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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Pro-Kremlin Parties Sweep Into Duma




Pro-Kremlin forces made the strongest showing in Sunday's elections to the State Duma, depriving the Communists of their hold on the lower house of parliament.


While the Communists won the largest share of the party-list vote - 24.22 percent with 84 percent counted - that won't be enough for them to set the Duma agenda as they have for the past four years.


The Unity bloc, set up by the presidential administration, came in hot on the Communists' heels with 23.37 percent. Their likely allies, the Union of Right Forces and the Zhirinovsky Bloc, also did well, and the Duma that is taking shape is likely to be more cooperative with the Kremlin on key issues.


The vote was also a boost for Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who had endorsed Unity.


The Kremlin did not hide its glee.


"In Russia a revolution has taken place, a peaceful one but a revolution all the same," Igor Shabdurasulov, first deputy head of the presidential administration, said Monday. "This is a colossal breakthrough."


Unity, laughed off by many when it first appeared on the scene to challenge Fatherland-All Russia, was able to push the bloc of powerful regional leaders, headed by Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov and former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, back to a distant third at 12.64 percent.


The Union of Right Forces, headed by former Prime Minister Sergei Kiriyenko, made a surprisingly strong showing with 8.72 percent. The bloc recently made strong statements of support for Putin, and Anatoly Chubais, the movement's mastermind, confirmed Sunday night that the Union planned to cooperate with Unity in parliament.


The bloc headed by the flamboyant Vladimir Zhirinovsky, a key supporter of the Kremlin on key issues, received 6.08 percent.


The liberal Yabloko party - which has remained firmly in the opposition, refusing to compromise with the Kremlin - received 6.13 percent.


The remaining 18.9 percent of the party-list vote was split among 20 blocs that did not break the 5 percent barrier necessary to gain seats in the Duma. Voter turnout, despite widespread cynicism about politicians and the electoral process itself, was 61.57 percent.


Half of the 450 seats in the Duma are so-called single-mandate seats, in which a deputy represents a particular district. Many of the single-mandate winners are officially independent, though they are likely to join one of the Duma's factions eventually.


Taking into account the party-list vote, party-affiliated single-mandate winners and independents whose party allegiance can be predicted, NTV television estimated the following breakdown of seats in the Duma: Communists - 140-160 seats, Unity - 120-130 seats, Fatherland-All Russia - 65-70 seats, Union of Right Forces - 30, Yabloko - 25, Zhirinovsky Bloc - 18.


Since the 135 deputies elected as independents can join any faction, and since factions can split and recombine, the results open a period of negotiating over who will run the Duma.


Many analysts are predicting a split in Fatherland-All Russia, with those loyal to Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov staying in the center-left opposition group, while the regional leaders who form All-Russia defect to the pro-government wing.


The nearly 9 percent earned by Union of Right Forces was an impressive result for a party whose members are so closely associated with painful and largely discredited economic reforms.


Bloc leader Kiriyenko was prime minister at the time of the August 1998 ruble crash, and fellow "young reformer" Boris Nemtsov also served in the Cabinet. Chubais, who did not appear on the ballot but who Kiriyenko acknowledged was behind the movement, oversaw the rigged privatizations of the mid-1990s. He and another bloc member, Yegor Gaidar, were the architects of the economic "shock therapy" of the early 1990s.


"The votes for the Union of Right Forces demonstrates that ... despite the fact that all the political parties that make up the Union of Right Forces have been blamed for the hardships connected to reform - nevertheless, people are demanding liberal reforms," said Irina Khakamada, No. 3 on the bloc's party list.


Some Western observers characterized Sunday's victory of pro-government forces as a victory for economic reform, since it appears likely the Communists will lose their grip on the lower house. But the Kremlin has shown more interest in political intrigue than in policy-making of late.


Lilia Shevtsova, a political analyst at the Moscow Carnegie Center, said Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's government was not likely to initiate further reforms for at least the next six months.


"There will be no reforms before the presidential elections. Neither Putin nor any other candidate will take any radical structural measures before the presidential election," she said. Putin, President Boris Yeltsin's preferred successor in 2000, is the front-runner in presidential polls.


Shevtsova said that in addition to Unity, the Union of Right Forces and the Zhirinovsky Bloc, a fourth "party of power" could take shape, consisting of powerful and wealthy Kremlin insiders such as Boris Berezovsky and Roman Abramovich, who were elected in single-mandate districts.


"They [the pro-Kremlin blocs] will be able to prevent a no-confidence vote in Putin," Shevtsova said. But she said there was no guarantee that the "parties of power" would succeed in working together.


"It's unclear how they will hold people like Gaidar and Khakamada together with [Yevgeny] Nazdratenko and [Leonid] Gorbenko," she said, referring to the authoritarian governors of the impoverished Primorye and the Kaliningrad regions.


"They have different cultures. Medved is the Russian-Soviet bureaucracy, and Union of Right Forces represents yuppie culture," said Boris Kagarlitsky, an analyst at the Institute of Comparative Politics.


As for the Communists, Kagarlitsky characterized Sunday's vote as a defeat for them.


While they received almost two percentage points more this year than in 1995, they are unlikely to have as much influence as they did in the last Duma, where Communists and their allies held 209 seats. The difference: the absence of left-wing satellite parties like the Agrarians and Popular Rule.


Kagarlitsky predicted the party, which has drifted from socialism in favor of a vague sort of nationalism, will now be forced to grapple with an identity crisis.


"When you have a strong bargaining position, it [ideology] is not that important. When you are a minority, you have to have an ideology or people will start deserting," Kagarlitsky said.