Ukraine honeymoon election today

Ukrainians are voting today in an assembly election. It is a relatively extreme “honeymoon” election, as the new president, Volodomyr Zelensky, was just elected in March-April of this year (two rounds). There was already an assembly election scheduled for October of this year, which certainly would have qualified as a honeymoon election. But in his inauguration, Zelensky announced he would dissolve the Verkhovna Rada and call an election even earlier.

And why not? Based on much experience in presidential and semi-presidential systems, we know that there is a strong tendency for the party of a newly elected president to gain a large boost in votes the earlier it is held following the presidential election. This topic of the impact of election timing has been a theme of my research ever since my dissertation (1988), an early APSR article of mine (1995), and most recently in a whole chapter of Votes from Seats (2017).

At the time Zelensky was elected, various news commentary had the all-too-typical concern that the new president would be weak, because he is an “outsider” with no established political party. We got similar useless punditry when Emannuel Macron was elected in France in 2017. And we know how that turned out–his formed-on-the-fly party did slightly better than the 29% of votes I projected, based on an equation in Votes from Seats, prior to Macron’s own runoff win. (The electoral system helped turn that into a strong majority in the assembly.)

In May of this year, I projected that Zelensky’s Servant of the People party could get around 34.5% of the votes in an election held on 28 July. (One week earlier obviously does not change anything of substance.)

Early polling had him short of this (not even 25% just before the presidential first round), but predictably, SoP has been rising in the polls ever since Zelensky took office. The party almost certainly will beat this projection, and may even have an electoral majority. If short of 50% of votes, the party still looks likely to win a parliamentary majority, given the electoral system (discussed below).

A bigger boost than average (where the average across systems with nonconcurrent elections is what my projections are based on) is to be expected in a context like Ukraine, in which the party system is so weak. That is, poorly institutionalized party systems would tend to exaggerate the normal electoral cycle effect. The effect will be only further enhanced by low turnout, as opponents of the new president have little left in the way of viable political parties to rally behind. Thus a performance in the range of the mid-40s to over 50% of the vote would not be a surprise.

As for the electoral system and election itself, Ukraine is using again (for now, at least) its mixed-member majoritarian (MMM) system. It consists of 225 single-seat districts, decided by plurality, and 225 closed-list proportional representation seats, in a single nationwide district. The two components are in “parallel”, meaning seats won by any given party in districts and seats won from party lists are simply summed; there is no compensatory process (as with MMP). There is a 5% threshold on the list component; quite a few small opposition parties may waste votes below this bar. Due to parts of the country being under Russian occupation, only 199 single-seat contests will take place.

In some past MMM elections in Ukraine, a large share of the single-seat districts have been won by independents or minor parties, whereas the national parties (such as they are) have, obviously, dominated the nationwide list seats. It is probably quite likely that this rather extreme honeymoon election will result in most of the seats in both components being won by “Servants.”

On that theme, a tweet by Bermet Talant makes the following points (and also has some nice polling-place photos) based on conversations with voters in Kyiv:

• Ppl vote for leaders. Few know other candidates on party lists, even top5

• Servant of the People = Zelensky. Bscly, ppl vote for him again

• In single-member districts, ppl vote for a party too, not candidate

This is, of course, as expected. It is a completely new party. Many voters will be wanting to support the new president who created the party. The identity of candidates will not matter, either on party lists (where at least the top ones might be known in a more conventional party) or in the districts (where the vote is cast for a candidate). The single-seat districts themselves are referred to as the “twilight zone” of Ukrainian elections in a fascinating overview of the candidates and contests in the district component published in the Kyiv Post. These contests attract “shady candidates” many of whom are “largely unknown”. If a given election lacks a strong national focal point, it would tend to favor independents and local notables. In an election with an exceptionally strong focal point–as in a honeymoon election, more or less by definition–that will benefit whoever has the “Servant of the People” endorsement.

