Friday, November 2, 2018

No Real Reform of Russia’s Party System Possible as Genuine Parties and Russian Elite Have Opposing Goals, Shaburov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 1 – With United Russia increasingly impossible, with systemic opposition winning a few gubernatorial elections, and with the leaders of these parties aging, ever more people in Moscow are talking about a possible “reform” of the party system, Aleksey Shaburov says. But there is little or no chance of any genuine reform taking place.

            That is because, the Yekaterinburg political commentator says, “the goals of the Russian ruling elite and the goals of a genuine party system are diametrically opposed.” The former wants “to continue to control the territory and population of Russia just as it does at present. For that, full-fledged parties are not simply not needed but contraindicated” (

            The current powers that be in Russia need parties that “serve the system of control, that is, secure the passage of the necessary laws in parliaments at various levels” and “secure the election of the right people in regional and municipal elections.” The existing parties have no other role as far as the authorities are concerned, Shaburov says. 

            “The goals of ‘real’ parties,” he continues, “are completely different: their chief task is to come to power as a result of elections or at a minimum take part in the distribution of posts and resources.” They can thus function “only in a situation where the change of those in power is a real possibility.”

            The current Russian elite has no such plans. “On the contrary,” Shaburov says, “parties are permitted to exist only when they in no way represent a challenge to the authorities and do not want to change them.”  And any party reform, however much discussed, would be designed to keep even new and potentially more attractive parties from doing more.

            At the same time, Shaburov observes, there is a growing demand for “’real’ parties” among Russians. Polls and protests suggest that, and the network staff which Aleksey Navalny has set up “fulfill all the functions of a party” except for the right to take part in elections.  And as far as one can tell, Navalny has no prospects of breaking through that limitation.

            Consequently, if talk about reforming the party system does go forward, there are only two possible outcomes, the Yekaterinburg commentator argues. Either the authorities will succeed in creating a new “‘controlled party’ which will convince the electorate of its oppositional character but in fact will not struggle for power and represent a threat.”

            “Or at a low level will be established some new movement which will become so powerful and popular that the authorities will have to deal with it and legalize it.”  Unfortunately, Shaburov concludes, “for the time being, the second variant looks less probable” than the first.         

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