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

#13 - JRL 7026
No. 232-m
[translation from RIA Novosti for personal use only]
One year before the parliamentary elections in Russia there is ample information allowing one to understand the main probable scenarios of this election cycle.
By Nikita IVANOV, general director, Political Planning Agency

Who comes second?

What can we say for sure today about elections? The ten-year experience shows that one year before the first, in succession, (parliamentary) elections it is impossible to draw a final scenario of an election campaign "within a large election cycle." Even today, when everything in the country is more definite and when the political elites brought the term "early start" of an election campaign into current usage, the main scenario is not clear. However, the main intrigue of the elections has already crystallized.

1. Will the executive power branch be able to form a constitutional majority? Considering the prospects of changes to be made in the Constitution after 2004, it is becoming very important.

2. Who will take the first place as regards party tickets - United Russia or the Communist Party?

3. How many more parties will be able to overcome the five-percent barrier and how much will they win in toto?

4. Will the authorities come to terms with the governors? Will the governors support single-mandate candidates from political parties or their own nominees to form an influential group of State Duma deputies? And, taking a tough scenario, will a non-communist opposition bloc be organized and will the governors take part in it?

5. Is there a prospect of a second round of the presidential elections? Will the authorities, convinced that the president would win anyway, stake on "a second, non-communist candidate or will there be a problem of a new communist candidate, say, Sergei Glazyev?

6. What will be the content of constitutional and other "second-term" reforms as a consequence of the entire cycle of elections?

With what have the main players arrived at the election year?

Normally, the public is more interested in big scenarios of party struggle, the main theme of a campaign, a possibility to change the party of power in the country, and in everything that may be called a scenario. But if we want not only to list the scenarios but also to determine the extent of their probability (that is, to answer the offered questions) we must understand with what the main candidates have arrived at the election year.

Public mood. It moved - gradually during the year and rapidly during fall - towards radicalization and nationalism. It is associated above all with the Nord Ost terrorist act in Moscow, but the criminalization and radicalization, acts of sabotage committed by young servicemen and young civilians were also registered throughout the year.

In fact Russia approached the start of the election season with an experience of a "military" and "foreign-policy" year. Nord Ost compelled the main players to position themselves in regard to this problem and to bring the intensity of a political debate to a level of an election campaign. The first response of the authorities was their actions in regard to United Russia, a party which responded inadequately to that development, and the delay of the reforms beyond 2004 - it has become impossible to carry out the reforms in the election year.

The year was full of foreign-policy events, during which public opinion differed, of course, from the opinion of President Putin (concerning the U.S. and NATO), but people trusted him. In much the same way the increased contradictions with Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko were viewed by the population, on the one hand, as the president's strength, and on the other, there were apprehensions that an ally could be lost. Meanwhile, tough actions in regard to Georgia were unanimously approved. Thus the public demand for a power policy and radicalism after Nord Ost will clearly influence the positioning of political parties and their leaders.

New type of old parties

The Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF). The ideological platform of the communists has been exhausted and now it mobilizes no more than 25% of expected votes. Its expansion depends not so much on the worsening of the social and economic situation and force majeure developments as on whether or not the main chance is used - a reform of the KPRF and the coming of politicians of a new type. This trend began with the success of Sergei Glazyev at the elections in the Krasnoyarsk Territory and it continues today as well, drifting westward. For instance, during the elections to the Legislative Assembly in "democratic" St. Petersburg the Communist Party won seven mandates. Now the KPRF is carrying out an organizational reform, which is outwardly expressed in the appointment of Ivan Melnikov, secretary of the party's central committee, a supervisor of election campaigns. A significant point to note here is that Communist Party chief Gennady Zyuganov has already started to effect an active campaign scenario by touring 50 regions of Russia. No doubt, he will use the tour for making the KPRF still more popular, bolstering his own positions and consolidating the understandings reached as regards single-mandate electoral districts.

There is yet another resource of the communists. Apart from the regions in the "red belt," where communists have been elected two or even three times, at the upcoming elections communist candidates may win in the Kamchatka, Irkutsk and a number of other regions, where communists have been successful at the elections. The KPRF stands a chance of repeating the good results of the 1999 elections and placing up to 50 of its deputies in parliament (in 1999 the KPRF brought 46 candidates into the State Duma.

United Russia. The main task confronting this party is that of retaining unity and maintaining its rating, which will allow it to attain the main goal - if not to enlist Putin's direct support then to prevent his distancing from the party. To that end, both parts of United Russia leadership (the apparatus of Alexander Bespalov and party leadership by Boris Gryzlov) are prepared to sacrifice the absence of a position and act in keeping with the changing priorities of the authorities - to support the reforms in the period of their intensification and provide a cover-up at the slow-down stage. The greater part of United Russia's electorate will in any case vote not for the party and its leaders but for the zero number in the party list - Vladimir Putin.

