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Duma Election - December 2011

Despite winning the most seats in the State Duma, the lower house, United Russia - the party that had dominated Russian politics for more than a decade - took about 50 percent of the vote and now held 238 of the 450 parliamentary seats. Election monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) reported many violations of election rules favoring the United Russia party. The OSCE said frequent procedural violations included problems with the vote-counting, ballot-box stuffing and a lack of fairness.

The Communists, along with the nationalist Liberal Democrats and Just Russia - a social democratic party - all made strong gains, meaning that Putin's party would be forced to work with members of the newly empowered opposition. The Communist Party took 92 seats, followed by Just Russia with 64 and the Liberal Democrats with 56.

Political opposition forces in Russia continued to hold little influence and do not pose any challenge to the ruling regime. In 2009, the number of nationally registered political parties in Russia decreased from 14 to 6, with only one liberal democratic party (Yabloko) among them. The democratic opposition in general had almost no national-level support, with only small support in Moscow and St. Petersburg. The Communist Party (KPRF) positioned itself best to benefit politically from the economic crisis, as disaffected voters turn against the ruling United Russia party.

The year 2009 included significant changes for opposition politics in Russia, with the number of registered nationally parties decreasing from 14 to 6 due to their consolidation, dissolution, and transformation. The inconsequential Party of Peace and Unity (a shell essentially comprised of only party head Sazhi Umalatova) merged into the Patriots of Russia, itself a small nationalist party with only limited regional ambitions. The Agrarian Party dissolved itself and joined United Russia, and the Green Party transformed itself into a movement and awaits absorption into Just Russia. The Party of Social Justice merged into Just Russia. Under the weight of multi-million-dollar debts and Kremlin pressure, the Union of Right Forces (SPS) dissolved itself and merged with the Democratic Party and Civil Force to form the new Kremlin-friendly Right Cause. Finally, former prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov's Russian People's Democratic Union (RNDS) lost its registration in December 2008.

Three Duma parties were opposition parties in principle if not practice: the Communist Party (KPRF), the ultra-nationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), and the Kremlin-aligned Just Russia. Two other parties enjoy official national registration, the Patriots of Russia and Yabloko, and the new Right Cause party, which was registered to work and compete in 73 (of 88) Russian regions on 18 February 2009.

The regime greatly limits the political opposition and continues to develop new tactics to do so. Non-Duma parties hostile to the government generally are denied access to state-owned national broadcast media or depicted in an unflattering light, and even Duma parties such as the Communists struggle to receive even minimal access. Numerous opposition leaders face harassment, which ranges from pranks (such as being doused with paint or having animal feces strewn on vehicles) to violent assaults (such as at Solidarity's 31 January 2009 flash mob rally). Opposition groups also face difficulty reserving space for meetings, as Solidarity did for its December 2008 Moscow Region congress. On February 6, media reports described how the government had used moles to infiltrate the St. Petersburg branch of Yabloko.

Opposition groups face enormous obstacles in attempting to receive permits to hold rallies. In Moscow, the city government regularly denies democratic opposition group applications, or offers to issue permits for secluded locations. The 31 January 2009 Dissenters' Day marked a departure, however, as the Communists and LDPR both received permits, and even the anti-auto tariff TIGR group received permission for its small rally. On 15 February 2009, the city allowed a rally in honor of a journalist and a human rights activist who recently were assassinated in Moscow.

The Communists and to a less degree LDPR benefited from the 2008 economic crisis as the electorate casts protest votes against United Russia. Still, elections remain a low priority for many Russians, with a January 2009 Levada Center poll revealing that only 13 percent consider voting for their officials to be very important (one percent less than in 2004). Party consolidation made it easier to control political discourse by offering fewer legal options for expressing political opposition. The ruling regime faced no real challenge to its authority. A deteriorating economic situation may lead to some mass rallies, but there was no political party positioned to turn such unrest into a cohesive anti-government force.

Russians voted Sunday 04 December 2011 for a new parliament that critics called the "Approval Ministry" for rubber-stamping bills advocated by the Kremlin. The Communist Party was expected to come in second. Some of nationalists voted for a Kremlin-controlled nationalist party. One party, Fair Russia, aired ads lambasting corruption in the government. But authorities refused to register Vladimir Ryzhkovís party. Two weeks before the parliamentary elections, United Russia, the ruling party, was struggling with approval ratings that have slumped to 51 percent.

With 96 percent of the vote counted by 05 December 2011, the Central Electoral Commission said the United Russia party had garnered just under 50 percent of the vote, down from 64 percent in the 2007 election. The result allowed United Russia to claim a slim majority -- 238 of the State Dumaís 450 seats. The Communist Party made big gains, winning 92 seats, while the ultra-nationalist Liberal Democratic Party took 56, up from 40 in the previous Duma. The center-left A Just Russia Ė which had appeared on the verge of being disbanded only three months ealier -- was the biggest gainer -- finishing third with 64 seats, double the 2007 result. Critics said the result would have been even worse for the ruling party had the election been free and fair.

The vote was seen as a clear indication of public discontent over the political system Putin had built over the previous decade. It was also seen as an ominous sign as he prepares to run in the presidential election in March 2012. The voting took place despite growing discontent with Russiaís strongman of the last decade, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Putin, a judo expert, was unexpectedly booed at a martial arts match. One blogger called it "the end of an era." Then, another taboo was broken shortly after when Putin visited Russiaís parliament, and opposition deputies refused to stand. Putinís approval rating had fallen to 61 percent. That is high by Western standards, but the lowest since he first took national office in 2000.




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Page last modified: 18-09-2016 13:23:46 ZULU