Staunton, November 25 – Despite hopes that Russia could become a competitive democratic political system and despite the difficulties dominant parties have experienced including most recently United Russia, two out of every three Russians today believes that their country needs a single dominant party of power, according to a new VTsIOM poll.
The poll, released in advance of the latest congress of that party, concluded that “the particular role of the party of power in Russian politics for the voters is defined by the fact that it is not so much part of the party-political landscape (like all other parties) than that it is an integral element of the system of power” (wciom.ru/index.php?id=236&uid=10013).
What is most striking the polling agency said is that “the need for such an institution is more obvious for the group of voters who are inclined to protest than it is to the supporters of the existing authorities,” an indication that if the parties they support came to power, they would want them to have the powers that the current party of power, United Russia, has.
In the view of the majority of Russians, VTsIOM says, the party of power “is responsible for practically all processes taking place in politics and state administration and this responsibility remains with it even in those cases when it does not have real leverage on the situation as in regions where it has lost elections.”
Russians overwhelmingly believe, the poll found, that the party of power must have certain “important attributes,” including a clearly articulated ideology, involvement in educating the rising generation and imposing discipline on its members as well as on those who challenge it.
Because of its key role in the political system, the party of power is attended to by Russians far more than is any other political party or organization. At the same time, because of its powers, “people are inclined to forgive the opposition for things they are not ready to forgive the party of power.”
Most Russians would like to see the current party of power become more effective than want it to be replaced; but whether it continues or a new party arises to dominance, they believe that the party of power should be the party of power rather than one political force among others, an indication of just how far Russia is from multi-party democracy.
Reflecting on these results, on the recent problems of United Russia and on the just-completed 19th congress of the party, Moscow commentator Tatyana Stanovaya concludes that United Russia is going to remain a major part of Putin’s political system and that he will use it to increase repression over Russia (carnegie.ru/commentary/80408).
Declining support for United Russia and its losses in the September election when ever more politicians ran as independents in order to avoid defeat, she says, prompted many to consider whether Putin would dispense with United Russia and seek to come up with an alternative. But there are two compelling reasons to believe that will not happen.
On the one hand, Putin remains fully committed to United Russia. For him, it is “a tested and irreplaceable element of the political system.” And on the other, “any party or super-party project aspiring to become an alternative to United Russia would be much more dangerous for the regime that preservation of the status quo.”
“No other party or other political project must be able to compete – this is the dominating point of view in the Kremlin which is inclined to underrate the mid-term political risks of the party of power,” Stanovaya says. “Party-sputniks of ‘United Russia’ can appear and disappear, but they never will be able to aspire to the place of the party of power.”
At the same time, as concerned public policy, the congress did not offer any new ideological narratives, renew the form of the party or provide a vision of the future. What this means, the political analyst says, is that “the main resources for the growth of the rating of the party will be the idea of it as ‘the party of Putin’ and ‘the party of power.’”
The Congress, she continues, “confirmed the desire of the Kremlin and of the president personally to rehabilitate United Russia and defend it from the destructive trends of the last 18 months. But what did the powers that be propose in the end? The rotation of political technologists [at the top of the party] and the political status quo” for the country.
That means that in future elections, United Russia will continue to rely on “administrative and not political methods. Voting will become ever more plebiscitory with a minimal presence of the opposition and still less competition -- all that allowed Untied Russia to declare victory in the last regional elections.”
United Russia and the Kremlin behind it simply do not have any other means to achieve that, Stanovaya says; but she adds that “even for such administrative victory, the Kremlin will have to occupy itself with the further cleansing of the political field by neutralizing ‘smart voting,’” controlling the systemic opposition, and expelling regime critics from politics.
“This is the price which the regime will have to pay for the preservation of the party of power, the foundation without which it would not be able to continue its stable existence,” she concludes; and it is a price that the regime is quite prepared to pay.