Regular contradictions between the interests of central power and those of the regional elites, the threat that Yury Luzhkov, Vladimir Yakovlev and other influential regional leaders, rivalling for places at the top of the list, may jeopardize the unity of the party at the most important moment. United Russia in its present state may expect at best to win over another 20 single-mandate deputies. It would be appropriate to recall that at the 1999 elections Unity could bring 9 candidates and the Fatherland -All Russia won seats for 31 candidates.

Right-wing parties. Before the election campaign the key themes in public debate are associated with building a strong state and with security, which are outside the zone of the traditional interests of the right-wingers. The Union of Right Forces (SPS) and Yabloko at this stage are only choosing an election strategy. Their mistakes may be used for using a new player in this niche, taking into account that the resource of support for "democrats" (which is 5 to 7 percent of the electorate) has not been exhausted. This means that one of the parties will disappear in 2007 when a 7% barrier is introduced.

The traditional opposition of the Yabloko party to any actions of the authorities ("We know what should be done in a different way") can be largely corrected in 2003. A precondition for that is a move made by the president towards Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky. However, the choice of the extent of cooperation with the authorities is yet to be made by Yabloko. So far, the situation allows both old and new scenarios. But Yavlinsky's choice will be not so much a strategy of a "campaign of convenience" as his personal ideological priority. The Yabloko electorate remains stable, and the strategy to retain "its five percent" has always found supporters among party activists.

But in strategic terms in the absence of a new style Yabloko and Yavlinsky himself may simply drop out of the election race. So far, in the single-mandate electoral districts Yabloko may expect to get four mandates.

In the absence of new SPS leaders and with the erosion of the image of the old ones the party has obviously left the 1999-victory zone. The course of a "political solution of the Chechnya problem, taken in October, pushes the party into the human rights niche, that is, in the Yabloko field, where the SPS risks losing the support of the most active part of its own electorate - the middle class. At present the SPS is beginning to open up a new political niche - "non-goverment diplomacy." But the increased public contacts with the opposition in Belarus and Ukraine and the shift of the interests towards the CIS zone look effective in a game played in the field of interests of the elite groups, but they do not correspond to the goals of a public campaign. At the same time the SPS has sufficient financial and organizational resources to compete with United Russia for a second place in a struggle for single-mandate party candidates and to place up to 35 of its deputies in the State Duma in accordance with the majority system, especially due to the North-Western and Volga regions and partially the Central Federal District.

LDPR. The current course pursued by the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia demonstrates the party's return to its traditional radical rhetoric and an increase of its national-patriotic component. Radicalization of society is the milieu of the LDPR leader. In the first weeks after the Nord Ost terrorist act the LDPR electorate increased, by various estimates, to 2 -3 percent of the total number of voters. On the whole, the party today is balancing on the brink of overcoming the 5% barrier.

Three serious players

Those are the positions of the parties. But there are also three other players whose interests and interaction will evidently in no small degree influence the outcome of the elections. They are the president (the authorities), the regional elites and business -- the financial-industrial groups.

Putin as a foundation of power continues to retain his positions. His electoral rating, the rating of confidence and public approval of his actions after the crisis caused by the seizure of hostages in the Dubrovka Theater Center (Nord Ost show), are even growing. However, Nord Ost has shown also the probability of force-majeure developments, in which, especially if they occur against the background of a seasonal decline in the social mood in February and March, even Putin will find it hard to maintain his position. The president, so far, distances himself from the elections. It is highly probable that he will work to retain this position. At the same time it should be noted that the mutually complementary character of and competition within the power bodies formed the basis of the main elite policies in 2000 to 2002, and most probably there will be no sharp change in the elites and in the president's team.

The regional elites, above all the governors, will not give up their traditional goal of forming an influential lobby.

In strategic terms the regional elites view the 2003-2004 elections as an occasion for talks with the center on the further redistribution of economic powers in areas like inter-budget relations and natural resources.

Since at present the regional players have been ousted from the federal level, they will tend to stipulate for themselves conditions for restoring their status of federal politicians and, still more, to achieve their political exculpation. It is not ruled out that part of this game will be a struggle for weakening the institution of presidential representatives in the federal districts. It is also possible that efforts to eliminate this institution will be also made. The second line of attack will be struggle for strengthening the State Council. The persons drawing up decisions for the governors consider a version of giving the State Council a constitutional status and even turning it into a third house in the Russian parliament.

Federal and powerful regional financial-industrial groups may be the only serious opponents to the governors in the single-mandate electoral districts. By contrast with the past elections, natural monopolies will not seek to nominate their candidates in most of the districts and will act primarily in their separate regions, as well as in the "conflict" regions.

