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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Duma of a New Political Era

APCentral Elections Commission chairman Alexander Veshnyakov, right, announcing preliminary election results Monday afternoon.
The nation is facing a starkly new kind of parliament after election results came in Monday that for the first time in post-Soviet history gave pro-Kremlin and nationalist parties a landslide majority, trounced the Communists and pushed liberal Yabloko and the Union of Right Forces into the political wilderness.

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United Russia, the party that ran on a program with zero content apart from loyalty to the president, looks set to gain a majority 50 percent of the 450 seats in the Duma, while the misnamed Liberal Democratic Party headed by virulent nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky, seen by many as a puppet of the Kremlin, will get 8.4 percent, according to estimates released by the Central Elections Commission after 98 percent of the vote was counted Monday.

The commission's estimates included results from the single-mandate districts, which are counted separately from the party list system.

The nationalist Rodina, or Homeland, bloc, which analysts say was created by Kremlin spin doctors as a vehicle to split the Communist vote, is due to get 10 percent of all seats. Yabloko and the Union of Right Forces, meanwhile, collapsed and failed to get past the 5 percent barrier crucial for representation on the party list vote. Four Yabloko deputies scored wins in single-mandate districts, while SPS won just two.

The pro-Kremlin People's Party will have 19 seats through victories in single-mandate districts, while the rest of the Duma's 65 seats will be occupied by deputies running on independent tickets who have yet to determine their alliances.

Final results will be confirmed by the Central Elections Commission on Dec. 17 at the earliest. The new Duma will convene Dec. 26.

Analysts said the results of Sunday's poll come as the culmination of President Vladimir Putin's drive to consolidate his power. That bid began with moves to rein in the power of regional governors shortly after he took over the presidency in 2000 and sped up this year with the arrest of Russia's richest man, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, in a $1 billion fraud case that many have called an attempt to flatten the oil magnate's political ambitions. Khodorkovsky had been seen as trying to lock in a loyal faction in the Duma in a possible attempt to become president.

"Putin's bureaucratic consolidation has ended with these elections. It is farewell to the Yeltsin era," said Lilia Shevtsova, a senior political analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center.

"What type of democracy can there be if there are no democratic parties in the Duma?" she said.

Even a deputy head of the presidential administration, Vladislav Surkov, said the election results marked the end of an era.

"Today, after the elections, we are living in a new Russia," said Surkov, the Kremlin's chief election strategist. "Before the elections it was not clear to many, but now the electorate has shown that the old political system based on Marxist dogmas of the left and right is finished."

Chillingly, he had little pity for the liberals who did not make it in. Instead, he said, they were finished. "We are entering a new political era, in which those who did not make it into the Duma should stay calm and understand that their historic mission is over."

Boris Berezovsky, the gray cardinal of Boris Yeltsin's Kremlin now in exile in London, said the election results came as the result of a buildup of an authoritarian regime that was not above using force to ensure its hold on power. "The Kremlin used its resource of fear to gain these results by jailing and threatening those who got in its way," he said in a telephone interview from London.

Analysts said the strong showing by pro-Putin forces came as a result of blanket coverage on state-controlled national television channels for the parties in its favor, a mud-slinging campaign directed against the Communists, who were left unable to respond, and the intimidation and muzzling of alternative voices such as Khodorkovsky's.

"Putin has now defeated the elite of the '90s," said Stanislav Belkovsky, the head of the Council for National Strategy, a think tank that published a controversial report this summer alleging the oligarchs were mounting "a creeping coup."

He said the loss of the liberal factions in the Duma was a clear death knell for Yeltsin-era forces. "Putin now has carte blanche to change the system of power," he said.

Analysts said the overwhelming majority that Putin now appears to have in the Duma should let him pursue any economic reforms he chooses. For now, investors are giving Putin the benefit of the doubt and believe he intends to use that mandate to continue pushing for liberal reforms.

But the strong showing by parties like Rodina, which ran on a populist ticket of returning the nation's riches to the people, is raising fears that the political weight of a hard-line Kremlin clan known as the siloviki might grow further and strengthen momentum toward greater state control over the strategic sectors of the economy.

"The result today is very positive in that it will help Putin push reform through," said Chris Weafer, the chief strategist at Alfa Bank. "But in the background, the concern is that the siloviki might feel they have more of a mandate to pursue their agenda. Putin might not be able to control the situation."

The leaders of Rodina, former Communist Deputy Sergei Glazyev and the head of the last Duma's international affairs committee, Dmitry Rogozin, did little to reach out to investors Monday.

In a televised post-election debate as the first election numbers were being released in the wee hours of Monday, Glazyev said the controversial results of 1990s privatization should be re-examined.

"The deals that violated the law must be canceled," he said. "A stolen asset can't be managed efficiently."

The case against Khodorkovsky includes a charge he defrauded the state in a 1994 privatization.

