instead, this post is being given to United Russia’s Alexander Zhukov. Third, United Russia would have claimed not four – as now — but only three vice-speakership positions. That would have led to its losing the majority in the Duma Council, a collegial body which in the past United Russia routinely used to advance its agenda while ignoring wishes of the opposition parties. Finally, United Russia would not have gotten the majority of chairmanships of the Duma Committees (15 of 29).
No, I’m not saying that the increased representation of leftist parties in the new Duma is necessarily good thing for Russia. But the Duma without “dominating” party is. For, I believe, the first step in liberalization of any country’s political system is demonopolization of this system. With the Duma election results purged of fraud, we could have seen the beginning of this process as early as on Dec. 21 when the 6th Duma convenes for the first time.
Now, we have to wait.