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United Russia / Edinaya Rossiya

United Russia, the Party of Power, is Vladimir Putin's political creation and vehicle for his political interests. United Russia is hardly a typical party with a single ideological line. It could be compared to the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan or the CDU/CSU party in Germany.

United Russia emerged at the end of 2003 from the Fourth Congress of the "Unity and Fatherland" party. It included virtually the entire nation's elite in its ranks, with nearly two million members in all regions of the country [a bit more than 1 percent of a total population of 142 million]. However, by comarison, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) membership more than 19 million (9.7 percent of adult population in 1987).

Having emerged in 2001 from the merger of two political movements, Unity and Fatherland All Russia, the United Russia was largely the party of regional elites. The electoral bloc Unity was created in 1999 under the banner of supporting then-Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and brought together a large number of regional heavyweights. The brand "United Russia" was to bring the positions of different regional elite groups closer to the policy of the federal center. At the same time, it did not imply unity in ideology. Historically, there are several ideological currents within the party [United Russia]. The party had patriotic (conservative) and social (center-left) platforms, something like internal party factions.

The high point of the first part of the 1-2 October 2007 United Russia party's eighth convention was Putin's decision to head the party's Duma electoral list. United Russia's orderly march to a constitutional majority in the December 2 Duma elections turned into a scramble to provide a mandate for Putin with the President's decision to head the party's list. With Putin's announcement, United Russia went from being the party of power in the election campaign to a bit player in the continuing drama of what Putin will do when he left office. The campaign had been tough on Just Russia, SPS, and to a lesser extent the Communists, but it has been bruising for United Russia as well. The party lost some of its luster when Putin in Krasnoyarsk described it as filled with opportunists. United Russia, Putin said, is an imperfect tool, but the "best available" for continuing his legacy.

United Russia itself remained less a unified political party than, according to Institute for Strategic Assessments President Aleksandr Konovalov, "a group of ambitious bureaucrats who more often than not hate each other." Director of the Foundation for the Development of Information Politics Aleksandr Kynev described United Russia as a "Noah's Ark that influential national and regional clans sail from one Duma election to the next." The party candidate list seemed to bear that out. It was important to the party's fortunes that local heavyweights, governors for example, head United Russia's lists in their regions in order to draw voters to the party, although those "locomotives" will not serve in the Duma if elected.

The second part of the convention took place on December 17, steps from the Kremlin, and was attended by virtually all of the country's political elite. The 511 delegates at the pro-Kremlin United Russia party's December 17 party congress performed to expectations, when they chose First Deputy Prime Minister Medvedev as their candidate for President. Putin confounded the expectations of some commentators by agreeing, after a week of silence, to become Prime Minister when Medvedev won the presidential elections on March 2008.

United Russia faces no real competition, and the party has found it hard to maintain its edge, its internal discipline and readiness to meet challengers on the field of debate. All capable elites are, in one form or another, connected with United Russia, giving the party an enormous reserve on which to draw for advice and advocacy. In avoiding public debate and discussion of economic and social policies with the opposition, United Russia has relied on the strongly favorable public opinion ratings for Putin and, to a lesser extent, Medvedev.

At the instruction of Kremlin officials, in January 2009 United Russia took a more active visible role in defending Russian government actions to the Russian public, countering the protests and messages which had resonated in political and media circles for weeks. The decision for United Russia to get behind the government comes after United Russia's three "clubs" (liberal, moderate, conservative/patriotic) came together to oppose the appeal from party leadership that the clubs set an example and impose a moratorium on staffing and pay reductions at journals and think tanks, as well as to express differences over how the government is using the Stabilization Fund.

The complete national dominance of the ruling United Russia party under the leadership of Putin has made it difficult not only for true opposition parties (Yabloko) but also for Kremlin-sanctioned parties (Just Russia, Zhirinovskiy's Liberal Democrats, Right Cause, and even the Communists) to function, let alone capitalize on economic discontent. On 12 September 2008, Agrarian Party leaders released a statement urging its members to merge with United Russia. The statement described past cooperation between the parties, emphasizing that "we fought together" for the agro-industrial complex and that they jointly created laws to protect domestic producers. Agrarian Party leaders argued that their interests will strengthen by joining a Duma party, adding that a smaller number of parties makes the electoral system "more comprehensible to voters".

The federal election campaign in 2011 was the least successful to date for United Russia, which saw its reputation tainted by accusations of vote-rigging and fraud. United Russia headed toward the upcoming parliamentary elections against the backdrop of a downward economic trend for the first time. The elections would be held in September 2016, but by early 2016, the party leadership was already concerned about the outcome.

It seemed unlikely that United Russia would resort to large-scale rigging in 2016; the result was important, but not crucial for the Kremlin during this campaign. What was essential is to preserve the current configuration: so that the parties which are within the patriotic consensus win the elections.

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Page last modified: 18-09-2016 13:23:45 ZULU