Sunday, September 18, 2016

Putin’s ‘Hybrid’ Concessions on Duma Vote Unwittingly Set Regions against Moscow, Analyst Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 18 – Two of Vladimir Putin’s “hybrid” moves concerning elections – his restoration of single-member districts and his decision to make the ranking of people on party lists dependent on participation – work against him in ways that he may not yet imagine, according to Ukrainian analyst Maksim Mikhaylenko.

            On the one hand, the return of single-member districts allows regional leaders to re-enter the political fray in ways that they were not able to do when all elections were conducted by party list.  And on the other, the ranking system means that United Russia leaders in the regions have an interest in boosting participation while the Kremlin is interested in lowering it (

            These and Putin’s other “hybrid” concessions after the 2011-2012 protests including lowering the percentage parties need to get into the Duma and providing government financing and access to more parties means that behind all the bombast, there has re-emerged in Russia a real political struggle, albeit behind the scenes as yet rather than in the streets.

            Putin took these steps, Mikhaylenko argues, because he “doesn’t want to be associated with the Kim dynasty in North Korea but is still not prepared to proclaim himself a leader for life in the manner of the sultan of Brunei.”  And so he wants to use elections, to be sure tightly controlled ones, to give himself and his regime the patina of legitimacy.

            But the concessions the Kremlin leader has made this time around and his demand that regional leaders not engage in falsification or allow others to falsify the results may play some evil tricks on him, although it is far from clear how his signals about falsification will be read outside of Moscow.

            There are two reasons for this, the Kyiv analyst says, allowing half of the Duma deputies to be elected in single-member districts which returns real power to regional leaders, and determining the rank on party lists by number of votes, which encourages precisely the falsification Putin says he opposes.

            The Kremlin clearly wants United Russia to have “a minimum” of 240 seats in the new Duma, Mikhaylenko says, something that requires managing not just the party list vote but also contests in the single member districts. That creates potential problems because as Ukrainians know, “in such a case, two time two does not always equal four.”

            Thus, the logical question arises, not as to whether serious protests about the voting will occur. No one expects that today because “Russia is not Ukraine.” But there may be other events which are “in general less predictable” but nonetheless “possible,” including the loss of Kremlin control over some of the new deputies because of the way this election has been conducted.

            Mikhaylenko says he expects that “one way or another,” the party of power will get 250 plus seats, with the remainder divided among “the loyal others,” the KPRF, the LDPR, and possibly the SRs.  But it is the last 50 deputies which offer the possibility of “intrigue.” Will they be “liberals or ultra-rightists? And does the future history of Russia depend on them?”

            He suggests that the answer may be both “yes and now. If this answer seems problematic,” he continues, “it is appropriate to remember that neither in the last parliament of the USSR nor in the first parliament of Ukraine did anti-communists form a majority.”  But that, as history shows, quickly became irrelevant.

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