Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Russian Skepticism about Parties Opening the Way to a Return to One Party Rule, Commentator Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 28 – The share of Russians who are “skeptical” about the value of political parties for themselves and their country is opening the way for a return to a one party system, in some ways resembling the one that existed in Soviet times, according to a Moscow commentator.

            In a blog post yesterday, Aleksandr Zhelenin says that anew VTsIOM poll shows that “almost 40 percent of Russians don’t know why political parties are necessary, 35 percent don’t see on the Russian political horizon a political force which would express their interests, and about 30 percent are certain that it is useless to expect one to emerge.”

            Moreover, he continues, asked specifically whether political parties are necessary, 39 percent found it difficult to answer the question, three percent said they were for money laundering rather than representation, and two percent said that there was no need for them at all (

            According to the commentator, “if one adds” these three responses together, “then it turns out that the number of Russians who are skeptical about the existing party system has reached 44 percent,” and if one adds those who don’t believe any existing party reflects their views and don’t expect one to emerge, then it is clear that Russians are disillusioned with the system.

            And Zhelenin suggests that if one adds to this those who don’t plan to vote – who constitute about a third of the electorate – “the number of skeptics who do not believe that in the next year will appear a party which will reflect their interests,” then the total of this group of the alienated reaches just over two out of every three Russians (68 percent).

            The commentator says that the authorities can’t be entirely happy with this situation but notes that specialists say that it does not give a basis for hope that any new party may emerge at least anytime in the near future, especially since the results of this poll suggest that Russians are alienated from parties as such.

            One reason this is so, Zhelenin says is that “people do not see a principled difference among the parties which exist today.” On most issues, “the four fractions in the State dumma vote as a single party of power.” And such differences as there are appear to be “petty, uncritical, and more inter-fractional than inter-party.”

            As a result, the question inevitably arises: “If there are no principle differences among the existing parties, then why do they exist?”  The answer, he suggests, gives rise to pessimism. “Russia has come to a situation when the number of people who would peacefully accept a return formally and not just de facto as now to a single party system is critically high while the number of those who are ready to struggle against this is critically low.”

            Despite Zhelenin’s expressed “pessimism,” his commentary and even more the findings of the VTsIOM poll, which often samples issues in which the Russian authorities are especially interested, appear to reflect a testing of the waters for just such a negative step. If the poll results are at all an accurate reflection of Russian opinion, then Putin’s Russia will increasingly resemble the Soviet past in in terms of “party building” as well.

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