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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Communists' Demise, Nationalism on the Rise

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The main drama in these elections is not the success of United Russia, which was guaranteed by the joint organizational efforts of the Kremlin, the elections committees and regional governors.

The key event in these elections, which will most likely influence the development of politics in the near future, is the demise of the Communist Party. Of course, the Communists will blame everything on hostile media coverage and electoral fraud -- and they will be right to do so. But neither of these factors is new. In fact, in previous elections they have done much better, even in circumstances that were objectively worse.

There has always been anti-Communist propaganda in the media, but the difference this time was that quite a few KPRF voters actually believed it; and they did so because the negative coverage in the media confirmed their own experience with the party.

That is why it is clear that this year, the Communist Party's disastrous performance is of its own making. The KPRF has always been an eclectic coalition of groups held together not by ideology, but rather by "clientelist" ties and a bureaucratic apparatus.

This coalition cannot last forever, and now it is in the process of "decomposing." Traditionalist, conservative voters are moving to United Russia, nationalist voters are moving to Homeland and the LDPR; and quite a lot of left-wing voters are so frustrated with the Communist Party that they preferred not to vote at all, or to vote "against all."

It is noteworthy that this year, for the first time, "against all" got enough votes to form its own faction in the parliament.

Of course, the outcome of this election is a defeat for the democratic process in Russia, but it also has a positive aspect because our political system has never really been democratic. Today, the authoritarian character of the political system has simply been exposed. In the long run, it will probably have an illuminating and invigorating effect on civil society and society as a whole -- spurring people to action and self-organization.

It will probably also be good for the left in helping it to overcome the impasse symbolized by the ineffectiveness, opportunism and nationalism of Gennady Zyuganov's Communist Party. Political defeats can have a stimulating effect, but much will depend on the people themselves and the lessons they draw from what has happened.

Boris Kagarlitsky, Director, Institute of Globalization Studies

A Majority Without Rodina



The Putin administration looks set to command a majority in the new State Duma based on the United Russia contingent, without needing to build a wider coalition. The 35 percent score for United Russia suggested by the combination of exit polls and early results will give the party, after the proportional redistribution of the 20 percent of wasted votes, about 95 "party list" seats. On the pretty safe assumption that 60 percent of the district seats are won by a mixture of United Russia candidates and "independents" who are United Russia in all but name, then the total United Russia block will be 230 -- an absolute majority of five.

Even supposing this forecast overstates the United Russia total by, say, 20 seats, then the Kremlin will still have no difficulty in forming a working majority with the addition of other "district" deputies from or close to the People's Party, which, although ideologically closer to the Communists, has proved a dependable component of the pro-Kremlin centrist majority in the outgoing Duma.

The key point here is that the Putin administration will not have to rely on the votes of the new Homeland (Rodina) bloc in order to get its legislation through the Duma. The eye-catching success of Homeland reflects the fresh and effective way it has presented the Communists' traditional mix of collectivism and nationalism to capture a part of the Communist electorate. (The two parties' combined scores will be virtually the same as the Communist vote in the last election.)

The emergence of Homeland nevertheless heralds a change of political atmosphere, especially unless offset by the presence in the Duma of both liberal parties -- Yabloko and the Union of Right Forces. The liberals' combined score will likely exceed Homeland's, but the failure of SPS to pass the 5 percent barrier would make the political flavor of the overall result less positive from the point of the financial markets.

Christopher Granville, Chief strategist, United Financial Group

Manageable Nationalists?



If the results of the exit polls hold, and there is no reason to expect that they will not, the following trends are clear: The parties that are surging are United Russia, Homeland and LDPR. There are three things which unite those parties: i) they all have support from the Kremlin (two of the three were created by the Kremlin); ii) they are very loyal to President Putin; iii) they are all running on platforms with varying degrees of nationalism (United Russia is the softest with its central "Strong Russia" campaign slogan, while the other two parties advocate a more virulent form of nationalism).

The real news of these elections is that parties with nationalistic slogans are back on the rise. In 1993, Vladimir Zhirinovsky's LDPR got almost a quarter of the party-list vote. People thought: "Oh God -- this is the birth of fascism in Russia." The great news of the 1990s, however, was that it was just a blip on the screen. Zhirinovsky became loyal to the Kremlin and the threat of nationalism receded.

What unites the "losers"?

The Communist Party, Yabloko and the Union of Right Forces: i) are all opposition parties; ii) none of them were created by the Kremlin and all have some roots in society; iii) their basic ideological platforms are based on economic positions rather than nationalistic ones.

Four years ago, at SPS's party to celebrate the results of the 1999 Duma elections, there was a feeling that liberalism was on the rise again. They got over 8 percent of the vote and were talking about doubling that score in the 2003 Duma elections -- with the idea that they would be strong enough in the following political cycle to run a viable candidate for the 2008 presidential election. One of the reasons they were so optimistic was that Putin had given them his blessing. This time, the presidential administration went out of its way to help Homeland and the nationalists rather than the liberals. As a result, the optimism of 1999 has been completely wiped out. And the Kremlin has, perhaps inadvertently, created a new strain of nationalism.

They call the Russian political system "managed democracy" -- let's hope they can manage it.

Michael McFaul, Professor, Stanford University (specializing in Russian elections)

See also Election Special 2003