1 1/4 -party system


MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Andrei Vavra) - The outcome of the December 2nd parliamentary elections in Russia was largely as predicted.

The share of the vote taken by the different parties corresponded with most independent pre-election forecasts almost to a fraction of a percentage point.

So where does Russia stand now?

On the one hand, Russia can count itself lucky to have avoided a return to a one-party system. This was a very real threat, because most people cast their votes for Vladimir Putin personally rather than for United Russia as a party. On the other hand, what we have now is certainly not a multi-party, or even a one-and-a-half-party, system. There is a striking similarity to the former and current situations in Japan, India, Mexico or Italy. The other three parties who managed to scrape the 7% threshold for representation in the Duma do not even count as a half-party. Their meager number of seats effectively shuts them out of decision-making. The party in power will not even notice whether they support or oppose a decision.

What they achieved is only a symbolic presence in parliament, without any influence on the lawmaking process.

As a short historic reference, the member countries of the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact used to position themselves as "people's democracies." Which meant that, unlike the one-party Soviet system, there were also certain "dwarf" parties in their legislatures, serving a purely decorative function. They never influenced any decisions, but enabled the country to describe its political system as "multi-party."

Russia hardly planned to copy that system deliberately - it just happened. The attempt to build a two-party system has failed, probably for lack of accord on which party should lead the opposition, and what ideology it should propagate.

Each of the candidates had major flaws. A Just Russia is another pro-Kremlin party just like United Russia, only with different personalities and on a smaller scale. KPRF, the Communist Party, would be an unwise choice to lead political opposition in the country that modeled the rise and collapse of the communist ideology to the whole world. LDPR, the Liberal Democratic Party, is far too leader-centric, even though that leader is strong and popular, and propagates a somewhat eclectic and populist ideology.

Now, with the happy end of this year's parliamentary campaign, Russia will need to decide what to do next and how to develop its political system.

The winning party will face its own internal problems. Although the president's endorsement gave it a major boost, internal party sources say it is experiencing a shortage of personnel and intellectual talent.

The defeat of the center-right parties had also been predicted well before the vote. Although other candidates certainly tried to scare voters by equating a victory for SPS and Yabloko with a return to the chaos of the 1990s, such admonitions cannot be said to have significantly influenced the result. Even combined, their total percentage of the vote couldn't get them over the 7% threshold. The center-right's problems run deeper than a crisis of ideology. There is an obvious lack of prominent figures, and far too many "used" personalities and faces the voters are tired of. Few people expect much of them, and even fewer would let them run the country again.

In addition, the right wing campaign was plagued by an obvious lack of ideas. Their attempt to use the high profile case of Andrei Sychov, a 19-year-old private who suffered physical abuse in the army, was certainly a foul move. Appealing to pensioners looked like a desperate attempt to snatch part of someone else's platform, and was doomed to failure.

Obviously, both Yabloko and SPS should not have strived to make their way into the Duma at all costs. They would have better concentrated on retaining their core supporters and avoided any kind of populist rhetoric and extravagant statements so as not to scare off their potential electorate, since they failed to address the issues of concern to people.

This parliamentary campaign once again brought to the fore the much debated, and much thwarted, idea of uniting the right-wing opposition. Not for the first time, hopes of a unified right-wing opposition were dashed by the right-wing leaders' high ambitions, personal enmity and reluctance to compromise on a common election platform. This is not real politics. This is more like a game. But, it is high time we stopped playing at politics and got down to business.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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