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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Postponing the Inevitable

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Sunday brought the last major elections ahead of the State Duma vote in December. These affected almost every region, including 14 that elected legislative assemblies, two that held referendums on merging territories within their regions, and others that held municipal elections. More than 30 million people voted.

But the elections were more important for the country's political elite than for the voters, as they decided the fate of all parties, from the newest -- A Just Russia -- to the old parties on the liberal right. Taking part as a unified party for the first time, A Just Russia had to test itself against the main party of power, United Russia, to justify both its creation and its right to further funding and attention from political elites in the regions. Kremlin insiders had to be convinced of the wisdom of placing all their bets on the new party and withdrawing support for older, though loyal, parties that have proved difficult to control, such as Yabloko and the Union of Right Forces.

The votes in all but four regions were the first without minimum turnout requirements and the "against all" option on the ballots.

The most important results were as follows: A Just Russia finished second in five regions and won in Stavropol, thereby justifying its creation; The stage appears to have been set for just four parties, including A Just Russia, to win Duma seats in December; and there was a striking contrast between the small numbers who turned out for anti-Kremlin demonstrations in St. Petersburg one week before the elections and the huge numbers of pro-Kremlin voters who turned out on Sunday.

United Russia, in contrast to the other parties jockeying for position, had to hold off gains from potential challengers in order to declare complete victory. Although United Russia maintained its dominant place, it did not prevent other parties from making a strong showing, which is one of the few positive political developments in recent months. Political competition, even coming from an "artificial" creation like A Just Russia, is positive both for society at large and for those in power. What we are likely to see in the future is an increasing role for the invisible hand of the political market. Following the 2008 presidential election, we are likely to see a decrease in populist policy from the executive branch. This will help A Just Russia's socialist slogans stand out better, likely improving its prospects.

With regard to the more immediate future, it is common to talk about the "big four" -- United Russia, A Just Russia, the Communist Party and the Liberal Democratic Party -- that will win Duma seats in December. Realistically, it makes more sense to talk of the "big one and the next three." It will be like a stool with one thick leg and three skinny ones.

One question arising from all of this is: How honest and fair were Sunday's elections? For those parties that were allowed to participate, the answer is that they were relatively fair, if only because those in power were channeling media, systemic and financial resources to two parties as opposed to just one.

But the problem remains that the resources necessary to compete were set aside for those two parties only and denied the others. The Kremlin clans were only interested in United Russia and A Just Russia, and made it the responsibility of the regional governors to make sure that the parties did well. This explains Yabloko's removal from the ballot in St. Petersburg and the pressure exerted on other parties ahead of the vote. It was not in the governors' interests that there be additional contenders when all votes were earmarked for United Russia and A Just Russia.

It's not difficult to see that the Kremlin is making a big mistake by relegating a number of experienced politicians outside of the two pro-Kremlin parties to the margins of political life rather than finding ways to incorporate them into the system in parliamentary posts at both the federal and regional levels.

Sooner or later, this policy will come back to haunt the country as a whole. The era in which the multitude of problems facing the country can be ignored thanks to enormous inflows of petrodollars will one day come to an end. At that point, all of the difficult jobs that have been put aside during President Vladimir Putin's second term will have to be tackled. Unfortunately, a lot fewer experienced and effective people will be around to do the tackling.

Nikolai Petrov is a scholar in residence at the Carnegie Moscow Center.