The timing of the election, and the likely dominance of an entirely new pro-Zelenskyy party, really is presidentialization at its very “finest”.

I am just going to quote myself, in the final paragraph of an earlier post about Macron’s honeymoon election, as it totally applies here, too: “All of the above should serve as a reminder of two things: (1) the purpose of the upcoming election is to ratify the new executive’s direction, not to be a second chance for an alternative vision; (2) the honeymoon electoral cycle matters.”

Expect the new Verkhovna Rada to be Servants of Zelenskyy.

Nationwide PR in a big country

Ukraine and the Russian Federation have represented, at various times, the only two examples I know of using a single-nationwide district with a magnitude greater than the 150 used in the Netherlands* and Slovakia. (Israel’s single district has M=120, Namibia’s M=72.) [But see JD’s comment for an intermediate example.]

As it happens, both Ukraine and Russia have used the same magnitude, 450, with closed lists, when they have had the single-national district. For Ukraine, such a system was used in 2006 and 2007; for Russia, 2007 and 2011. By contrast, in 1998, 2002, and 2012, Ukraine used a mixed-member majoritarian system (225 M=1 districts, and a nationwide non-compensatory M=225 district), as did the Russian Federation in post-Soviet elections before 2007.

Nationwide closed lists could have the effect of biasing representation towards the capital and other major cities, given the (potential) control of the lists by the central party leadership, and the absence of institutional imperative to offer regional or personalized representation. On the other hand, they could encourage parties to present candidates from even those regions where they are not strong, because a vote anywhere counts towards the party’s overall seat total, and because even in closed lists the presence of candidates from a region might signal to voters in the region that the party is responsive to their needs. In the only study I know of in the political science literature to address such questions, Latner and McGann find some bias towards the most important cities, but also an over-representation of peripheral regions in Israel and the Netherlands.

What about Ukraine? The pattern could be different in a much larger country, with clear regional divides in its politics. A blog post by Erik Herron, Univ. of Kansas, and one of my “Party Personnel” collaborators, offers interesting data on candidate and MP residency in the 2007 election.

Key point regarding 2007 winners:

Kyiv residency is dominant, accounting for more than half of all elected deputies. The Party of Regions is better represented through the reported residency of its elected deputies in some eastern areas (e.g., Donetsk) and the opposition is better represented in western areas (e.g., BYuT in Galicia). But, parties can also claim elected deputies who report residency in “enemy” territory.

Meanwhile, Russian Federation president Vladimir Putin today signed into law a return of his country’s electoral system to the mixed-member system. While the article is not explicit about the relation of the two tiers, I assume it will again be MMM (non-compensatory). Given the decline in the standing of the ruling United Russia, it makes sense that Putin would prefer a move towards a system that is both disproportional and favorable to “independents” who have local bases of support that exceed the popularity of the ruling party’s label. In this respect, it would be identical to the change in Ukraine prior to the 2012 election. That change worked strongly in favor of the Putinist forces of that country, buying them time to acquire the finest in home furnishings.

Now that Russia is moving back to MMM, and Ukraine is moving on from the Yanukovych/Party of Regions era, maybe Ukraine will go back to the pure PR system. If they ask me, I certainly would not recommend the single national district, however. Either districted PR, without too much variation in magnitude, or MMP would be my advice.

* In a very technical sense, the Netherlands has districts for nomination purposes. But for all practical purposes, it is a single district. It also allows preference voting for candidates on the list (though list ranks are more important), as does Slovakia, and as Israel does not. Russian and Ukrainian lists have always been closed, as are Namibia’s, to the best of my knowledge.

“Why threaten to drop out of a presidential election you are likely to win?”

Bret Barrowman, writing at The Monkey Cage, asks a good question about Georgian Dream presidential candidate, Giorgi Margvelashvili.

It is an even better question when the presidency is about to become an essentially ceremonial position. Georgia is completing a long, multi-step, process of conversion from (effectively) a pure presidential system, to a president-parliamentary system, to premier-presidentialism, to a variant of the latter that might be almost parliamentary.

