Old Saint Basil's Cathedral in MoscowJohnson's Russia List title and scenes of Saint Petersburg
Excerpts from the JRL E-Mail Community :: Founded and Edited by David Johnson

#14 - JRL 7009
No. 149
[translation from RIA Novosti for personal use only]
By Marinp>2003 is the year of parliamentary elections for Russia. Like the Olympic year, it comes once every four years.

The elections of 1993 brought the demise of Russia's Choice that was considered the favourite at the time, and the victory of a "dark horse" - the LDPR. The elections of 1995 astonished the authorities with the return of the Communist party as the leading force. 1999 marked the breakthrough of the Unity party, which overshadowed the usual triumph of the Communists. What is the year 2003 going to bring us?

Only ten years ago the elections involved the majority of the population. But nowadays... Last year, a mere 29 percent of voters attended the elections to the parliamentary assembly in St. Petersburg, the city considered the second most "politically active" in the country after Moscow. It was the record lowest participation in the local elections. However, in Russia, contrary to Western standards, more people participate in federal elections than in the local elections.

The major intrigue of the coming elections is who's going to take the lead in the race between the United Russia and the leftists - the former or the latter? Both announce ambitious plans of gaining the overwhelming majority in the State Duma. In 1999, the Communists with their allies that received 24.29 percent of the votes took a token less than one-percent lead over the Unity party (23.32 percent). However, this year, the Unity will have the Fatherland and All Russia parties as its allies... The routinely high results of the Communist party are not attractive to many gamblers in the political process anymore - it's not exciting when the participants in the race always finish in the predictable order. That's why many people secretly wish that the Communists would fail this time. However, many others wish the same for the United Russia - to show them that they just can't endlessly manipulate the electorate. And, of course, everybody hopes to see some surprises and changes in the voters' attitudes.

The second intrigue is not new. It's been developing for the last eight years and has become quite annoying. Nevertheless, the most devoted observers haven't lost hopes to see its conclusion - would the SPS and Yabloko be able to finally unite and therefore expand the democratic representation in the parliament? Especially knowing that starting from the year 2007 the parties will have to overcome a seven-percent eligibility barrier to the State Duma, instead of the present five-percent. So far, the dragging engagement of the SPS to Yabloko indicates that probably nothing is going to change.

The third intrigue is whether the LDPR, which in the past years turned more bourgeois, would be able to keep its five- percent representation quota. The survivability of the party led by Zhirinovsky is a unique Russian phenomenon, which surprises its leader and founder himself.

The fourth intrigue is whether a daring challenger to the major political players would finally appear on the electoral scene. Something like the Unity in 1999.

Another question is how many parties would participate in the parliamentary race, overall? How effective would be President Putin's efforts to create a civilized and modernized political structure in Russia? Today's electoral law, which allows only registered political parties to participate in the race, is more stringent than the previous ones. In 1993, for example, 13 political organizations and blocs fought for the seats in the parliament. In 1995 - 43. In 1999 - 26.

By the beginning of December 2002, twenty parties managed to pass the full registration stage (they have 45 regional branches each). However, they still have to collect signatures...

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