|AN INSURMOUNTABLE BARRIER FOR THE
MOSCOW, (RIA Novosti political commentator Yury Filippov)
The lower house of Russia’s parliament has passed an amendment
abolishing the minimum turnout requirement in federal elections. The
pro-Kremlin party United Russia, which has a constitutional majority in
the house, refused to heed the opposition’s argument that the amendment
infringes on the voters’ rights and its own electoral interests.
The amendment will solidify the current party hierarchy and leave the
opposition at a disadvantage.
Unlike its rivals, United Russia can easily mobilize its supporters. It
was set up as a pro-presidential, pro-government party with preferential
access to administrative resources. It has conducted all its parliamentary
campaigns by putting popular federal and regional managers at the top of
its list of candidates.
Ministers, presidents of republics and regional governors attracted voters
but ceded their mandates to obscure politicians from the middle ranks of
the party list after the elections. Their high positions allowed them to
use the central and local media to promote the party, and regional leaders
had a lever for influencing the make-up of election commissions and could
even “insist” that local officials ensure the “requisite” voting
United Russia will most probably continue to use administrative resources,
which few of its opponents have, and the abolition of the turnout
requirement will allow this tool to be used more effectively. However,
this situation will not last forever.
First, United Russia now has an almost equal rival, the Fair Russia party
led by Sergei Mironov, the speaker of the upper house. The new party plans
to win over the center-left electorate and rally the assistance of some
regional elites and federal officials. Mironov said during the recent
elections in the Lipetsk Region (Central Russia) that he had the support
of President Vladimir Putin.
Second, excessive use of administrative resources could do a disservice to
the pro-Kremlin party. The current parliamentary representation of United
Russia includes many successful businessmen but very few outstanding
politicians capable of talking with the people and winning their
confidence without intermediaries.
This is why the party loses the majority of weekly television debates on
major social problems even when their opponents are members of small
parties that United Russia has defeated in the elections. The party even
refused to take part in the 2003 election debates.
The left-wing and right-wing opposition parties are mostly concerned that
the amendment to the election legislation will add to growing political
apathy, making it increasingly difficult to convince people to vote. This
effort could simply require too much strength and too many resources,
which are in short supply in the opposition parties.
While United Russia “tackles problems” in parliament and the
government, thus attracting additional attention from the voters, smaller
parties have to make do with infrequent speeches in the national media,
debates on the Internet, and sanctioned street rallies. Given this clear
disparity in the power of their political weapons, the opposition forces
will be unable to challenge United Russia anytime soon. -0-