Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR)
The terribly misnamed Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) is a far-right populist faction founded in 1989 as the Liberal Democratic Party of the Soviet Union, which lasted until the USSR dissolved. It was founded by Vladimir Zhirinovsky, a firebrand politician who still leads the group to this day. Despite its name, the group shares very little in common with European Liberal Democratic parties, instead espousing views more akin to far-right ultranationalists, actively opposing both modern neoliberal capitalism and Soviet-style communism.
Russia has long had political parties that espouse nationalist ideology. The first of these was Vladimir Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR), which won more than 20 percent of the vote in parliamentary elections in 1993. Zhirinovsky is known for statements many consider racist and anti-Semitic. He even stated once that Russia should "restore its former empire" by retaking control of places such as Finland and Alaska.
Aleksey Makarkin, first vice-president of the Centre for Political Technologies, noted in Decemer 2016: "Zhirinovskiy is successful, he has been in politics for 25 years, he is emphatically anti-Communist (something that is important for these people) and most importantly, against the backdrop of some speakers such as Dmitriy Kiselev, for example, Zhirinovskiy is no longer perceived as marginal - his ideas have become mainstream. And at the same time, the LDPR is a systemic party, a party of the "Crimean consensus", so it has become a suitable option for those who want to demonstrate protest but at the same time want to remain with the majority and do not wish to break away from it. For the regime, the LDPR's growth is completely safe and inoffensive."
The results of the December 1993 parliamentary election in Russia raised the specter of ultra-nationalists gaining political control in Moscow, followed by Russian soldiers marching south and west to re-establish the old Tsarist and Soviet empires. The statements of Vladimir Zhirinovsky were well known in the West before the elections, but were of little concern because he had no power base in government. But the vote in December--and the efforts by several states in Central Europe to use the ultra-nationalists' election success to add urgency to their pleas to gain entry into NATO--changed the West's perception of the ultra-nationalist threat, making it a major topic of discussion.
However, ultra-nationalists were not on the verge of taking charge in Moscow. The vote for the ultra-nationalists in the December 1993 election was at least in part a protest against the dislocation caused by the erratic reform policies of Yeltsin and Gaidar. Moreover, while the election resulted in ultra-nationalist and traditionalist parties gaining close to 40 percent of the seats in the Duma, centrists--who support continued reform but at a slower pace--gained a sufficient number of seats to ensure that reform will be continued, albeit at a slower pace and under more direct control by the government.
In June 1995, the Federal Assembly passed—and Yeltsin signed—a new law to govern the next legislative elections, which were planned for December. This legislation echoed many provisions of Yeltsin's 1993 electoral decree, such as the division of the State Duma seats into party-list and single-member districts. Yeltsin had urged a change in this provision because he feared that Zhirinovskiy's LDPR might again gain many seats in the party-list voting, but the Duma had insisted on retaining the even-split voting procedure that gave such meaning to the party lists.
Zhirinovsky had a strong organization and a committed electorate. Zhirinovsky's voters were both against communism and the reforms, but his electorate appears more anti-communist than ap.ti-Yeltsin, and Zhirinovsky frequently made deals with the government and supported it in crucial moments. While the party still had a strong presence in parliament, it was joined there in 2004 by another group known as Rodina, or "Motherland." Analysts say Rodina's strong showing was mostly the result of support it received from the Kremlin in order to weaken the Communists, long the major opposition party.
Kremlin candidate Dmitri Medvedev garnered more votes in 2008 than all of his opponents, combined. Medvedev won more than 70 percent of the vote. Communist Party candidate Gennady Zyuganov comes in second, with nearly 18 percent. Vladimir Zhirinovsky, perennial candidate of the Liberal Democratic Party, received less than 10 percent. Andrei Bogdanov, a complete political unknown, got just over one percent.
The ultra-nationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia maintained 40 seats in the State Duma in 2009 and backed nearly all of United Russia's major domestic and foreign policy initiatives. LDPR, as another controlled opposition party, offered voice to the country's more radical nationalist elements and attracted youthful voters amused by Zhirinovskiy's antics, but the party did not initiate any major legislation and clashed with United Russia only on smaller regional issues (e.g., a row in January 2009 over electoral registration in Murmansk region).
Zhirinovskiy remained one of Russia's premier political showmen, but his public support emanated primarily from the public perception of external threats to Russia. For this reason, LDPR's platform extended little beyond diatribes against the United States, Ukraine, and Georgia. The 2008 economic crisis, increased xenophobia, and anti-immigrant sentiment attracted more voters to the party in 2011, but it posed no threat to the regime.
In 2016, the LDPR vote share came in at 13.14%, leaving them in third place behind United Russia and the Communist Party. The result was an improvement on 2011, when the group finished in 4th with just 11.67%. However, since 2016, the LDPR has seen some success. For example, in 2018, it won the governorships of both the Khabarovsk and Vladimir Regions, defeating the pro-Putin governing party, United Russia.
As in 2016, most analysts believed that the LDPR will again finish some way behind the country’s two most popular factions in 2021.
Like most other Russian parties, the LDPR’s level of support varies massively from region to region. The group is known to be wildly popular in the country’s Far East – particularly in Khabarovsk, where now-imprisoned former Governor Sergey Furgal stormed to victory with almost 70% of the vote in 2018. The party also has some support in the center of the country.
The LDPR is a far-right party, and its leader Zhirinovsky is neither a liberal nor much of a democrat. Many of the faction’s ideas can be described as ultranationalist and socially conservative while remaining somewhat economically interventionist. The party’s policies are almost entirely centered around views held by Zhirinovsky. At home, the LDPR supports populist ideas, like increasing pensions and the minimum wage, while implementing a tax hike for the super-rich. It also seeks to “protect traditional family values” while supporting “the traditional religions of Russia,” including Christianity.
Its foreign policy views are somewhat more controversial. The party seeks to return all the former territories of the USSR to the control of Moscow. It also wants to dissolve NATO and create an Armed Forces of Europe without the participation of the United States.
Although not in the official manifesto, party leader Zhirinovsky has some other outlandish views, such as restoring the monarchy and changing the country’s name to the Russian Empire. He has also threatened to “shoot and hang” his political opponents.
Despite being part of the systemic opposition – that is, often loyal to the Kremlin – the LDPR has often butted heads with the authorities. Last year, the aforementioned Khabarovsk Governor Furgal was arrested. The former governor was flown to Moscow, where he currently awaits trial on charges of murder from more than 15 years ago. After his detention, Putin fired Furgal, replacing him with another LDPR politician, Mikhail Degtyarev.
Soon after, large protests were held in Khabarovsk, with thousands of people turning up for multiple consecutive weekends. Many locals were furious that federal authorities removed their elected representative and replaced him with a Moscow-based MP with no local experience.
Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the rabid Russian nationalist lawmaker whose political rise in the early 1990s frightened the West and underscored the fragility of democracy in the immediate post-Soviet period, died 06 April 2022. He was 75. Russian State Duma speaker Vyacheslav Volodin said Zhirinovsky died after a "long and serious illness." Zhirinovsky had been in a Moscow hospital since early February after testing positive for COVID-19 and developing pneumonia. Zhirinovsky had been one of the most visible and well-known figures in Russian politics over the past three decades, capturing domestic and international headlines with his xenophobic comments and outlandish public behavior, including fistfights in parliament and on television talk shows. He appeared to have lost almost all of his real political influence years ago, serving instead as a colorfully controversial but ultimately predictable piece of the so-called “systemic opposition” to President Vladimir Putin, who uses this group to advance his goals and preserve a veneer of democracy and pluralism.
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