Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Russia’s Pseudo-Parties Failing but Kremlin has No Good Alternative, Shaburov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 18 – Russia has no political parties “in the full sense of that term,” Aleksey Shaburov says; and so it is not surprising that once again officials and commentators in Moscow have been discussing what should be done with these organizations to ensure that they or some replacement can fulfill the tasks the Kremlin has set for them.

            The Yekaterinburg commentator says the latest discussions have been triggered by the mass protests over the Moscow city council elections, protests which show that “the current party system cannot cope with its task – shifting the dissatisfaction of people into a legal and systemic channel which does not harm the foundation of the political order.”

            Those protests, he has, have taken on greater importance because of the ratings of the parties the Levada Center has been reporting. Although the ratings of the three opposition systemic parties have changed little, the number of people ready to vote for any of them has fallen sharply (

            In thinking about what might be done to change that, Shaburov continues, one must not forget that “in Russia there are no political parties in the full sense of this word. There are a number of organizations which present themselves as parties and which are used to distribute mandates in representative organs of power.” 

            “Until recently,” he says, “such a construction was completely satisfactory to both the powers and the party bosses who were able to extract not a few benefits from this system.” And neither of these groups would have been talking about any need for change except for “a number of objective processes no one is able to cope.”

            According to Shaburov, “the parties cannot prevent protests, stop them or direct them into a secure channel. Obviously, if this occurred during some more serous crisis, the entire party system would simply dissolve and the powers that be aren’t satisfied with this,” especially given how much money they have spent on these entities.

            Moreover, the leaders of the three systemic opposition parties are aging; and there are no obvious replacements.  Gennady Zyuganov will be 77 in 1921; Vladimir Zhirinovsky, 75; and Sergey Mironov, 68; and there are simply no obvious replacements for any of them waiting in the wings. Any new batch might be even more ineffective than these three.

            And there is the problem of time: there is hardly enough time to change things before the 2021 Duma vote or even before 2024 presidential one when the leaders of these parties if they are still around will have to play some role in the elections, Shaburov continues.  Time then is working against any change.

            “In principle,” the commentator says, there are three possible changes available; but none of them is a good one from the point of view of the Kremlin.   First, the Kremlin could orchestrate a change in leaders despite the shortage of time but that would likely reduce the utility of the parties still further.

            Second, it could “create new parties” either by combining some of the existing ones or carving out new ones.  But such new entities would likely be even less attractive and effective than the existing ones which at least have been operating for 20 years.

            And third, Shaburov continues, the Kremlin could “reduce to a minimum the role of the parties in elections” by doing away with party lists and shifting to single-member district elections.  Such a shift could easily backfire on the powers that be as the Moscow city council elections have shown.

            There is, of course, the fourth alternative: do nothing now and put off any decisions until after the Duma elections or even later.  That may be the least bad option, Shaburov suggests. It is certainly the most consistent with the current approach of the Putin regime faced with the problems that it is.

            “The crisis of political parties,” he concludes, “is only a constituent part of the crisis of the political system put in place in Russia about ten years ago. And as long as the system as a whole remains unchanged, to do something with the parties in particular will be impossible.” But the powers that be don’t want that and don’t even know what they might put in its place.

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