RUSSIAN PARTIES IN SEARCH OF ELECTION STRATEGIES


09.08.06
MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Andrei Kolesnikov)
An election season will start in Russia within weeks. The next parliamentary vote is barely a year away, and the first thing the political parties that intend to run will do is formulate their election strategies and ideologies, meaning party platforms.
Some opposition parties will not participate because of procedural limitations. Others will run without hoping to succeed, as the 7% barrier established by the previous parliament has proved too high for the Russian political system.
Three parties will most likely overcome the barrier. They are pro-presidential United Russia, which is supported by the president; the Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR) of populists and moderate nationalists without a clear ideology but with an eclectic set of provocative slogans; and the Communist Party (KPRF), which is supported by believers in Communism and whose only – but serious – problem is rapid and large-scale depletion of membership.
The LDPR and the KPRF are opposition parties only in a limited sense. They are systemic structures that do not hinder the centralized legislative policy in any way.
Despite a positive outlook for them, the number of votes determining the size of their future factions in parliament is an important factor. Therefore, they will have to carefully formulate their strategies and revise their platforms. United Russia does not have an ideology, but it is speedily drafting a party platform for debates.
The left-wing nationalist and part of the social democratic groups will be most likely represented by a new party. It will be formed by the unification of the nationalist party Rodina (Motherland), which won seats in parliament in 2003 due to its aggressively nationalist slogans and the charisma of its disgraced leader, Dmitry Rogozin, and the Party of Life, a typically bureaucratic structure led by Sergei Mironov, speaker of the upper house of parliament.
The success of the new party is not assured because public support for Rodina, according to a recent poll conducted by the Public Opinion Foundation, has fallen to 2%, and almost no one supports the Party of Life.
The liberals will be represented by the left-wing liberal party Yabloko and the right-wing liberal Union of Right Forces (SPS). Their unification is hindered by the fact that Yabloko and its leader Grigory Yavlinsky claim the SPS is responsible for the policies of the 1990s that led to the development of oligarchic and bureaucratic capitalism in Russia.
The image of the SPS has changed with the election of its new leader, Nikita Belykh, but the party has lost part of its identity due to the departure of previous leaders who were well known among the electorate.
As a result, the popularity of Yabloko and the SPS is about 1% across Russia and barely 3% in Moscow, where the people have always supported liberals. Even Rodina has a higher rating in Moscow, 5%, due to the growing popularity of nationalist slogans following an unprecedented influx of migrants.
United Russia is obviously the front-runner, with nationwide support of 26% (32% in the countryside). The KPRF and the LDPR have comparable levels of public support, which worries the Communists. However, their constituency in rural areas is twice as big as the LDPR’s.
To all appearances, United Russia has decided to build its ideology on the idea of sovereign democracy. The term’s vagueness has prevented the authorities from making it the core of state ideology, but it is good enough for a party in power. The basic ideas are the sovereignty of all decisions adopted in the country, a special Russian path to democracy, and rejection of the liberal values of the 1990s.
The Communists have a party platform that they are unlikely to adjust to the current requirements. A special resolution of the party’s Central Committee approved a tactical decision to popularize a positive image of Leonid Brezhnev, the general secretary of the Soviet Communist Party from 1964 to 1982.
The Communists continue to play on voters’ emotions, notably their nostalgia for the Soviet Union. Since there are almost no Stalin-lovers now, they have chosen as their symbol a man who is associated with the petrodollar stability of the Soviet Union in the 1970s.
Yabloko has not devised anything new so far, but judging by the latest policy statements by Yavlinsky in the democratic press, it intends to remain in consistent opposition to the authorities, reject the heritage of the 1990s, and advocate Russia’s integration into Europe.
The platform of the SPS, which is preparing for a congress in the fall, differs very little from its liberal neighbor with similar ideological values, Yabloko. However, the SPS, some of whose members work in the financial and economic sectors of the government, intends to announce that it stands in opposition to the authorities’ policy. Its program will be based on the idea of rehabilitating traditional democratic values and returning the country to the development path common to all the world’s democratic civilizations.
The parties from the non-system opposition are also elaborating their ideologies, but it would be premature to say that they can win more than 1% of the vote, irrespective of the electorate’s stated ideological preferences. Their ideologies remain eclectic and inarticulate.
On the whole, Russians’ choice is based on feelings, not reason. Therefore, the election campaign’s main components will be the leaders’ images and slogans appealing to emotions, which is logical. As 19th-century Russian poet Fyodor Tyutchev wrote, “Russia is a thing of which the intellect cannot conceive.”
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