Staunton, Sept. 29 – The just-completed Duma elections in which the Kremlin failed to get 50 percent of the vote for the ruling United Russia despite massive efforts represents the completion of one stage of the transformation of the Russian political system and the beginning of another, Nikolay Petrov says.
The elections have already changed the design of the party system Putin has worked to create over the last 20 years, the Moscow political analyst says. But now the system is going to change in fact with major shifts in the roles of the political parties and their leaders and even of the system as a whole (theins.ru/opinions/nikolai-petrov/245303).
“In combination with the expected changes of the speakers of both chambers, this will lead to a radical renewal of the composition of the permanent members of the Security Council which certain experts call ‘the Putin Politburo,’ And one can expect that the composition of this ‘politburo’ will be renewed in the near future.”
The recent elections not only showed that the existing party arrangements no longer work well as far as the Kremlin is concerned, but they highlighted something else, Petrov says. They called attention to the fact that “Russia during elections is not a continent but an archipelago; and more than that, that it is an archipelago in motion.”
“According to the observation of political analyst Aleksandr Kynyev,” the Moscow commentator continues, “in the last elections, polarization took place, and a number of regions with semi-honest results drifted toward the side of electoral sultanates, regions with administered voting which the elites decide on the results they need” and then get them.”
But that means that to maintain their legitimacy, they must get those results; and when they don’t, as Moscow now has failed to do, their image in the population is damaged. And then they have to pay a high price for their failures.
In these elections, the Kremlin sought to defeat two centers of power and failed to do so. It did decimate Navalny’s organization, but by doing so, it elevated the importance of smart voting and thus unwittingly helped the KPRF to do better because Navalny urged his supporters to vote for the communists rather than Putin’s United Russia.
But that is not the only way the Kremlin through its efforts undermined the existing system. By arranging the victory of its preferred candidate in Khabarovsk, it destroyed its influence in the Far East – United Russia even by official reports – lost that kray as well as Sakha and destroyed relations between United Russia and the LDPR.
The latter may simply disappear with the retirement of its 77-year-old leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky, but the KPRF is less dependent on its leader and more on its federalist organization and collective leadership. And consequently, its significant growth in the elections presents the Kremlin with a real problem.
But the central problem for the Kremlin is what to do with the increasingly unpopular United Russia party. The center has made regular and even effective use of that grouping in the past but now it has become a liability rather than an asset and cannot win 50 percent of the vote even with all the help the Kremlin gives it.
How radical the changes will be remains to be seen. They may lead to the rise of the State Council over the Federal Assembly. But even if things do not go that far, Petrov suggests, any moves away from the existing system will be “fraught with serious conflicts among its separate groupings.”