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Does Putin really want a 2-party Duma?

With just a couple of weeks to go until Russia’s parliamentary elections on 2nd December, it’s looking increasingly as though United Russia are set for a massive victory.

Russian political parties by percentage of vote graph

However, depressingly, only two of the ‘major’ parties are likely to scrape together the seven percent of votes needed to gain any seats in the Duma – United Russia, and Communist Party of the Russian Federation. Based on a Lenta poll, the next Russian Duma will look something like this:

Possible distribution of Russian Duma seats 2007 - graph

If the pollsters are correct, United Russia will have 371 Duma seats, the Communist Party a mere 79.

On the face of it, great news for United Russia. Only one opponent to worry about, and majority of substantially more than two-thirds. But it appears as though the Kremlin is beginning to worry athat United Russia may actually be too dominant…

Media coverage of other parties seems to be increasing (albiet only slightly) and there are some early indications that a couple of the other parties – most likely the loony LDPR and the slightly dull Just Russia – might just manage to scrape together enough votes to clamber over the magical 7% mark.


Well, some would say it’s because a Duma dominated by only one party just wouldn’t look good – either at home or abroad. Putin’s image is at stake.

But I prefer this explanation from Argumenty Nedeli:

Rumor has it that the CPRF might arrange a political scandal with a demostrative walkout from the Duma. That would leave the Duma unable to function, since the law requires the Russian parliament to have at least two parties.

Translation by Elena Leonova for Johnson’s Russia List 2007 #239

Not that would put a dent in Putin’s image. Can you imagine how embarrassing it would be for Putin if he was forced to run another election just because he was too damn popular…

(Note: The figures used to construct these graphs came from a Levada poll carried out last week. The website is currently down, though, so I’ve used a link to a news story for the time being).


  • Andy:

    A few quick questions. How do you square this poll with the recent poll from VTsIOM?

    Second, if the VTsIOM poll is more accurate, and no party besides United Russia breaks the threshold, how many seats does the next party get? I know there is a clause that requires at least two parties be represented in the Duma, just curious about what the default number is.

    Third, I think the Arguementi Nedeli is spot on regarding the Kremlin’s fear. Couldn’t the Kremlin just as easily say that Fair Russia broke the threshold and the Communists did not? Or are they worried that the support for the Communists is substantial enough that it may not be able to cheat them out of any seats? A Duma consisting of United Russia and Fair Russia would be the optimal outcome for the Kremlin, although maybe the Communists are good to keep around for show.

    Anyway, interesting post. I’d love to hear your thoughts about these issues.

  • My suspicion is that polls showing the Communist Party making the 7% barrier are more likely to be accurate – but that is really only a hunch. If the VTsIOM poll is the more accurate, then Putin is going to get crucified in the Western press in a couple of weeks…

    As far as I know, if only one party reaches 7% then a number of seats are allocated to the second place party – presumably on the basis of whatever actual percentage they received in the vote, but I haven’t been able to find the law that confirms this.

    I think that actually the Communists are actually Putin’s preferred opposition. Partially because they are the party least ‘under his thumb’, which allows him to claim that there is a (relatively) genuine opposition, even if it is toothless. And partly because the Communists have no real chance of ever launching a significant challenge – historical associations mean that the West will find it difficult to champion them and, at the same time, many in Russia remain suspicious of the Communists.

  • Putin gets top vote in Moldova


    Moldova’s so-called Public Opinion Barometer for November 2007 shows that the inhabitants of Moldova put greater trust in the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, than in their own head of state, the corruption-connected Communist strongman Vladimir Voronin.

    According to the latest opinion poll, Putin is widely trusted by at least 66 percent of all Moldovans, or two out of three in the country. This compares to less than half that still believe in the virtue of their current leadership: In stark contrast to Putin, only 45 percent trust their own president, Vladimir Voronin. A majority of Moldova’s inhabitants have no faith that their current president is honest or trustworthy.

    While Moldova is officially listed as Europe’s poorest country, its president and his close relatives rank as the richest family in the country. Their quick and unexplained road to enormous personal wealth is seen as one of the reasons why a minority among the voters now believe that Vladimir Voronin should be worthy of their trust.

    Other poll results reveal that Romanian president Traian Bãsescu is trusted by 41 percent of all Moldovans, followed by Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko who receives the trust of just 34 percent.

    Also-rans: Over half of all Moldovans don’t trust their own president, Vladimir Voronin (top). And at the bottom of the heap, outgoing U.S. leader George W. Bush is only trusted by a pitiful 29% of Moldova’s population. Among all world leaders listed, American president George W. Bush scores the worst: He is distrusted by seven out of ten in Moldova, and only regarded as trustworthy by a miserly 29 percent of voters.