Georgia’s presidential election–the first round, that is–will be 27 October.

MMM returning to Russia?

A return of the Russian Federation electoral system to mixed-member majoritarian (MMM, also known as a “parallel” system) is underway. Essentially, it would return the county to the system used until ten years ago, when it was replaced by a single national district (450 seats), closed lists. Under the new-old MMM system, half the seats would continue to be elected in a nationwide closed-list contest, while the other half would consist of single-seat districts (plurality rule).

As noted in the Boston Globe:

But while the prospect of individual candidacies suggests a liberalizing of a political system often criticized as heavily tilted in favor of Putin and the governing authorities, history shows that they can actually have the opposite effect.

This is because individuals endorsed by the majority party tend to have an advantage in name recognition and resources in local races, and because candidates who run as independents can often be enticed to join the majority party when the new Parliament is formed, using perks offered by the presidential administration.

The article cites the similar experience of Ukraine, which also has followed the path of MMM > nationwide PR > MMM:

In 2007, under a system of proportional voting for party lists, the Party of Regions won 175 seats with 34.4 percent of the vote. In 2012, the Party of Regions won only 30 percent in proportional voting but now holds 209 seats thanks to victories in individual districts by its own nominees or by independents who joined the faction later.

Finally, the article quotes a Russian election monitor, Arkady Lubaryev, saying his organization would have preferred a “mixed closed system” like that of Germany, rather than the “mixed open” system being proposed. I have never seen this terminology, and it makes no sense to me (raising the risk of confusing open/closed with the type of party list used). I will stick to MMP and MMM, or compensatory and not respectively.

While I still think MMM has its uses, the more I follow developments concerning that system, the more I think it is generally the worst of both worlds. ((I might add that my co-edited book on mixed-member systems (2001) has an oft-overlooked question mark on its “best of both worlds” subtitle, and that I always thought the affirmative answer to that question was more plausible with MMP than with MMM.)) It allows establishment parties to over-perform their party label popularity, while also complicating the strategy of opposition forces, which face the contradictory pulls of incentives to coordinate in the single-seat districts with incentives to run separately due to the proportional tier. The 2012 election in Japan suggests that country may be headed down a similar path after a brief period of two-bloc competition and alternation.

Campaigning in Georgia’s mixed-member system

The Republic of Georgia goes to the polls in parliamentary elections on 1 October. The electoral system is mixed-member majoritarian (MMM; also known as a parallel system). There are 73 legislators elected in single-seat districts, and 77 from party lists.

The following is excerpted from Daily News Online, 26 August. It is an interesting example of campaigning to try to prevent a party’s supporters from splitting their vote.

Leader of opposition Georgian Dream coalition, Bidzina Ivanishvili, who is campaigning in Racha-Lechkhumi and Kvemo Svaneti region on August 26-27, called on supporters not to differentiate between supporting Georgian Dream in party-list and majoritarian contests when casting ballot in the October 1 parliamentary elections. …

“We’ve been hearing from many regions: ‘We’ll vote for the Georgian Dream [in party-list contest], but there is a very good majoritarian [MP candidate from other party], like Gegenava or someone else’; don’t trust such [approach]; if Gegenava supports the current government he too is responsible for the authorities’ each and every step,” Ivanishvili said, apparently referring to an incumbent ruling party lawmaker Archil Gegenava, who is running in the October 1 parliamentary elections to retain his majoritarian MP seat in Tbilisi’s Mtatsminda single-mandate constituency.

The constitutional system is semi-presidential. (President-parliamentaty subtype, I believe.)

Ukraine constitution becomes more presidential

Following the “Orange Revolution” at the end of 2004, Ukraine’s parliament passed a package of constitutional reforms that stripped the presidency of the power to appoint and dismiss the premier and cabinet. Under the reforms, following a parliamentary election, a majority coalition had to form before a prime minister could be appointed; the president had to accept the choice of this coalition, and the government depended on the exclusive confidence of the parliamentary majority.

