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#15 - JRL 7009
No. 145
[translation from RIA Novosti for personal use only]

The State Duma factions are already discussing how many seats their parties would win in the 2003 elections. Yelena BASHKIROVA, president of the ROMIR monitoring company, and Dr. Alexander OSEYEV (Sociology) discuss the election situation below.

Oseyev: There are three types of attitude to elections in modern Russian society: participation with the aim of influencing the domestic and foreign policy; protest voting; and total rejection of elections. Which of them is the dominant type now?

Bashkirova: Russian society is heterogeneous and its different sections profess different views. It can be stated, however, that the absolute majority of the people support the principle of free elections, as well as the practice of expressing their will in conditions of a multiparty system.

Oseyev: Do you think that the participants of your polls mean the pure idea rather than the current, rather dirty practice of election campaigns?

Bashkirova: Absolutely. The voters are outraged at the black PR tricks, the surprise cancellation of candidates' registration, the use of "the administrative resource" and the frequent absence of a firm stand in the central and local election commissions. As many as 70% of those who took part in previous elections believe that "they were not honest or free." It is a paradox but 60% of the respondents told us that they personally had not witnessed any violations of the election legislation.

Oseyev: Maybe their opinion was the expression of the general negative attitude to the work of the institutes of power?

Bashkirova: Yes, this is a kind of scissors. The people see the gap between the ruling elite and society, a gap that is growing larger with every passing year. We once asked the people: "In whose interests are the authorities operating?" It turned out that the number of those who believe that the authorities are working to the benefit of society is several times smaller than the number of those who say the authorities are merely a servant of financial-industrial groups. Moreover, a considerable part of the respondents think they cannot influence state policy in any way.

Oseyev: And yet they come to the balloting stations.

Bashkirova: Rather, they express a desire to go there. The actual attendance is usually 10% smaller than the expressed readiness registered in sociological polls.

Oseyev: We can add to these 10% another 10% of those who say they would not take part in elections under any conditions. This means that a fifth part of the voters have removed themselves from decision-making. And I think the number of "refuseniks" will increase considerably in 2003, as proved by the example of regional elections in 2002. But doesn't this point to the people's disillusionment?

Bashkirova: I don't think so. The group of those who keep away from politics has always been substantial. They either don't care which party comes to power or don't believe that their vote can change anything. It is the behaviour of active voters that is important. The phenomenon of protest voting appeared in Russia several years ago. I see this as a positive thing, as a certain shift towards the development of democratic thinking. Indeed, the protest voters do not abstain from elections and neither do they erect barricades in the street. They used the democratic procedure by coming to the balloting station and casting their vote as they see fit - "against everyone." A recent poll shows that if elections to the State Duma were held next Sunday, 12.5% of the voters would vote against all candidates.

Oseyev: But that poll also showed that the number of those who would vote against everyone at the presidential elections would be smaller by half.

Bashkirova: There is more clarity in the issue of presidential elections. The trust for the current president is so great that there are virtually no other candidates who could rival him in the race for the presidential chair. As for parties, there are very many of them and the people can seldom understand how one of them differs from another. They don't know their programmes and the names of the parties mean little to them because they include words with the same root - "people," "democracy" and "socialism."

Oseyev: Television and the press focus mostly on leaders, while the State Duma membership has long been formed of deputies elected by party lists. What is the people's attitude to this method of elections?

Bashkirova: I think the bulk of the people are ignorant on the issue. They accept the rules of the game forced on them. Only the most advanced, educated and politically minded part of society speaks up against elections by party lists. On the other hand, party lists are a kind of reference point. The people know leaders more or less well and can assume which attitudes the other candidates of the given party hold.

Oseyev: Frankly speaking, I am more worried about a different trend. Many political scientists who comment on the results of polls point to a growing desire of the people for authoritarian power, "the strong hand." Bashkirova: I think this is a case of mixed notions. The people are tired of chaos, arbitrariness and corruption and are prepared to tolerate even some curtailment of their freedoms in the name of better discipline and order.

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