Rodina's leaders ran on a platform crafted by Glazyev calling for "social justice" and a redistribution of wealth from the handful of billionaires to the impoverished population via a huge tax hike on the owners of natural resources.

With his statements Monday, however, Glazyev appeared to be calling for a rethink of privatization results for the first time.

Glazyev on Monday promised to try to increase state revenues by 500 billion rubles ($17 billion) next year. "I hope we will be able to push through laws that will allow us to increase budget revenue by 500 billion rubles by taking away windfall profits from the exploitation of natural resources and by cutting back illegal capital outflows," he said.

With the rest of the Duma dominated by parties that have no agenda other than to serve as "yes men" to the Kremlin, there is a fear that Rodina's plans will fill parliamentary debate.

"Rodina is going to be the most lively element in the whole Duma," said Sergei Markov, a Kremlin-connected political analyst. "LDPR and United Russia have no ideologies and no programs."

But other analysts said it was unlikely that Rodina would be able to set the tone for the next four year's of lawmaking. "Policymaking will continue to be dominated by the government," said Roland Nash, chief strategist at Renaissance Capital.

"But this gives Rodina the opportunity to start whispering in the ears of the party of power," he said, referring to United Russia.

Nash warned that this might help build up momentum for a rethink of liberal policies.

"Once you start going down the slippery slope of raising taxes, it's very difficult to stop," he said. "One of the successes of Putin's first term was to roll back the tax burden. These sort of things could be put in jeopardy.

"We were heading for this tax hike before the elections," he said.

"But without the liberal factions having representation in the Duma, big business now has less defense."

Other observers are even more perturbed by some of the nationalist rhetoric coming from Rodina and said the party's campaign to redistribute wealth combined with a nationalist agenda raises the specter of a new national-socialist force creeping into parliament.

Speaking to journalists early Monday, Rodina co-leader Rogozin rejected those concerns. He said his bloc had done well because of the chord it had struck with the national mood. "This is a natural response to bandit capitalism, to the impoverishment of the people, to the humiliation of the people," he said.

"It sums up the bankruptcy of the politics of barbarian capitalism in Russia," he said.

Belkovsky, who is seen by many as being backed by the siloviki, said Rodina could be the inspiration for a national revival for Russia and the reawakening of its influence over the republics of the former Soviet Union.

"The elections reflected a general trend toward nationalist and imperialist ideas," he said. "The revival of the Russian empire will be a special subject of Putin's second term."

He said the United States' invasion of Iraq and its attempts to dominate global politics was provoking a backlash in Russia. "National humiliation is a basic problem for the Russian people and it cannot be ignored. Now we want Russia to be successful regardless of what Washington, Brussels and London thinks."

Rogozin's rhetoric on his foreign policy views Monday, however, was much more low key. "Europe is the main vector of development for Russia," sad Rogozin, who is Putin's special envoy for Kaliningrad. "Foreign policy starts with borders and, most importantly, we should calm them down. That means an active policy in the CIS."

He said America was not the enemy. "America is not interesting for us as a model for economic or democratic standards but as a military partner for resolving complicated regional problems where our interests coincide."

Nevertheless, the rise of Rodina and the strong showing by LDPR is already sounding some alarm bells in the U.S. State Department.

A senior U.S. diplomat speaking on condition of anonymity said Monday that the increased influence of nationalists in the Duma has created "at least a potential for some shift in direction in the reform process and openness to integration with the West," The Associated Press reported.

The diplomat said it remained to be seen whether the Kremlin could maintain control over Rodina. Analysts have said the bloc was created by pro-business forces in the Kremlin led by former chief of staff Alexander Voloshin and his deputy Surkov, but the fear is that now that it has done well in the elections, it could break free from the Kremlin's sphere of influence.

Even the Kremlin seems to have been spooked by the runaway success of its own creation, which it had helped along by providing generous TV coverage, some analysts said. "There are signs that there were definite Kremlin attempts to block the TV exposure of Rodina leaders in the last several days before the election," Shevtsova said. "Putin understands the possible negative consequences.

"Rodina is not dangerous because of Glazyev and Rogozin. They are tame. But the dangerous thing is the demand in society for such elements. Instead of this party that can be tamed and made loyal to the Kremlin, another party could appear that could take over the nationalist tide that has been unleashed and break free from the Kremlin."

SPS co-leader Boris Nemtsov warned that Putin could regret the appearance of Rodina on the political scene. "I don't think the president is jubilant," he said. "It seems to me that those people in the Kremlin who juggled with these elections have more serious feelings, they have realized they have let the genie out of the bottle," he said, referring to the nationalist forces in the Duma.

It's not clear yet which way Rodina is going to play its position in the Duma. Analysts polled Monday suggested Glazyev could try to take over the leadership of the Communist Party.

On Monday morning, Glazyev would not pin down a concrete alliance for his party. "We have already introduced many of them [our proposals] to the Duma, and we will work with anyone who is ready to share responsibility with us," he told reporters.