MOSCOW (RIA Novosti political commentator Vasily Kononenko).
- The political offseason in Russia does not seem to promise trouble. The situation is stable, the gold and foreign currency reserves of the Central Bank are rising to an all-time high, and the Stabilization Fund is nearly as big as the budget.
The political forces have retired for summer vacations. The Left no longer shout about the "anti-popular regime," and the Right do not suggest radical scenarios for improving life in Russia.
But this rare political idyll is deceptive. The autumn, which is just around the corner, can bring an unexpected political splash.
The State Duma deputies created the conflict potential by approving amendments to the election legislation shortly before summer vacations.
In particular, they granted their colleagues in the regional assemblies the right to adopt laws to cross out the line "none of the above" from ballot papers of local elections. The Moscow State Duma jumped at the opportunity to adopt an election code that stipulates voting only for or against candidates.
For some reason, the federal and Moscow legislators tried to hide the time bomb incorporated in these amendments. The minor protests of the opposition did not direct the spotlight on the dangers hidden in the deputies' "concern" for the ignorant voters.
Formally, the authors of the election innovation from United Russia cater to state interests. They say in a well-conducted chorus that elections in some regions were overturned by protest voting, which prevented the creation of the legislative power, and that the industrialized countries do not have such an entry in their ballot papers. "It was invented at the initial stage of democracy" in Russia, they argued.
It is true that protest voting is permitted only in Russia, Belarus, Ukraine and Argentina. But conditions for electing parties and candidates in these countries differ substantially from Russian ones, especially in regional elections. In some regions of Russia voting for "none of the above" is sometimes the only way to fight the illusion of elections, when the main candidate is complemented with obscure figures and real candidates for power are removed from the race under suitable pretexts.
The people sometimes get their wish through protest voting. The "none of the above" candidate won the election to the local parliament in the Magadan region, getting 30% of the vote. This mysterious candidate also won twice in a single-mandate district of St. Petersburg, in December 2003 and in March 2004. During the mayoral election in Serpukhov outside Moscow, it got over 40% of the vote, nearly double the number cast for the incumbent mayor. Nearly 4.7% (about 3 million) of the voters supported this candidate during the recent election to the State Duma.
The function of protest voting is not to show how many votes are taken away from parties and candidates but to reveal the strange workings of the human mind. The line "none of the above" gives the people a chance to let off steam, preventing their discontent from turning into a social explosion. The above amendments to the election legislation can increase this explosion potential immeasurably.
According to the ROMIR poll held in November 2004, 16.2% of the electorate would vote for "none of the above" at the parliamentary election, which is more than the combined result of the Communist Party, Liberal Democrats and Rodina (Homeland) at the previous election. The March 2005 poll of the Public Opinion Fund showed that this "candidate" would have got 8% of the vote.
Protest voting is not a simple neglect for the elections but a deliberate protest of a politically active part of the population. By closing the steam valve (social outrage can be provoked by malfunctioning sewage system, let alone the swindling tactics of local political players), the authors of the ban on protest voting are pushing the people to the street.
In this revolutionary situation, any ultra-radical of the Le Pen type would easily create a party opposed to every other political force. Such a purely ideological party would absorb a vast number of disappointed people, who would soon oust the romantics at the top and let scoundrels control and direct them.