Russia’s Election Countdown Begins: Jeffrey Tayler
Russians will face a wide range of options when they cast their ballots in parliamentary elections scheduled for Dec. 4. That doesn’t, however, mean they'll have much choice.
United Russia, the party of President Dmitri Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, leads the pack among those already represented in the State Duma, and is projected to garner roughly half the votes, according to a detailed election guide in The Moscow Times.
The leading party's chief opponents, the Communists, are expected to pick up between 14 percent and 20 percent of the vote, a weak performance the newspaper attributes to the party's "reluctance to modernize its platform by embracing some form of social democracy that could score well with younger voters.”
Coming in a close third is the hyper-nationalist Liberal Democratic Party, which the article called “fundamentally a one-man show” led by the indefatigable Vladimir Zhirinovsky. The Liberal Democrats are “neither liberal nor democratic,” and "have never voted against the Kremlin on important issues.”
Bringing up the rear is A Just Russia, which “remains fiercely loyal to Vladimir Putin” and may or may not clear the 7 percent vote threshold for participation in the legislature.
Myriad other parties have also gained some popular support. None currently has seats in the Duma, and none is likely to get any, in large part because the Kremlin's draconian registration rules have excluded many contenders from the elections.
The probable result is that the same four parties already in the Duma will return, with one difference: “This time, United Russia won’t have a constitutional majority,” according to the newspaper Kommersant. Nevertheless, “yet another victory for United Russia will definitely worsen the irritation felt in our society.”
The restricted range of electoral possibilities has depressed and angered many. Anatoly Chubais, architect of Russia’s controversial 1992-1994 privatization program and currently head of state-owned technology company Rosnano, wrote in his Live Journal blog that “for the first time in twenty years” he is siding with those “who have no one to vote for,” and has chosen to abstain. Distressed cyber-ripostes flooded his comments section, among them “Citizens don’t act that way” and “I’m in shock.”
Communist Party chief Gennady Zyuganov, in an interview with the newspaper Vedomosti, drew a disturbing parallel between United Russia’s likely victory and the Arab Spring. A half-year before he was overthrown, Hosni Mubarak’s National Democratic Party “got 78 percent of the vote. Not a single Egyptian believed the [election] results. The same thing could happen here.”
What if such a revolt actually did take place? "What guarantee do we have that a revolution would install" such liberals as "Boris Nemtsov and Mikhail Kasyanov and not" hard-line nationalists "Dmitry Rogozin and Vladimir Zhirinovsky?” wrote opposition blogger and radio talk show host Yulia Latynina in an op-ed for The Moscow Times. If the business “elite continue supporting the regime until the last possible moment, we will end up with nationalism and a gang of fascists in charge.”
Latynina's solution: The candidacy of anti-corruption blogger Alexei Navalny. “Voters like the way he exposes flagrant government corruption. Businesspeople admire the way Navalny, a lawyer by profession, manages to beat the authorities at their own game. By participating in the Russian March earlier this month, Navalny appealed to nationalists and to those members of the Russian elite who are fed up with leftist liberal multiculturalism and internationalism.” This means, she believes, that “not a single Russian public figure other than Navalny has any chance at all” of winning fair and just elections.
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President Medvedev’s announcement last week that Russia may target the United States’ planned European missile defense shield may have raised some eyebrows, but the opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta has interpreted the move as little more than pre-election posturing. The president, who heads United Russia’s ticket, “tried to prove to voters that . . . he’s cool, but to put it mildly, he wasn’t very convincing.” The paper agreed with Medvedev that Russia’s action will not lead to a new cold war: “It’s true. The West has simply ignored the absurd threats.”
In an op-ed for The Moscow Times, independent military analyst Alexander Golts wrote that Medvedev’s threat bears “no relationship to any real military threat or to Russia’s current capabilities." He noted that the Russian measures were “already planned,” and that Moscow "would only be shooting itself in the foot” if it implemented its worst-case plan of withdrawing from the New Start arms-reduction treaty. In view of the “significant numerical superiority in both conventional and nuclear weapons” enjoyed by the United States and NATO, arms control is “especially beneficial for Russia.”
Hence, Medvedev’s attempt at saber-rattling does little more than “mollify” the West. That's not exactly the coup de grace the outgoing president was hoping to deliver United Russia’s electoral opposition -- what there is of it.
(Jeffrey Tayler is Moscow correspondent for World View. He is a contributing editor at The Atlantic and the author of six books, including "Murderers in Mausoleums: Riding the Back Roads of Empire between Moscow and Beijing." The opinions expressed are his own.)
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