The parliamentary elections to the State Duma will be held at the beginning of December 2007. Political parties need at least 7 per cent of the vote to qualify for the seats in the lower chamber of the parliament. All seats are elected by proportional representation. Federal Registration Service keeps 15 political parties eligible for the vote on file, namely Social Democratic Party of Russia, United Russia, Russian Party for Peace and Unity, Communist Party of the Russian Federation, Union of Right Forces, Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, Russian Democratic Party Yabloko, Patriots of Russia, Russian Ecological Party “The Greens”, Agrarian Party of Russia, Russian National Unity, Citizens’ Force, Russian Social Justice Party, Party of Russia’s Rebirth, Fair Russia.
At its fifth convention in April 2007, Gennady Gudkov’s People’s Party adopted by an absolute majority the decision on the fusion with Fair Russia. Also Vasily Shestakov’s Socialist Unified Party of Russia resolved to disband in May 2007 and subsequently integrated into Fair Russia party structures. Other political parties commenced the process of self-dissolution or its dissolution was ordered by court or they transformed themselves into NGOs because they failed to meet the legal requirements of the Federal Registration Service regarding the amendments to the Federal Act on Political Parties.
Party dissolution is included in the legal provisions concerning the amendments to the Federal Act on Political Parties according to which a political party may be registered provided that its membership base is more than 50,000 strong and it has representation in at least a half of the regions of Russia. In 2006, the registration service announced the results of a control from which emerged that 16 political parties failed to meet the requirements of the legal provision concerning the Act on the Minimal Number of Regional Organisations. In October 2006, the fusion with United Russia was passed at the convention of Elena Panina’s Russian United Industrial Party. Vyacheslav Volkov’s Russian Constitutional Democratic Party, Sergey Lykoshyn’s Conservative Party of Russia and Ivan Grachev’s Development of Entrepreneurship Party transformed themselves into NGOs.
Iosif Kobzon’s Russian Peace Party, Vladimir Kishenin’s Social Democratic Party of Russia, Viktor Cherepkov’s Freedom and People’s Power Party, Alexander Dugin’s Eurasia Party, Vladimir Ryzhkov’s Republican Party, Viktor Tulkin’s Russian Communist Workers’ Party – Revolutionary Party of Communists (RKRP – RKP Rossiiskaja Kommunističeskaja Rabočaja Partija – Revolyutsionnaja Partija Kommunistov), Igor Rodionov’s People’s Patriotic Party of Russia, Konstantin Petrov’s Conceptual Party Unity, Vladimir Kushnerenko’s People’s Republican Party of Russia, Vladimir Petrov’s Party of Social Fairness, Vyacheslav Igrunov’s People’s Union for Education and Science and Galina Lysenko’s community and Party of Regional Development “Nature” were dissolved following the rule of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation.
Some representatives of the dissolved parties will stand in the elections candidates of other political parties. Vladimir Ryzhkov, the chairperson of the Republican Party of Russia announced in April 2007 on behalf of the whole party that it would lodge a complaint against the decision of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation and take the case to the European Court of Human Rights. They are supported by Yabloko and the Union of Right Forces (SPS – Sojuz pravych sil). According to Sergey Ivanenko, the first deputy chairperson of Yabloko, the members of Republican Party of Russia are allowed to integrate themselves into Yabloko. Also the SPS leader Nikita Belych made a statement after the dissolution of the Republican Party that some of the representatives can stand in the elections as the members of SPS structures. The veracity of his claim was proved by placing Vladimir Ryzhkov among the top three candidates on the SPS candidate list.
Ideologically Tulkin’s Communists are the closest approach to the Communist Party of the Russian Federation. However, it is expected that there will be a restricted room on the candidate list of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation for the RKRP-RKP representatives because the party stood alone in the local elections held in March 2007 in which it represented an active opposition to Gennady Zyuganov’s Communists.
In addition to this, the registration service refused to register a new political subject, namely the Great Russia Political Party, owing to deficiencies in party’s statutes (despite the fact that they were actually an accurate copy of the Just Russia’s statutes as the representatives of Great Russia proclaimed) and documents submitted to the registration service. Great Russia is a party established on the basis of former members of Motherland National Patriotic Union (Rodina) party lead by Dimitry Rogozin. The chairperson of the party is a Duma deputy Andrey Saveliev. The party has ideologically an ultra-nationalistic orientation. Their membership base and adherents include besides the members of former Motherland Party and those who left the Just Russia party also the following of the radical Movement Against Illegal Immigration (DPNI). After the dismissal of the registration application the party leadership proclaimed that it was going to carry out an alternative plan the details of which the chairperson Andrey Saveliev refused to disclose. It is generally assumed that the subject matter will comprise non-standard political actions consisting particularly in the release of advertisements with an explicitly nationalistic content. The Great Russians do not pose a real threat to any of the political powers since the popularity of their representatives isn’t thus much big. The effect of not allowing Great Russia to stand in the elections for the State Duma of the Russian Federation will probably cause only a minimal increase of the preferences of Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s Liberal Democratic Party of Russia.
