Russia: Official start to Duma campaign

The campaign for the election to the State Duma (lower house) of the Russian Federation is officially underway.

As Kommersant notes, “The answer to the main question is known in advance. The United Russia Party will certainly win more than half the seats in the lower house.” (Earlier I suggested at least two thirds.)

Nonetheless, Kommersant suggests, there is some suspense:

The first intrigue is whether or not the potential successors to Putin (or even one of them) will top the election lists of the two parties in power, United Russia and Just Russia. ((Just Russia was one of the parties an earlier poll suggested was right at the 7% threshold. Of course, if a prominent Putin ally heads its list, it is almost certain to clear, and its doing so would only inflate the total “parties of power” seat total, if they draw from an even slightly different pool of voters.))

Those candidates would be Sergey Ivanov and Dmitry Medvedev, both of whom have served Putin as First Deputy Prime Minister.

The Levada Center conducted a special survey in July to find out how Russians felt about Ivanov heading the party list for United Russia in the Duma elections, and about Medvedev heading Just Russia. Forty-four percent of respondents favored the Ivanov-United Russia pairing, with 14 percent opposed, and 36 percent favored Medvedev-Just Russia, with 17 percent opposed.

The combination they appear in will have more influence on the upcoming presidential elections that on the Duma elections. Both parties’ voters will be oriented not toward specific persons, but toward the leadership as a whole. They will vote for the party in power regardless of who leads it, whether it is the speaker of the Duma, a first deputy prime minister or just some mayor. But for either of the successors the top spot on the party list will mean the transition from potential candidate to real contender for the Kremlin.

The article includes a photo with the caption, “In three months, parties, and only parties, will divide up the seats in the State Duma.” This is, of course, a reference to the abolition of the nominal tier of single-seat districts. The election will be via closed list in a single nationwide district, 7% national threshold.

Regarding the change of electoral system, the Kommersant article notes:

There is no doubt that the Kremlin’s long nurturing of a two-party system has come to fruition, even if it has yet to reach it final form (Russia is still far from the Anglo-American system of alternating parties). That, in the final analysis, was why Kremlin political technologists made the Duma elections based exclusively on party lists and reduced the number of parties, lightening the ballast that made the entire party system less manageable.

The point about “managing” the party system (and the heavy “ballast” of legislators who actually campaign in local races) is a good deal more apt than any supposed parallel to the “Anglo-American system of alternating parties.” In fact, the piece goes on to suggest that the “the minimum program remains to guarantee that pro-Kremlin parties receive a total of two-thirds of the votes in the lower house.”

The final question addressed in the article is whether the “democratic parties” will make it into the Duma. That is somewhat doubtful.

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