Russian opposition party will boycot elections

Reply Sun 21 Dec, 2003 09:52 pm
(Translated from news item on Dutch public TV news)

Russian opposition party will boycot elections

The important liberal Russian opposition party Yabloko will not participate in the elections that will be held on 14 March. The party thinks that under present circumstances free and fair elections will not be possible in Russia. Other parties are still hesitating about whether they will challenge president Putin.

The pro-democratic Yabloko last week lost heavily in the elections for the Duma, the Russian parliament. The party did not make the threshhold of 5% [for the first time since 1993 - nimh] and blames this amongst other things on the strict control Putin is exercising on the state media. Another important liberal party, the SPS of Boris Nemtsov, didnt make the threshhold either, and as a result there is now no pro-Western party represented in the Duma.

The communists of Zhuganov did succeed in gaining a large number of seats in the Duma, and so did nationalist parties. Zhuganov has not made a decision yet about participation in the presidential elections. The nationalist LDPR of Zhirinovsky only wants to take part if his arch rival Zhuganov does, too.

International observers from the OSCE concluded that last week's elections were free, but not fair. Putin's party had received disproportional coverage in the state media and was partly financed from the state budget. The nationalists were supported by the Kremlin, too, which hoped to get in the way of the communists that way [nationalists and communists appeal to roughly the same electorare in Russia - nimh].
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Reply Sun 21 Dec, 2003 09:53 pm
Background info: Yabloko is the party of Grigory Yavlinsky, one of the prominent early reformers, who became well-known by the "500 days" program for radical economic change he drafted in 1990, which Gorbachev refused to implement. Locked out of the later Yeltsin "Family", Yavlinsky became one of the most consistent and principled critics of Yeltsin when it came to the Family's corruption, centralism and intrigues - his only long-standing critic from the right.

As a result, Yabloko became the epitomal "political home" for the former dissidents and impoverished intellegentsia, especially after the "Democratic Choice" party folded in the 1995 elections. The party never managed to reach out much beyond that constituency though, and thus Yabloko got 8% of the vote in 1993, 7% in 1995 and 6% in 1999.

In '99, a second right-wing party, the SPS (Union of Rightists), made parliament, polling some 9% of the vote but catering for a different electorate: the "New Rich", the businessmen and wannabe entrepreneurs. The two parties were kept apart by cultural differences, their opposite stances on the Chechnyan war (Yavlinsky was against) and the support the SPS long lent to Putin. This month, both parties failed the threshhold, getting a mere 4% of the vote each - less than the number of voters who opted for "none of the above".

Their failure was attributed partly to Putin's personal popularity, partly to the voters' further turn away from liberal, capitalist programmes, but to a large extent also to the near-complete control the government exercised over media coverage during the election campaign.

Year after year the Putin administration has clamped down on the remaining independent (private) TV and radio stations, and now none remain on a national level. Since newspapers (most hardly independent themselves) are too expensive and thus barely read, the government's lock on information is near-complete.

It is this that international observers have come out most harshly on, with both OSCE and the US denouncing the elections as unfair.

International wariness had already been evoked earlier on, when oligarch Gusinsky, who still owned a number of government-critical media, was prosecuted (and eventually arrested) last autumn for corruption crimes in the 90s. There is no doubt that he will have been guilty of such, but the fact that he was singled out while the other oligarchs, who do not oppose Putin, are left at peace - and the ways in which the government used the occasion to try to retake control over Gusinsy's (oil) business empire roused fears among both investors and diplomats.

In the elections this month the government has also benefited from adopting a nifty strategy from the Ukraine to further divide the opposition: launching parties that sound just like the main opposition parties, but are in fact loyal to the government. E.g., the nationalist-communist, but government-loyal "Patriotic Union", benefiting from lavish media attention, pulled 9% of the vote - and thus succeeded in halving the "real", opposition Communist Party.

Some government critics go further still and point to unexplained assaults on opposition politicians (including the unsolved murder of Liberal Russia leader Yushenkov) and the series of bloody bomb attacks that preceded both Putin's re-election in 2000 and these elections now, which Putin has attributed to Chechen terrorists but that were never solved. These attacks are seen to have fanned the kind of fear and nationalist anger that was bound to bolster the Putin vote. The revelation, by Novaya Gazeta, that an agent of the Russian secret service (and former member of the Russian delegation to the Council of Europe!) had participated in the bloody Chechen hostage-taking in the Nord-Ost theatre (and got off scot-free) has fuelled suspicions further (see Docent P's posts here).

The full results of the elections this month were:
Unified Russia (Putin's party) -- 36.9 percent;
Communist Party of Russia -- 12.7 percent;
LDPR - Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (hysterically nationalist in rhetorics, but always votes with the government) -- 11.8 percent;
Motherland-Patriotic Union bloc (nationalist-communist, but loyal to Putin) -- 9.0 percent;
"None of the above" -- 4,8 percent;
Yabloko -- 4.3 percent;
Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) -- 3.9 percent;
Agrarian Party -- 3.8 percent.

Yabloko links:
English-language Yabloko website
Yabloko publications in English

A range of much smaller groups, both (far-)left and right, have also started campaigning for voters to either boycott the March presidential elections or vote "none of the above", according to this RFE/RL report; the Central Election Commission has already declared such calls "illegal".
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Reply Mon 29 Dec, 2003 04:37 pm
More prospective presidential candidates are dropping out, though their parties are not joining Yabloko's boycott:

In the face of Mr. Putin's political dominance, his two most prominent challengers in the past both announced in recent days that they would not stand again for president in March.

One is Gennady Zyuganov, the longtime leader of the Communist Party. He is to be succeeded by Nikolai Kharitonov, who once proposed reinstalling a statue of Felix Dzerzhinsky, the founder of the K.G.B., which was torn down in the euphoria of the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.

The other is Vladimir Zhirinovsky, an extreme nationalist whose vivid personality and provocative words have won him a considerable following. He is to be succeeded by the head of his bodyguard contingent.

Also interesting, from the same article:

Putin Supporters Establish a Tight Grip on Parliament

The newly elected Russian Parliament convened today and after a quick bit of horse trading the bloc supporting President Vladimir V. Putin established a two-thirds majority that will allow it to pass any laws or make any constitutional changes it wishes.

"Instead of political confrontation, we have before us a constructive Parliament," Mr. Putin said, addressing the chamber for the first time since his own election as president four years ago.

It is a political truism here that he will be re-elected next year, and a widely discussed possibility — which he has publicly repudiated — that he could amend the Constitution to allow a third presidential term after that.

Boris Gryzlov, the chairman of the president's bloc, United Russia, was elected speaker. United Russia, which is not formally a political party, won a large plurality in the Dec. 7 election and now controls at least 300 seats in the 450-seat assembly, known as the Duma.

"It looks rather like the prerevolutionary Fourth Duma, where the czar had the majority — now the president has the majority," said Nikolai Ryzhkov, an independent deputy, on a radio call-in program.

"So the pattern of running such a Duma is obvious," he said. "The president calls the speaker, who also happens to be the majority leader and the leader of the faction, and says: `Boris Vsevolodovich, you know, I would like such and such a law to be passed within two days, it's a very crucial law.' And the rest goes automatically."
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