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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A New Election Era

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The good news about the electoral process in Russia is that everything bad that could have happened already has. Things can only get better. So let's try to look on the bright side.

The most important result of Sunday's parliamentary elections is the downfall of certain parliamentary political parties and the Yeltsin-era party system as a whole. The system could not survive the passing of the Yeltsin regime and is now following it into history. Rather than lament its demise, however, we should analyze the new political situation in the country and draw a few lessons for the future.

Popular support for the "old" State Duma parties nearly halved this time around, costing two of them -- the Union of Right Forces, or SPS, and Yabloko -- representation in the fourth Duma that convenes next year. The LDPR, however, managed to buck the trend. After a stunning initial success in 1993, the party mustered roughly half as many votes at each subsequent election, and it seemed that the current, third, Duma would be the LDPR's last. But the political winds changed in 2003. Vladimir Zhirinovsky's rhetoric once more found an audience and the party staged a comeback.

While SPS and Yabloko seem destined, in a best-case scenario, for a change of leadership and orientation, the newly minted Rodina bloc and its leader Sergei Glazyev scored a huge success in Sunday's vote. Conceived as one of the Kremlin's back-up parties aimed at taking votes away from the Communist Party, Rodina rode a wave of popular support into the Duma. The bloc's success owed much to changing attitudes and priorities following the arrest of former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Its leaders also adopted a winning strategy in their television debates. Support for Rodina shot up noticeably in the final week of the campaign, too late for the pollsters to register. The untested bloc's fourth-place finish rates as the biggest surprise of the election.

Rodina is routinely included in a potential two-thirds pro-Kremlin majority in the next Duma, but this is somewhat unfair. In its current form, Rodina is not only internally diverse, it is also unmanageable. On the one hand, it is unlikely that Glazyev and fellow party leader Dmitry Rogozin will be able to control the authoritative bankers, such as Viktor Gerashchenko, and the KGB generals in their ranks. On the other hand, the Kremlin's control over Glazyev himself should not be exaggerated, especially now that Rodina has made it into the Duma on its own. For Glazyev, the temptation to run against Vladimir Putin as the consensus candidate from the left next year will be strong.

During the campaign, Anatoly Chubais warned that we could wake up after the election in a different country. I would say that he overstated the case. Sunday's vote reflected changes that are already under way in society. The election of Rodina's competent "national-patriots" to the Duma is all for the good because it channels this powerful social force into the parliamentary process.

I would also argue that the upside for the Kremlin of Rodina's success has been exaggerated. The bloc could turn into a center of opposition much more serious than the theatrical LDPR and tougher than the house-broken Communist Party. Nor can Putin relish the prospect of squaring off in the presidential election against the young, decisive populist Glazyev instead of his familiar sparring partner, Gennady Zyuganov.

Do the results of Sunday's vote signal the defeat of liberalism in Russia? Not in general, but in its current form, it probably does. Many voters refused to choose the lesser of all evils and demonstrated instead their contempt for the current crop of politicians on the right and for the system those politicians fought tooth and nail to remain a part of.

SPS now finds itself in a peculiar situation: well represented in government, but stripped of its base in the Duma. What's more, the word is that the program being developed by Igor Shuvalov's group in the presidential administration has a strong radical economic slant, and that the Kremlin is gearing up for the next stage of reforms. Liberal economists will therefore remain a driving force in economic policy even as the right ceases to exist as an independent political force. In this regard, we should not lose sight of the regional elections that also took place Sunday.

On the eve of the election, many experts began talking about a Kremlin plan to keep SPS out of the Duma, and to create a new faction from the right's single-mandate deputies. As it happened, only six SPS and Yabloko deputies got elected, along with a few independent liberals such as Vladimir Ryzhkov.

If the Kremlin wants to cobble together a faction on this basis, it will have to throw in a few pro-Kremlin independents or even a few deputies from United Russia.

The election and the vote count could be characterized as "free and fair by default." With the departure of former chief of staff Alexander Voloshin, the presidential administration could not, or chose not to, promise regional leaders political cover if scandals broke out over vote-rigging. Regional leaders were left to their own devices, and look at the result.

Rodina is riding high, though it would have been more logical for the Kremlin to keep the new bloc on a much shorter leash. And not one of the weak democratic parties cleared the 5 percent barrier, although you could argue that the Kremlin loses more than it gains from the absence of Yabloko (at the very least) in the next Duma.

Nikolai Petrov, a scholar-in-residence at the Carnegie Moscow Center, contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.