These reforms have now been reversed by a ruling of the constitutional court (CSM, DW). So Ukraine will again be a president-parliamentary system, instead of the premier-presidential system under which it has functioned in recent years.

The court has ruled that constitutional procedures were violated in the passage of the reforms. This is an awfully long time after the changes came into effect to be finding their enactment to be inadmissible!

The practical political effect is that the President Viktor Yanukovych, the very candidate that the “old regime” tried to install through the fraud that sparked the Orange Revolution and who won the presidency earlier this year, is now strengthened. He won the presidential election earlier this year, after one term of the pro-Western Orange candidate, Viktor Yushchenko.

At the time of the Orange Revolution, it was the people around Yanukovych who insisted on weakening the presidency and empowering the parliamentary majority. The parliament at the time had been elected in 2002, and was dominated by old-regime loyalists. Now Yanukovych has not only the office of the presidency, but also the restored power of the pre-Orange institution.

Latvia’s president wants more power

The Hurriyet Daily News reports that Latvian President Valdis Zatlers has called for a constitutional amendment permitting him to dissolve Parliament without the public’s consent at referendum. According to the article, he also has called for direct presidential elections.

Further, he has asked for the power to unilaterally dismiss the chief budget and central bank officers. Zalter’s stated reason for this is to ‘depoliticize’ these appointments.

There is no mention of any proposed change to presidential survivability. Will the dissolution of Parliament also trigger a presidential election, for example?

As is no surprise to F&V readers, the net effect of the above would be the diminution of arguably wise constraints on executive power.

Image of Latvian Saiemaa added by MSS

DA! and NO!

Russian voters gave a huge “DA!” to Putin in legislative elections that were a de-facto referendum on extending Putin’s “national leader” status beyond the scheduled expiration of his presidential tenure next spring.

Meanwhile, Venezuelan voters narrowly gave a “NO!” to the referendum by Chávez to extend his own tenure, as well as his powers and the role of the state in the economy.

I am unsurprised by the Russian result. Some months ago I said Putin’s party would win two thirds to three fourths of the seats, despite polls at the time that said 47% of the vote. It would appear that United Russia will have right around 70% of the seats. Stay tuned as to whether this is a step towards having the power to amend the constitution and abolish the term limit, or whether he will find other ways to exercise the dominance that he will claim a mandate for.

I am surprised by the Venezuela result. Pleasantly so. A 51-49 YES would have been a terrible outcome. A 51-49 NO could be salutary.

A couple of paragraphs from this morning’s LA Times well sum up what Venezuela’s voters turned down:

Chavez’s goal is authoritarian in nature, said Agustin Blanco Munoz, a researcher at Central University of Venezuela who wrote a biography based partially on jailhouse interviews he conducted after Chavez was imprisoned for leading the unsuccessful 1992 coup attempt.

“His model isn’t communism or socialism. It’s a varnish, a cover for a personalist system that exalts Chavez above all else as the caudillo, the new messiah, not the collective society,” Blanco Munoz said.

On the Russian vote, it is interesting that the other parties on the ballot listed the top three candidates on their national lists, whereas United Russia listed only Putin. The Times reported that many voters appeared unaware that it was a legislative election. Clearly, that was Putin’s intent, by abolishing the nominal tier of the former electoral system, and by creating the mass movement demanding him to stay on. Putin continues to deny he intends a third term. Will he be convinced otherwise, by the great democratic outpouring? ((Please be sure your irony detector is appropriately calibrated.))

Turnout was only around 55% in Venezuela, meaning only around 28% actually voted no. But good enough, for now, anyway. Russia’s turnout was around 60%, so only about 38% of the eligible electorate has endorsed this overwhelming majority. But good enough.

The electoral path to authoritarianism?

