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Features of the 2011 Duma election campaign

Image of Arm and Torso Person in Brown Sweater Placing Ballot Into Ballot BoxNikolai Zlobin is Senior Fellow and Director of the Russia and Asia Programs at the World Security Institute in Washington, D.C.

There are many differences between the current State Duma election campaign and the campaigns of 2003 and 2007. The first difference is that the 2011 campaign has an element of intrigue due to a number of uncertainties that did not exist four years ago. Thus, the position of United Russia (UR) is not as secure today as it was in the elections of 2003 and 2007. Since UR won fewer votes than four years ago, and did not receive a constitutional majority, would it form a coalition with other parties? It is very important, because its opponents will have more room to maneuver.

The second feature is that this campaign is not being held rationally. It seems that UR either started this campaign too late or became confused by the change at the top of the Putin-Medvedev tandem and, by extension, at the top of the party list. However time was lost, the fact is that the ruling party launched its election campaign belatedly.

The third feature is that voters have become more demanding. They want to see serious change in personnel and ideology. The parties with candidates elected to parliament today do not meet these requirements in any way. There are no new ideas, programs or people. This is why the campaign is intellectually feeble.

The 2011 campaign also stands out for the brazen use of administrative resources. Governors of some regions are using them as much as they can and won't stop unless they are punished. However, UR will win even if the elections are absolutely honest and transparent. Its dominance in parliament is unquestionable, even without these resources, and using them only spoils the picture. Administrative resources are a backup option and governors and UR officials would be smart not to use them excessively. In fact, their use is causing resentment in society, and instead of raising UR's rating it may push it down, even if the campaign is absolutely transparent.

One more peculiarity is the electorate's high expectations of serious systemic changes and of a clear economic and political course. The tandem has somewhat confused the voters. They don't quite understand who heads UR, who is running, how the prime minister and the president will divide power after the presidential election, where the center of power will be, whom the governors will obey and what the ruling party will be like. Answers to these questions are very important because the presidential election is due in three months, and voter demands on the presidency are much higher. In any event, any problems that arise during parliamentary elections will affect the presidential election.

The slogans that are most often used by the parties to attract voters play the nationalism card, which is the cheapest trick. The existence of a foreign enemy is another effective card that can easily be used to unite society. It is played all the time ­ the United States, NATO and missile defense. In effect, these two cards are vying with each other. Both are very popular in society. Sometimes it seems to me that the common enemy has won.

Today, politicians are talking more about the Western threat, missile defense in Europe and hostile encirclement than about the domestic political situation or ethnic issues. This is due to the lack of new ideas and is a sign of the intellectual impotence of the Russian ruling class. To a large extent, the structure of this class is not that of a genuine party.

The 2011 election campaign has become another step towards the formation of a bipartisan system in Russia. The problem is that there should be many stages like this and they should start not with elections but with the more or less significant consolidation of society.

Moreover, Russia does not have the notion of the middle class, whereas in the West the biggest parties reflect its interests. In Russia this class has not become massive or stable because the two main issues that lie at its foundation have not been resolved ­ the sacred right of property and legal liability. This explains why a middle class has not emerged regardless of rising income and quality of life. Society in Russia is diversified to a much greater extent than in America or Western Europe. Therefore, the emergence of two big political parties that will be able to express the interests of the majority is unlikely in Russia in the near future.


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