Staunton, Sept. 25 – Before Putin eliminated the opportunity for Russian voters to vote “against all” candidates, many chose to do just that. In the just completed Duma elections, a sizeable fraction of Russians voted for the KPRF for precisely the same reasons that animated them to vote that way when it was possible, Andrey Kolesnikov says.
The Moscow Carnegie Center analyst argues that the KPRF did far better than anyone, including its leaders, expected but that it is important to understand that those who cast their ballots for the party are hardly committed communists. They did so in order to show their opposition to the current regime (carnegie.ru/commentary/85414).
“The massive voting for the KPRF doesn’t mean a return of communism,” Kolesnikov says. “More than that, it doesn’t mean a total shift to the left on the part of the electorate or a rebirth of Marxism.” Indeed, it is an open question whether even many KPRF candidates could be described as committed communists.
Both KPRF voters and KPRF candidates are opposed to the Putin system and favor an idealized image of the past as the only real alternative. This search for an alternative, now as was the case at the end of 2013 and the beginning of 2014, reflects a low standing of the Putin regime, something that has become “the norm” in Russian political life.
It is of course true that there is a core KPRF electorate which supports the communist agenda, but most of its voters are simply in favor of a paternalistic system but one that functions to their benefit more than does the United Russia-backed system. Thus, what this election showed is not a shift from paternalism but a shift away from Putinist paternalism.
“The Kremlin may be satisfied with the official signs of victory,” Kolesnikov continues. But it has to be worried for two reasons. On the one hand, that result reflected both conformism and official pressure and even falsification. And on the other, the election showed that ever more Russians aren’t happy with the paternalism Putin and his regime offer.
“It isn’t so much that communism is making a comeback,” he says. Rather Putin has failed to meet the expectations of many Russians who used to vote for United Russia but now cast their ballots of the KPRF. And what that means is something the Kremlin cannot want: the voting showed that “the traditional social base [of the regime] is shrinking.”
And while that may not lead to the kind of immediate protests that more liberal opponents of the Kremlin would like to see, it represents an erosion of the foundations of Putin’s power – and that is something that not just the KPRF and the liberal opposition can see but that Putin’s current supporters recognize as well.