Two elections on Sunday are worth watching as examples of an electoral path to authoritarianism. In Venezuela, voters will vote on a series of constitutional amendments that would greatly enhance the power of both the state in the economy and the president within the state. In Russia, voters will vote in legislative Duma elections that are sure to result in the outgoing President’s party winning a massive majority of the seats.

In both cases, we are witnessing the consolidation of authoritarian systems despite ongoing electoral processes and the retention of formal institutions of separated powers.

The Venezuelan referendum features votes on two packages of amendments. Both packages bundle reforms on both economic and social policy claims on the state and powers of the presidency. Of course, one of the reforms would lift the existing term limit on the presidency itself.

Steven Taylor has posted an image of the ballot. He also quotes from

Venezuelans will vote on the reform on December 2nd and will do so in two blocks. Block “A” includes President Chavez’s original proposal, as amended by the National Assembly, which would change 33 articles out of the 350 articles in the constitution. Also included in block A are another 13 articles introduced by the National Assembly. Block “B” includes another 26 reform articles proposed by the National Assembly. Voters may vote “Yes” or “No” on each block.

Steven also posts a link to a PDF of the text of the reforms (in Spanish).

Polls have been somewhat mixed about the chances of the referendum, but it would be surprising if the substantial organizational prowess of the Chavista forces were insufficient to get the proposals over the 50% hurdle. How much over is hard to say. A close vote–either way–would be potentially dangerous, revealing the deep polarization.

Meanwhile, in the event that the referendum loses or is very close, the Chávez camp is already prepared with the charges of CIA fomenting of opposition. James Petras, a well known sociologist and Latin Americanist, was on Democracy Now! this morning discussing these allegations and a supposed memo. (The memo may well be real, but its source was the Chávez government, so there is reason to be skeptical.) And could the CIA be working with Trotskyites? Petras thinks so! (Many leftists flocked to Chávez and then later broke with him, so there are indeed many left-wing organizations among the opposition.)

Petras suggests that there is nothing particularly worrisome about the end of presidential term limits, and notes that the Chávez camp likes to cite cases of long tenure in parliamentary systems (Blair, Howard, and Japan’s LDP are specifically mentioned) as evidence that there is nothing out of the ordinary for democracies to have one party, even one leader, in power for multiple terms, even decades.

The government has argued, with some effectiveness, that in the parliamentary systems you have indefinite terms of office… So they don’t see this as—they don’t describe this as an unusual happening, much more like a parliamentary system, rather than a presidential system, though in this case—

Unfortunately, just as this comparative institutions stuff was getting interesting, the interviewer cut Petras off and changed the subject. But maybe it was just as well, as this is actually very bad comparative politics. There is, of course, nothing that Chávez is proposing that is making the system more parliamentary. Quite the contrary. He is proposing to concentrate ever more authority in his own hands, and to make himself eligible for reelection in perpetuity.

Not even a Howard, a Blair, or a Thatcher ever enjoyed the concentration of power that a president potentially can have for the simple reason that parliamentary systems enforce collective responsibility within the cabinet and promote party-building by the government and opposition alike. There are reasons why very few parliamentary systems have term limits, while such limits on executive tenure exist for virtually all elected presidents who serve as unchallenged head of their government (i.e. without a PM accountable to parliament). There are also reasons why almost all authoritarian leaders that arise within formally parliamentary institutions eventually change the formal institutions to presidential (e.g. Mugabe in Zimbabwe, among many others). While democratic presidential institutions actually put more checks on the chief executive than is the case in some majoritarian parliamentary democracies, there is no escaping the fact that presidential institutions are far more amenable to the electoral path to authoritarianism than are parliamentary.

The president fully controls the cabinet (and, in the absence of an institutionalized legislature with countervailing incentives, may also directly command the bureaucracy). The president runs for office directly and often–as in Venezuela–needs only a plurality of the votes. And the president need not have an institutionalized party as his vehicle for political support. It is feasible to have a party that is little more than a vehicle for placing presidential loyalists in the legislature via the president’s own coattails. As Chávez has.

