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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Mandate to Lead, But to Where?

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United Russia appears to have won an overwhelming victory in Sunday's election. If it were a proper political party, it could be expected to set the tone and agenda in the next State Duma.

We all know it is not.

To start with, it has no proper leaders. The men who made up the party's federal list and who were the face of the party throughout the campaign -- Boris Gryzlov, Sergei Shoigu, Yury Luzhkov and Mintimer Shaimiyev -- all have better things to do than sit in parliament.

Nor does it have much of a program to speak of, aside from its slavish devotion to a president who often takes months to publicly comment on burning issues of the day. United Russia ran an issue-less campaign and refused to engage in televised debates. It also refused to accredit journalists to its campaign headquarters on election night, save for TV crews from national networks already under Kremlin control.

Yet fully one-third of voters chose President Vladimir Putin's "non-party," according to our exit poll. If this figure is added to the roughly 20 percent that voted for LDPR and Homeland, two puppet parties created to out-communist the Communists, and the additional seats all three will likely pick up in the single-mandate contests, Putin will come close to having the two-thirds majority needed to change the Constitution (something many say he secretly desires to do).

Unlike the drab United Russia, however, LDPR and Homeland are sideshow attractions for the nationalistic and hateful, whose leaders have virtually nothing of substance to show for their many years of lawmaking.

But there they are, two extremist parties who now have what looks like a full quarter of the new Duma. Add their hyperbole to the painfully uninteresting and woefully ineloquent United Russia and what we have is an unimaginative parliament that has moved decidedly to the right. Let us hope that Putin is enlightened, and that he has a plan to keep bottled the dark and dangerous populist urgings that Vladimir Zhirinovsky of the LDPR and Dmitry Rogozin of Homeland have spent their careers exploiting. If the last four years are any indication, LDPR and Homeland will rubber stamp whatever agenda Putin puts before them, acting the "bad cop" to Putin's "good cop" to counter criticisms of his policies -- whatever those are.

If anything can be learned from Sunday's elections, it is that Putin and his entourage have successfully accomplished two of their major objectives. The first is the electoral gutting of the Communist Party, while the second is the enshrinement of the "power vertical." Although the first may be far overdue, the second is plainly dangerous.

See also Election Special 2003