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The Elections of 1993

In 1991, Boris Yeltsin became the first Russian president elected in free, competitive elections. He initially enjoyed enormous popular support. The US government pursued a policy of support for Yeltsin, who was said to be the best hope for a democratic Russia. US and other Western consultants provided advice on how best to do almost everything and, most conspicuously, how best to move toward a capitalistic economic system.

The hidden story of Boris Yeltsin’s presidency explains how deeply the US government, along with Western capitalist institutions, cheered, shaped and exploited the country after the fall of the Soviet Union, paving the way for the political system they all condemned later.

The Russian leadership set about dismantling the old, hierarchical political system and privatizing many of the economic enterprises that had been owned and operated by the state. There was great optimism that Russia would indeed soon become a country open to investment and trade, a reliable partner in the post-Cold-War world. Most US commentators, although they did not say so directly, expected that Russia would soon become a democracy "just like us".

Instead of moving swiftly to use his powerto strengthen the newdemocratic political institutions,however, Yeltsin ignored their existence whenever possible. Indeed, he appeared to have forgotten about democracy and focused instead on making economic changes. In Decemberof 1991, he postponed local elections because he feared his supporters might lose. In 1993, he used tanks to break up the elected parliament that had supported him in his struggle with Gorbachev. That same body was now punished because it had dared defy his will. It was forcibly disbanded. A new constitution was written, and imposed from above after little discussion. It vested enormous power in the presi dent, to such an extent that Russians joked that they were now living under a monarchy.Nonetheless, Yeltsin continued to speak of democracy.

In November 1993, Yeltsin issued decrees prescribing procedures for multiparty parliamentary elections, which would be the first since tsarist times. Besides setting the configuration of the new bicameral parliament, the Yeltsin plan called for half of the 450 State Duma deputies to be elected from national party lists with representation proportional to the overall votes received by each party. The other half would be elected locally, in single-member districts. The party-list procedure, a new feature in Russian elections, was designed to strengthen the identification of candidates with parties and to foster the concept of the multiparty system among the electorate. To achieve proportional representation in the State Duma, a party would need to gain at least 5 percent of the nationwide vote.

The CEC declared thirteen parties eligible for the party list, and 2,047 individual candidates were selected to compete for Federation Council seats (490) and State Duma single-mandate seats (1,567), allotted to individuals regardless of their parties' overall performance vis-a-vis the 5 percent threshold. Although the CEC reported some voting irregularities, the vast majority of the more than 1,000 international observers termed the elections largely free and fair, with some reservations expressed about manipulation of results. In several republics, the referendum results were invalidated by low turnouts caused by boycotts, or because voters failed to approve the constitution.

Many experts divided the myriad parties of the 1993 elections roughly into three main blocs: pro-Yeltsin reformists, centrists advocating a slower pace of reform, and hard-liners opposing reforms. The main reformist party was Russia's Choice, led by former prime minister Yegor Gaydar. The main centrist parties were the Yavlinskiy-Boldyrev-Lukin bloc, commonly referred to as Yabloko (the Russian word for apple), headed by economist Grigoriy Yavlinskiy and former ambassador to the United States Vladimir Lukin, and the Democratic Party of Russia, headed by Nikolay Travkin. The main hard-line parties were the LDPR, the KPRF, headed by Gennadiy Zyuganov, and the Agrarian Party, which represented state- and collective- farm interests and was headed by Mikhail Lapshin.

In 1993 the strongly nationalist, anti-reform LDPR emerged with the largest vote on the State Duma party lists, followed by Russia's Choice. By faring much better in the single-member districts, however, Russia's Choice emerged with sixty-six seats, the most in the State Duma. The LDPR followed with sixty-four seats. Altogether, reformist and centrist parties emerged with the greatest number of seats in the State Duma, followed by nationalist and antireform parties. Some 127 State Duma seats were won by individuals not formally affiliated with a party, many of whom were former CPSU members.

Of the thirteen parties participating in the December 1993 legislative elections on the party lists, eight exceeded the 5 percent threshold to win seats in the State Duma. In addition, all thirteen parties, as well as some local parties, won seats in single- member districts. Once the new parliament was seated, the parties aggregated into several factions. A number of deputies coalesced into the Union of December 12 faction. Sixty-five centrist deputies formed the New Regional Policy faction, and some LDPR members shifted their affiliation to the KPRF or the Agrarian Party, or supported former vice president Aleksandr Rutskoy's Concord in the Name of Russia policy agenda.

New laws proved contradictory, were full of loopholes, or simply were not enforced. Corruption spread throughout the society as those eager to give bribes and those glad to take them proliferated. In this atmosphere, a violent Mafia grew up to levy its own taxes and act as enforcer. Indeed, it became difficult to draw clear lines among government officials, the newly rich businessmen, and the clearly criminal. The economy was devastated as assets were stripped and profits from export deals were placed off shore. Russian bankers and businessmen and their Western financial advisors quickly mastered the most up-to-date ways to hide their identities and put their profits in safe places.

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Page last modified: 27-02-2017 19:49:52 ZULU