There are, on the other hand, no particularly good models of parliamentary authoritarianism. And that makes the Russian case all the more interesting. Here we have a vast federal and multi-ethnic country–empire, really–that has been governed under a presidential democracy or semi-democracy since almost the moment that the USSR began to fall apart in 1990. At that point, the Russian legislature chose Boris Yeltsin to be president as part of its assertion of authority against the crumbling USSR institutions.

Yeltsin’s successor as president of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, is now wrapping up his second of his constitutionally prescribed maximum two terms. In the legislative election Sunday, Putin will be heading the list of candidates of his United Russia Party. Just under two months ago, he announced intention to continue playing a “major role” in Russian political life.

There has been talk of Putin taking on some, as yet informal, title like “Leader of the Nation.” Yet without a formal institution under his command, he would be unlikely to retain the powerful de-facto role he and his supporters appear to have in mind for him, especially given that the presidency will soon be in the hands of a successor. I remain puzzled as to why Putin did not use his evidently vast political machine and patronage to secure an abolition of the presidential term limit.

One possibility is that Putin will suddenly decide that Russia’s ‘democratization’ requires a move to a parliamentary system, so Putin can be the perpetual prime minister. But then we are up against the fact that, as I noted, there are no really good models of parliamentary authoritarianism. Will Russia embark on one?

Another possibility is suggested in a news item at

It is thought that he will declare a preferred surrogate — the current favourites are Kremlin insiders Sergei Ivanov, a former KGB officer and former minister of defence, or Dmitri Medvedev, chairman of Gazprom (Russia’s largest company) or Viktor Zubkov, whom Putin recently hand-picked as prime minister — to replace him as president.

Then, after winning the presidency, Putin’s successor would resign, paving the way for emergency elections by which Putin could become president again.

Whatever the scenario, it is likely that both Russia’a and Venezuela’s elections on Sunday are further steps in the dismantling of electoral democracies and their transformation into authoritarian regimes.

Russia’s frontmen

Russia Profile has an interesting article on the party lists that are now in the process of being registered for Duma elections.

Some excerpts:

At the federal level, voters know parties mostly by the top three candidates on the party list who will be the first to enter the Duma if a party receives more than 7 percent of the vote nationwide.

With the notable exception of United Russia [the ruling party], almost all parties made their top three candidates public at their conventions.

Parties that are at risk of winning less than 7% of the nationwide votes are really struggling to stand out by personalizing their lists:

The smaller parties, striving to attract attention, put popular figures and TV personalities on their lists, even if the credentials of those people were somewhat controversial. The Civil Force, a party popularly seen as a “spoiler” group aimed at stealing the liberal vote from the Union of Right Forces, is headed by attorney Mikhail Barshchevsky, a popular figure on various intellectual TV shows, and Mariya Arbatova, a fiery feminist and TV personality known for her non-standard views on sex and marriage.

Some experts and prominent public figures expressed dissatisfaction at this tendency, saying that it turns serious politics into a contest for viewers’ sympathies.

“Parties do not know how to attract attention to themselves,” said Vyacheslav Nikonov, head of the Unity in the Name of Russia foundation, a think tank associated with United Russia. “So they try to attract television viewers by putting familiar faces into their lists who have no real political meaning whatsoever.

When party labels are so weak, and the threshold so high, indeed they do.

The article also notes that, in addition to a national list, there are regional lists, which had not previously been clear to me in any summaries of the new all-list electoral system.

In accordance with recent change in electoral law, for the first time, parties have to register regional lists, with the hope that voters will be able to choose from candidates they know from local news and events.

The election is 2 December. Previous entries on the election can be found by clicking on either of the orchard blocks in which this one was “planted in,” above.

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.