Other Russia coalition unites Eduard Limonov’s National Bolshevik Party, Garri Kasparov’s United Civil Front, (until recently also Mikhail Kasianov’s People’s Democratic Union and Vladimir Ryzhkov Republican Party of Russia) and several other organisations. Other Russia forges links with Yabloko, the Communist Party and SPS. At the first conference, the coalition announced its plan to nominate a common candidate of the opposition for the presidential elections in 2008. Due to discrepancies in whom to choose as the common candidate the movement has found itself in crisis. The dissension within the coalition was confirmed also by Garri Kasparov after Mikhail Kasianov announced the definitive departure of the People’s Democratic Union from Other Russia. The Republican Party of Russia, which disapproves of the predominance of left extremists and nationalists, rejects the cooperation with the coalition as well. They believe the predominance is to blame as to the dismissal of the party’s registration.
The financial support of Other Russia was repeatedly confirmed by Boris Berezovsky, however, the coalition has dissociated itself from the statements. In July 2007, Eduard Limonov said that Other Russia has the ambition to register as a political party and stand in the elections. Subsequently this intention was confirmed at Other Russia’s conference. The coalition plans to conduct a list of candidates for the elections to Duma and submit it to the Russian Electoral Commission. However, its chances are slim due to the fact that Other Russia won’t be registered as a political party. In protest against this misconduct, one part of the “protest” electorate biased in favour of the coalition won’t participate in the elections, the other part will support the candidate lists of other oppositional parties, i.e. Yabloko, SPS or Gennady Zyuganov’s Communist Party.
United Russia enjoys the most advantageous position in the oncoming elections emerging from the character of the party itself. It is a party of power – what does it mean for the party: a majority of votes in Duma, possible adaptation of legislation in its favour, the support from the side of the President Vladimir Putin, the support of the President by Russian citizens, sufficient financial backing for the campaign etc. The campaign of United Russians is aimed at masses. The party wins the voters’ favour through hoardings, paid advertising, the financial support of road reparation, the construction of libraries, playgrounds and other useful facilities for citizens. There are several ministers, gubernators and senators on the preliminary candidate list for primary elections. According to the Secretary of the Board of Chairs of United Russia Vyacheslav Volodin there are no oligarchs on the list, however, one of the regional organisations included Sergey Korostelev, the boss of the ITF – Group Holding company, in the list. Korostelev’s fortune is estimated at 7 billion Rubbles (1). The preliminary list of potential candidates also encompasses names of well-known persons, for instance current and former sportspersons (Alina Kabaieva, Irina Rodnina, Anton Sikharulidze, Mikhail Terentiev), unionists (Mikhail Shmakov, the President of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions in Russia), mayors (including Jurii Luzhkov, the Mayor of Moscow and Viktor Volonchunas, the Mayor of Yaroslavl), artists (Stanislav Govoruchin), political scientists (Konstantin Zatulin, Sergey Markov), astronauts (Valentina Tereshkova, Valery Tokarev) and other publicly known personalities.
The Communist Party of the Russian Federation holds pre-election meetings focused primarily on the criticism of supreme power and social conditions in the country. Gennady Zyuganov promises a considerable increase of social and housing benefits as well as subsidies for child care. The party intends to impose “portmaximum” i.e. the maximum monthly wage for campaign funding. Members of the party are obliged to surrender all the money exceeding this sum to the party. The Communists plan to arrange primary election to set the first trio of candidates. If the party gains more than 25 per cent of votes, Zyuganov proposes to run for the President of the Russian Federation. The Communists are very likely to enter the State Duma, however, a result amounting to 25 per cent of votes is hardly conceivable. The traditional character of the larger part of electorate along with the weak status of the opposition able to meet the needs of the “protest” electorate ensures a result clearly exceeding the threshold of the votes necessary to enter the Duma. Certain part of the voters of RKRP – RKP, which failed to fulfil the conditions set for the registration of a political party, will also induce a slight improvement of result.
During the pre-election period, the disputes within SPS over the top three positions on the candidate list moderated a little bit at the party convention held in the end of July 2007 when it was not clear whether Boris Nemcov, the former party chairperson, would get into the trio. Eventually, the top three places acquired Nikita Belykh, the current party chairperson, Boris Nemcov and Vladimir Ryzhkov, the chairperson of the dissolved republicans. SPS takes advantage of the fact that besides the Communists it is the only party oriented towards the “protest” electorate with at least little chance to exceed the 7 per cent threshold necessary for the obtaining of parliamentary seats. That’s why the adherents of Yabloko, Republican Party of Russia and Democratic Russia defect to SPS. On the other hand right and liberal voters are disappointed about the rightist coalition. The reason is that it uses leftist and populist slogans during the political clash. Yabloko has similar problem, namely it seeks for adherents among extreme left and extremists which has a discrediting effect in the eyes of right and liberal voters.