    Coffee with Putin: decaf now available


    As a foreign spectator of Russia’s political theater, I have several questions: How is it possible to respect a group of political agitators who 1. Have little respect for the law; 2. Threaten the security of their fellow residents – the very people they hope to lead – by making a mad dash through the city and into moving traffic; 3. Have no political leg to stand on, but continue to disturb the peace with publicity-seeking stunts; 4. Refer to themselves as “anti-Kremlin” when in actuality they have no greater desire than to be hunkered down once again inside the fortress.

    The urge to laugh at all of this proved too great when I saw a photograph of former-chess-champ-turned-savior-of-the-Motherland Garry Kasparov in the back of a police van, sporting a vainglorious grin as he flashed a victory sign from the rear window. Victory? Victory from what, I thought. If this is victory, I would really hate to see the self-anointed opposition’s definition of a failure.

    As is normal democratic procedure for every civilized country, The Other Russia (a mysterious land that nobody has yet defined, but if past performance of the Russian liberals is any indication, it is probably an uninhabitable outcrop of rocks in the Arctic Ocean that Russians must rent from a foreign power) got exactly what it requested from the city of Moscow: a legally sanctioned rally on Prospekt Akademika Sakha­rova in the heart of the nation’s capital. Any American or European political group would have been thrilled with such a high-profile venue. So was this the “victory” that Kasparov was alluding to from the back of the police bus? No, of course not, because despite joining forces with other liberal factions, this bowel movement fails to pull any weight with the voters. Thus, to play by the rules of the game would force them to confront an ugly truth: Since the great giveaway of the 1990s, the liberals have zero chances of clearing their names with the Russian voters anytime soon. Actually, their public demonstrations seem more effective at attracting curiosity seekers, troublemakers and photo-snapping tourists than any serious supporters.

    Ironically, Russia’s weekend warriors attempted a mad dash for the Central Elections Commission office, where they hoped to protest against the “unfair” 7 percent threshold of votes required to gain parliamentary representation. This is strange. Especially since I have never read a single article from Garry Kasparov in The Wall Street Journal, a conservative U.S. paper that regularly publishes his rants, concerning the state of American democracy.

    If the majority of politicians were not such hypocrites, Kasparov would have been reminding his readers that both Ross Perot and Ralph Nader – two third-party candidates who enjoyed huge support from at least 9 percent of the American heartland – were denied the right to debate (not run) against the Democrat and Republican nominees in past presidential elections.

    And then there are those obser­vers who argue that something sinister must be happening for Russia’s president and the United Russia party to be enjoying such huge popularity. As one English-language daily hyperventilated, people (anonymous people, of course) are being dragged off to the polling stations against their will(!). But if Washington, for example, would spend less time and money bombing nations into the Stone Age (a prerequisite, it seems, along the road to democracy), and more on domestic infrastructure (dams flood to mind), perhaps it too would be enjoying sky-high public support. Inci­den­tally, those former western leaders who threw their support behind the Iraq War (Blair, Anzar, Howard) are also feeling the sting of their decisions today (In Putin’s 8 years in office, Russia has never opened military operations in a foreign land). Putin’s biggest failure in the eyes of the West is his success: he fails to conform to the old stereotypes about Russian leaders: weak, corrupt and never far from a bottle of vodka. Putin has destroyed those national myths, and there are many people who will never forgive him for that.

    Some say the Russian opposition is dreaming of introducing some new brand of orange revolution; this sort of wishful thinking is simply dangerous. After all, Russia already staged the mother of all orange revolutions in 1991 when Boris Yeltsin climbed up on a tank in downtown Moscow while tens of thousands of supporters cheered him. That historic moment – which rallied more people than all of the other color revolutions combined – kicked off Russia’s democratic revolution. Today, Russia’s “sovereign democracy” simply reflects the realities of Russia’s past, present and future; democracy is not a one-size-fits-all Made in the U.S.A. sweater.

    But most importantly, many outside observers – many of whom have never set foot in Russia, and never will – fail to understand the radical changes that are taking place in this vast country, and not just in the biggest Russian cities.

    For example, a friend of mine, whose job requires her to travel around the country, bases her assumptions about the progress of a Russian city on the availability of decaffeinated coffee in the local restaurants – kind of like a Russian version of the Big Mac index. Now, whenever she orders a decaffeinated coffee in Vladivostok, Kazan or Nizhny Novgorod she is not delivered a Turkish coffee that was brought to a slow boil over hot sand.

    This is fruit from the tree of upheaval that Russia experienced 16 years ago: the standard of living is rising, every product and service is readily available, and the level of patriotism – if we judge by the polls and flags – has never been higher. So from this foreigner’s perspective, the last thing Russia wants or needs is another misguided liberal reformer.

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