Kazakhstan’s Jews, democratization and US foreign policy

Via the J-Post:

US Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV), paid an official visit to Kazakhstan last week at the invitation of Euro-Asian Jewish Congress President Alexander Mashkevich. […]

As local Jewish media reports, Berkley was “impressed by the integration of the Jewish community on all the levels of social and political life” in Kazakhstan. “I am confident that tolerance towards other nations is a basis for successful development of every country”, she said. As local analysts wrote, “the status of the Jewish communities in the post-Soviet states often corresponds with the level of democratic development. Flourishing and highly involved communities are a good sign of democratization processes and openness. Kazakhstan’s Jewry constitutes an accurate example of such a concept, as its leaders support and promote the country’s rapprochement with the West and with the United States in particular”.

While I am certainly prepared to believe that the status of a country’s’ Jewish community is a reasonably good proxy for various civic freedoms, the idea that there is a “democratization process” in Kazakhstan is laughable. Freedom House, for example, gives Kazakhstan a score of 5 on civil liberties and 6 on political rights, where 7 denotes the lowest levels of freedom possible. Freedom House further notes:

it has been plagued by a rise in authoritarianism and overwhelming levels of corruption within the ruling regime. President Nursultan Nazarbayev has been in office since 1989 and president since 1991, and he has allowed his family and close associates to take control of vital economic resources and political positions. President Nazarbayev was reelected first in 1999 in elections widely seen as marred, and in December 2005, he was granted an extended 7-year term in office through elections criticized as not meeting international standards. The executive branch controls both the parliament and the judicial system. Recently, the regime increased harassment of NGOs and independent media.

One should never conflate “integration of the Jewish community on all the levels of social and political life”–nor especially “rapprochement with the West and with the United States in particular” –with a “democratization process.”


Surprise, surprise, the ruling party won the legislative elections of 18 August. In fact, it won all 99 seats.

United Russia’s hegemonony

Just like Ukraine, Russia will soon be electing all 450 of its legislators* in a single national district, via closed lists. Unlike Ukraine, however, in Russia the new electoral system is part of a centralized ruling party’s process of further centralization. Russia is, unsurprisingly given the narrowing of political space under outgoing President Vladimir Putin, headed for a hegemonic-party system. A recent Angus Reid poll suggests:

    United Russia (YR): 46%
    Communist Party (KPRF): 9%
    Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR): 9%
    A Just Russia: 7%
    Agrarian Party of Russia (APR): 2%
    Yabloko (Liberal): 1%
    Union of Right Forces (SPS): 1%
    Another party 1%
    Would not vote: 7%
    Hard to answer: 19%

(I am pretty sure I have never seen a poll with “Hard to answer” as an option before.)

The threshold is 7% (compare Ukraine’s 3%). So, the poll suggests only two or three small parties aside from YR would make it into parliament. It would not take many parties missing the threshold to result in sufficient wasted votes to give YR a majority of seats, even if it indeed wins only 46% of the vote. But it is likely that it will win much more than 50% of the votes, once we take the nonvoters out of the denominator, and imagine that the “hard to answer” bloc ultimately will include a significant number of YR voters. In fact, I would guess we could be looking at two thirds to three quarters of the seats for United Russia.

The election is 2 December. The presidential election to choose (make that anoint) Putin’s successor is expected in March, 2008.

* Unlike Ukraine, Russia also has an upper house, though its members are not elected.

Shocking: Turkmenistani rules changed!

The degree of institutionalization of an authoritarian regime is often somewhat ambiguous. But when a regime–and, even more, the country itself–has had only one leader, and his rule has been seemingly unchecked, the ambiguity is considerably less. So, it is hardly shocking that the interim president, selected by the Turkmenistani parliament after the unexpected death of dictator Saparmurat Niyazov, has suddenly had his constitutionally ineligibility for a full term lifted by parliament. The election–which almost no one expects to be fair–is set for 11 February.

Update: Robert Mayer has posted the best photo I have seen of the amazing (in an absolutely absurd sort of way) statue of “Turkmenbashi” himself.