AN INSURMOUNTABLE BARRIER FOR THE OPPOSITION


11.11.06
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 result.
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-