|POLITICAL APATHY SPREADS OVER RUSSIA
Moscow. (Andrei Kolesnikov, RIA Novosti political commentator)
The average Russian is paying less and less attention to politics and
delving deeper and deeper into his or her own personal, everyday problems.
The reasons for this attitude are not only economic; this political apathy
is caused by narrowing political choices due to changes made to election
legislation (such as the abolition of the "against all" option)
and the lack of an alternative, which has become the main attribute of
current Russian politics.
Sociological research shows that due to the absence of a dominant ideology
and people's de-politicization, Russians are willing to accept a one-party
system and the political dominance of the ruling pro-Kremlin party, United
Russia. This is not because United Russia is seen as extremely good, but
because ordinary Russians no longer care who controls politics: They want
to be left in peace to work for their own survival or, on the contrary,
enrichment. Ordinary people do not see a direct connection between
politics and their prosperity. Surveys by the Levada Center show that
people are inclined to blame the government for all negative developments.
At the same time, they view the government not as a political institution,
but as an economic body that is unable to cope with people's chief
concerns, i.e. inflation (the biggest concern, according to polls),
poverty and corruption. As many as 66% worry about low incomes, while 70%
of Russians fear a price hike. The government's tw
o main tasks, polls indicate, should be to fight corruption and reduce
Russians do not see a serious alternative to the incumbent president.
According to the Levada Center, if Vladimir Putin decided to run for a
third term, he would receive 48% of votes. As many as 40% are ready to
vote for Putin's handpicked successor, while 55% are positive that this
person will be from the president's inner circle. This may help to explain
the steady growth of First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev's
approval rating, which reached a new all-time high of 26% in July. Only
16% are willing to support alternative candidates, and this is the most
vivid proof of people's political apathy and their unwillingness to
influence political developments in the country even when its future is at
One of the reasons is their conservative expectations. Most of them do not
think that the situation in the country or their personal situation will
change for the better or for the worse in the near term. Their assessment
of the present situation is philosophically neutral: 25% said it was not
all that bad for them, while 51% said life was hard, but bearable.
The ability to adjust to current circumstances with realistic expectations
and focus on personal problems is projected onto politics. Fewer people
now believe that the incumbent president will make a great improvement in
their lives in the near future: their share has fallen from 43% in 2001 to
32%. Instead, the number of those who do not see any alternative to Putin
has grown from 34% to 38%. In July 2006, the president's approval rating
surged as high as 79%, with only 19% of people disapproving of him.
Still, this apathy and de-politicization cannot last long. With all the
relative predictability of the parliamentary and presidential elections in
2007 and 2008, respectively – and it is this predictability that causes
apathy – Russians' future political preferences are unclear. For lack of
clear ideological priorities and goals that unite the nation, populist
doctrines and nationalist parties have a fairly good chance of succeeding.
So far, complete apathy has played a paradoxically positive role, toning
down the most radical and quasi-fascist sentiments. Yet this phenomenon
has another side: the nationalist minority can become a majority because
of most people's absolute indifference to what is going on in politics.
For people to vote consciously and with interest, they need incentives.
Perhaps, an adequate solution would be to democratize election legislation
in the next political cycle. The first step could be to lower the 7%
threshold in the parliamentary election. This measure could lead to a
fledgling multi-party system appearing in Russia. Then even apathetic
voters would suddenly be interested in the choices on offer. -0-