Vladimir Zhyrinovsky’s Liberal Democrats enter the elections weakened after the departure of former members, namely Suleyman Kerimov, Yegor Solomatin and Oleg Malyshkin. Fair Russia allegedly plans to convince other influential members of Liberal Democratic Party to defect to its membership base. The President Putin and Vladimir Zhyrinovsky were supposed to discuss the matter in June 2007 (2). Because of Kremlin’s disfavour and Vladimir Zhyrinovsky’s disputes with party structures in several regions Liberal Democratic Party may reach a result just closely beneath the threshold of the parliament entry.
The Citizens’ Force party (former Free Russia), the task of which is to steal the votes of SPS and Yabloko, is probably a product by Putin’s administrative. It opposes the President Putin very mildly and is shaped as right and liberal. It lambasts SPS and Yabloko at the same time. Citizens’ Force candidates include several entrepreneurs as well as culture personalities (Tamara Tverdciteli, Mark Rozovsky, Alla Surikova, Eduard Uspensky, Tatiana Ustinova), however, the chances to succeed are rather slim.
Fair Russia leaded by Sergey Mironov, the Head of the Federation Council, has the ambition to assume the position of the party in power after the United Russians. In contrast to United Russia shaped right from the centre Fair Russia is left from the centre and keen on integrating leftist political powers to the exclusion of Communist political elite of course. Apart from the fusions with smaller parties also Aleksander Lebed’s defect from the structures of the United Russians to Fair Russia along with the candidacy of Evgeny Plushenko in the top three on the Petersburg candidate list has been a great help to Fair Russia. Free Russia has been evidently lagging behind the United Russians in terms of preferences and is not expected to win the elections. Nevertheless, the strengthening above the level of its up-to-date popularity is awaited.
The opposition consisting of SPS, Yabloko and Other Russia is desperately splintered in the aftermath of the rivalry of the subjects mentioned. Such a condition prevents Russian opposition from any valuable achievement. Weak political position caused by the defiant attitude of the presidential administrative, pro-governmental media and state administration bodies also stands in the way of success. Another bottleneck is the discredit of opposition in the eyes of electorate due to the links with Western political and non-governmental subjects as well as with Boris Berezovsky. The next snag is the extremist orientation of a part of oppositional forces and their following that along with further dissensions within the oppositional party bloc effects lower popularity.
According to an opinion poll conducted by Public Opinion Fund in July 2007 68 per cent of eligible voters intend to take part in the elections. 32 per cent would vote for the United Russians (48 per cent of those intending to use the right of vote). 7 per cent of respondents would cast their vote for the Communists (9 per cent of citizens ready to participate in the elections), 6 per cent for the Liberal Democrats (9 per cent of all participants) and 4 per cent for Fair Russia (7 per cent of all participants). Yabloko, SPS and Agrarian Party oscillate around the 1 per cent boundary of statistical deviation (3). According to the poll carried out by the Russian Public Opinion Research Centre in May 2007 maximum 57.5 per cent but not less than 45.5 per cent of population will take part in the elections. United Russia would obtain 46.1 per cent of votes, Communist Party 15.7 per cent, Fair Russia 12.6 per cent, Liberal Democrats 7.5 per cent, SPS 4.8 per cent, Agrarian Party 3.5 per cent, Yabloko 2.8 per cent, Russian Patriots 2 per cent and the rest of all parties 5 per cent (4).
Maximum five political parties will get into the State Duma. It is likely that there will be the same political parties like in the previous election term, Namely United Russia, Communist Party of the Russian Federation, Fair Russia and Liberal Democratic Party of Russia. In regard to the current political processes and ongoing election campaign one may assume that Fair Russia will step up its popularity when compared to the results of opinion polls. Liberal Democratic Party is likely to end up just before the door to parliament, a noticeable strengthening is hardly to expect. From among the rest of the political parties, it is just SPS that stands at least a slight chance of getting into the Duma. United Russia will maintain the top position and constitute the Government after the elections. It remains a question whether the United Russians will achieve such a result that enables them to rule independently by means of the majority of votes in the lower chamber of the parliament. In connection with the system of power where the president is the dominant figure no substantial impact on Russia’s internal political processes is to be supposed provided that the elections will come off as expected; not even in the case of Fair Russia failing to acquire the majority of parliamentary mandates in the newly elected Duma. Sergey Mironov’s Fair Russia has turned out to be a pro-Putin party which means that there will be no obstacles for the presidential power to implement the norms endorsed in the lower chamber of the parliament. The same holds true for the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia which is a political subject upholding the President Putin and the presidential administrative can rely on the votes of its deputies if necessary. The election of deputies for the lower chamber of the parliament won’t represent a breakthrough in terms of the internal political development of the Russian Federation. The things to expect are a firm position of the current presidential administrative and the strengthening of its power prior to the 2008 presidential elections.