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SOURCE. Nikolas K. Gvosdev, "Managed Pluralism and Political Parties in Russia," Analysis of Current Events [published for the Association for the Study of Nationalities], Vol. 14 No. 3, October 2002, pp. 15-17

The author argues that Russia's political system is being consolidated on the basis of "managed pluralism" (or "controlled democracy"). This means that there are several political options, but what they are is consciously regulated and adjusted by a central authority -- in this case, Putin.

Putin's "statist-reformist" agenda combines strengthening of the state with further market reform. He relies on a core group (UR, Unified Russia) that supports both these elements equally. UR is one of three axes around which the political scene is solidifying. The other two are:

-- the "leftist" axis (mainly the CPRF), which is more supportive of the "statist" element of the Putin agenda than of the reform process

-- the "liberal reform" axis (SPS and Yabloko), which is more supportive of reform than of "statist" measures

The first step toward managed pluralism was last year's Law on Political Parties. It excludes small parties by denying registration to parties with fewer than 10,000 members or branches in fewer than half of the regions. However, the effect of the law has proven insufficiently drastic: 16 parties have already managed to get registered.

The next step is to raise the threshold for a party's representation in the Duma. In October 2002, the Duma approved a law raising the threshold from 5 to 7 percent starting with the 2007 elections. UR supports raising the threshold to 12.5 percent, but chairman of the Central Electoral Commission Alexander Veshnyakov thinks this is going too far: it would discourage millions of people from voting and create an "artificial two-party system." What Putin wants is an artificial three-party system.

Another electoral reform already enacted is a provision requiring full disclosure of a candidate's sources of financial support. Its purpose is to discourage "independent" candidates (i.e., candidates not belonging to any party) whose backers prefer to remain in the shadows and divert business funding from individual candidates to parties.

What will Putin do if the attempt to create a strong three-party system fails? The author expects that he will continue to tinker with the system to try to get the desired results. He may elevate new parties into roles within the three-party structure -- perhaps the Party of Life headed by Sergei Mironov, chairman of the Federation Council, or the Democratic Party of Novgorod province governor Mikhail Prusak. He may also seek a further shift in the basis of local and regional power away from direct election to indirect election and appointment.

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