United Russia Party Chairman, Russia's Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and Russia's President Vladimir Putin visit the United Russia Party campaign headquarters after the 2016 Russian parliamentary election.Alexei Druzhinin/Russian Presidential Press and Information Office/TASS
"We know that life is hard for people, there are many problems, but nevertheless – the result is what it is," said Russian President Vladimir Putin on September 18, congratulating members of the ruling party United Russia at the campaign headquarters after they were declared victorious in preliminary election results.
The party, traditionally loyal to the president and the government (it is headed by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev), will be more than satisfied with the result – it won by a landslide.
United Russia won 54.7 percent of the vote and will have 343 seats in the Duma (or parliament), 105 more than in the previous Duma in 2011, when it won 238 seats. The party now has a constitutional majority in the new Duma: It can pass laws and make changes to the constitution, even if the other three parties in parliament are opposed.
Long before September 18, authorities had made it clear that they did not want a repeat of the 2011 parliamentary elections, which were marked by mass protests over vote-rigging.
Ella Pamfilova, the new head of the Central Electoral Commission (CEC), who assumed office in March 2016, stated that her task was to hold elections as honest as possible so there would be no doubt about the veracity of the results.
The CEC admits there were some violations in the September 18 elections. Results of the polling were cancelled at several polling stations where organizers were accused of ballot stuffing. Criminal proceedings have been initiated against the secretary of a precinct electoral commission in the Rostov Region over ballot stuffing. Pamfilova said each complaint about violations would be considered.
Experts disagree on the extent to which the CEC was able to secure fair elections.
"There are violations, but their scale is not comparable to 2011," Dmitry Orlov, head of the Agency for Political and Economic Communications, an organization with Kremlin links, told RIR. "These are isolated incidents, they should be specifically analyzed. This is not a wave."
However, political analyst Gleb Pavlovsky, president of the NGO Efficient Policy Foundation, believes that "administrative manipulation was [present] at all stages [of elections]." Pavlovsky is sure that not only was the result for United Russia overstated, but also the turnout (it was officially 47.8 percent).
None of the 10 non-parliamentary parties were able to enter the new Duma or even overcome the three-percent threshold that allows them to count on government funding. Among those who could not make it were the liberal Yabloko and Parnas parties.
Mikhail Vinogradov, president of the Peterburgskaya Politika Foundation, believes the reason for the defeat of the Yabloko and Parnas parties was their inability to reach beyond the boundaries of their usual electorate.
"The parties like Yabloko fought for their voters, liberal-minded citizens, and did not try to win new voters – apolitical or pro-government ones," Vinogradov told RIR. According to Vinogradov, this failed the opposition parties and did not allow them to attract new votes.
Alexander Pozhalov, deputy head of the Institute of Socio-Economic and Political Research, a think tank close to the Kremlin, notes that another weak point of Yabloko's campaign was its preoccupation with the figure of the party leader Grigory Yavlinsky.
Pozhalov said Yavlinsky, who founded Yabloko in 1993, appeared to be rooted in the past and could not win over a new electorate.
Along with United Russia, the three parties that were in the previous Duma entered the parliament: the Communist Party (CPRF: 42 seats), the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR: 39 seats) and A Just Russia (23 seats). Rodina and Civil Platform candidates, who ran in one-seat constituencies, as well as a self-nominated candidate (a former member of United Russia) got one seat each.
The parliamentary opposition effectively has no way to resist United Russia – a constitutional majority allows the ruling party to use the parliament as it wishes.
"A lot of the initiatives [in parliament] will be passed without the support of the opposition parties," said Orlov. At the same time, he said the Communist Party and the Liberal Democratic Party would be more vocal on many more issues than before, to emphasize their presence in opposition and contrast to the ruling party.
All of United Russia’s closest rivals saw disappointing results in comparison with 2011, but A Just Russia slumped more dramatically than the others. In the previous Duma, A Just Russia had 64 seats, but will have only 23 in the seventh Duma. Orlov said A Just Russia had exhausted the potential it had in 2011, when the party was the most opposition-minded among the parliamentary parties and attracted protest votes.
"Now this protest is gone, and A Just Russia's electoral message was not very convincing this year," Orlov told RIR.
Some political analysts believe that the new parliament, dominated by United Russia, will be managed and fully controlled by the Kremlin. Pavlovsky believes that gaining a constitutional majority "unties the authorities' hands even further."
"There remains a trend to eliminate all possible limitations on the authorities in the country," Pavlovsky told RIR. He sees nothing positive in the results of the elections, arguing that the level of competence in the parliament, where an alternative point of view is practically non-existent, is in inevitable decline.
"The Kremlin today does not know anything about the country, because the Duma represents not the country, but only its own apparatus of power," Pavlovsky said.
Others argue that there will still be competition in the new Duma – not between factions, but between situational blocs of parliamentary deputies associated with the regions.
Pozhalov recalls the important role of the deputies who entered the Duma through single-seat constituencies. He said many of the United Russia deputies who have been elected for the Duma in one-seat constituencies (203 out of 343 deputies) will orient not so much to the party's leadership as to the regions that nominated them.
"There were a lot of non-party people who ran as United Russia candidates in single-seat constituencies," said Pozhalov. "They are United Russia candidates, but they are not members of the party."
Pozhalov believes that the new Duma will be more influential in terms of representation of different areas and social groups, and it will provide political competition, especially when addressing the issue of the regions' budgets.
Pavlovsky agrees. "The Duma may cease to be manageable when the economic situation changes and a real impoverishment of the regions begins," he said.
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