Seven scenarios of the future

1. Inertia scenario. The current ratings last until the end of 2003, and we get a balance between two players - the Communist Party and United Russia. Each of the two may expect to win 20 to 22 percent of the seats. This means that the alignment of forces in the new State Duma will depend on the level of understanding reached with the right-wingers and single-mandate candidates. The elite is in anticipation of bargaining. And again everything hinges on Putin alone.

2. All power to United Russia! The authorities come to terms with the regional elites on supporting the party and the single-mandate candidates. The People's Party and Russia Party successfully bite off the moderate electorate from the KPRF. Possibly an crisis will break out (or will be provoked) within the Communist Party, but not earlier than October 2003. As the precedent with Seleznyov has shown, the KPRF restores its positions within two months. In this case the communist faction in parliament shrinks down to 60-70 people, while United Russia gains half of the seats, and a right-wing party (or parties) win about 50 mandates.

3. A "communist revenge" scenario. The KPRF may grow stronger due to its competent strategy and because of a weakening of United Russia. The LDPR is being ousted from the State Duma and the KPRF extends its influence to the centrist part of the electorate. Such a course of developments will be facilitated by the split within United Russia caused by the organizational struggle within the party and especially by its divorce with regional leaders.

The KPRF creates alliances with some financial-industrial groups and regional elites in the "field" of single-mandate candidates. The Communists' victory by party tickets with a 5%-7% lead, and their bringing 50 candidates elected on a majority basis into parliament will enable them to have a stable half in the State Duma (together with sympathizers).

And then there arises the question of a second round of the presidential elections.

4.A multipolar Duma scenario. This may be a result of increased presence of the SPS or Yabloko in the lower house.

A third force is being formed, capable of consolidating around itself a part of independent deputies. Passage of laws in the new Duma may be impeded, but the elections give a powerful impetus to the presidential election campaign - a real third candidate appears. But it is not ruled out that the LDPR may strengthen its positions - the party harps on patriotism, effectively balancing between protecting national interests and ultra-nationalism.

5. A new United Russia or a Kasyanov Party. One should not exclude a variant in which resignation of Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov may be followed by either a United Russia alternative, or by United Russia itself and the authorities will be compelled to stake on the Prime Minister as the most electorally advantageous figure.

6. A Fatherland-All Russia-2 scenario. The regions that are displeased with the federal center and the financial-industrial groups join hands, turning the election campaign into a struggle for the federal center. This scenario may be effected only if, first, an understanding with the governors is disrupted, second, Putin's rating declines and, three, United Russia formulates no clear position.

7. A reserve scenario. Adoption of a law on election to the State Duma provides opportunities for the emergence of new participants in the election campaign right to the time when the elections begin. This opportunity is open to all, but the important thing is that it gives the authorities room for maneuvering - in the event of a force majeure or if United Russia loses its positions, they may establish election blocs having a sure chance to win and take votes away from the opposition.

The majority

These scenarios are discussed nowadays. Assessing their probability, I will say in conclusion that, taking into account the goals set by the players, the positions of the parties and the public mood, the most probable forecast today is the following.

Putin's team remains and it reaches an understanding with the regional elite - key regional leaders distance themselves from United Russia and form various groups of influence comprising single-mandate deputies, but the formation of a Fatherland-All Russia-2 may be impaired.

United Russia takes the first place in winning by party tickets, but a constitutional majority will not be achieved even with single-mandate State Duma deputies. United Russia wins about 110 mandates.

The KPRF gains strength due to the rise of a patriotic mood in the public. But its increased strength is neutralized by the party's inability to reform itself. Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov retains his position of the party's leader, and the authorities make no attempt to prevent this. As a result the KPRF gets about 100 mandates.

None of the newly-formed parties, including the People's Party, overcomes the 5% barrier.

Most interesting will be an intrigue on the right-wing flank, where the United Russia leadership proposes playing with the SPS a game of repeating the 1999 elections, but most probably Boris Nemtsov and Irina Hakamada will not be able to reach an understanding with the authorities the way it was done by Sergei Kiriyenko. As a result, the SPS will fail to come to terms with Yabloko except for a few single-mandate electoral districts, and the two parties will participate in the elections separately. Yabloko, taking into account the great stability of its nucleus, will overcome the 5% barrier, but its performance may shot up because the voters will be tired of the SPS. For this reason each of the parties will have factions of about the same size - the SPS will gain about 6% of the votes and have 10 to 15 single-mandate deputies; and Yabloko, about 8% and 4 to 10 single-mandate deputies.

If this forecast comes true, we will have a Duma continuing to operate in the wake of the president's policy but capable of correcting the contents of constitutional reforms. For Vladimir Putin it means that in the absence of force-majeure events he will be elected already in the first round.

Back to the Top    Next Article