Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Russian Elections an Analysis

A little late but its always best to take a day or two to let the dust settling in Elections, especially with elections in Russia.

The ballots have been counted and to not many peoples surprise United Russia the election vehicle of Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev dubbed the "Party of Thieves and Liars" by opponents has retained a majority with a 49.5% voting share meaning it retains 238 Duma members out of the last Duma's 315. The new Duma has representations from the same four parties that were in it last time though the other three have increased there vote share and seat numbers. They are the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF) with 19% of the vote and 92 seats (up from 57) Just/Fair Russia* 13% of the vote and 64 seats up from 38, the far right Nationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (yes I'm serious thats the name of the most right wing mainstream Russian Political Party) have also increased there share to 11% with 56 seats (up from 40). However out of these three the only party to consistently vote against United Russia policies has been the CPRF making the Communists the sole pillar of opposition in the "Democratic" 21st Century Russia.

A summary of the Elections.

From FSRN a feature covering the fears that the Election would be plagued by corruption and low turnouts.

"This weekend Russians will be voting to determine the country's next parliament. But there is little enthusiasm ahead of the December 4th Duma elections. Some Russians say they won't bother to turn out because they feel that the outcome has already been determined -- much like the presidential elections in three months in which Vladimir Putin faces little opposition and is expected to win. Karen Percy reports from Moscow."

The low turnout fear may have been premature with the overall figure for the entire Russian Federation being around 60% being only a slight decrease on the 63% turnout in the last Duma Elections in 2007. However the fears over election irregularities or fraud do seem to be well founded, and sadly not a recent development. The Council of Europe after analysing the election procedures and results had this to say

"The observers noted that the preparations for the elections were technically well-administered across a vast territory, but were marked by a convergence of the state and the governing party, limited political competition and a lack of fairness. "

"Although seven political parties ran, the prior denial of registration to certain parties had narrowed political competition. The contest was also slanted in favour of the ruling party: the election administration lacked independence, most media were partial and state authorities interfered unduly at different levels."

Emphasis my own.

Though they did have some positive things to say about the elections

"The observers also noted that the legal framework had been improved in some respects and televised debates for all parties provided one level platform for contestants. On election day, voting was well organized overall, but the quality of the process deteriorated considerably during the count, which was characterized by frequent procedural violations and instances of apparent manipulations, including serious indications of ballot box stuffing."

Another suspicious development is the regional breakdown of United Russia's support. Obviously in a nation as large and diverse as Russia there will be differences of opinion and differing levels of support for a political platform, however if the polls are to be believed the staunchest areas of support for United Russia are the problem territories in the Caucuses including Dagestan and Chechnya were apparently 99% of the politically active population support Putin.

"Russia’s ruling United Russia party won 99.48 percent of votes in the North Caucasus republic of Chechnya during Sunday's parliamentary elections, the republican election committee said on Monday.

With a 99.5 percent voter turnout at 456 polling stations, United Russia received support of 607,909 voters in Chechnya.

Other registered parties shared the remaining 0.5 percent, with A Just Russia being the second (0.18 percent) and the ultranationalist LDPR being the last (0.02 percent)."

Yeah I'm sure I don't need to articulate what's fishy with that result.

Another blow to Putins mandate and fuel for the claims that Elections are routinely rigged was the Presidential Elections in South Ossetia -that small border Ex-clave that along with neighbouring Abkhazia Georgia came to blows with Russia over in 2008- were the pro independence anti Russian Union(remember North Ossetia is already part of the Russian Federation) was disqualified after it looked like she had won the election.

"In the Caucasus region of South Ossetia police fired warning shots as thousands of demonstrators took to the streets to protest the annulment of Sunday's election results. An opposition leader who had campaigned to safeguard the republic's independence from Russia appeared to have won a majority of votes, but the result was overturned by the Supreme Court. FSRN's Jacob Resneck has more from Tbilisi."

Alla Dzhioyeva had 57% of the votes before the Court disqualified her, they also barred her from standing in a new election.

Troops were mobilised when supporters of Alla launched protests at the courts decision. They also released this address to the UN and international Community.

"Given that the political crisis in the republic may destabilize the situation in the Caucasus, the republic’s people urge you to immediately intervene in events in South Ossetia in order to stabilize the situation and restore constitutional order,”

United Russia is a Conservative Nationalist party favouring an interventionist state to support the economy, and a reassertion of Russia's independence from foreign and often hostile nations and powers like the US and NATO, anyone whose ever met a Russian will know that at least part of that platform would resonate with the majority of the population so why the drop in support? well for several interconnected reasons, as the nickname "Party of Thieves and Liars" shows a large number of Russians are sick of the corruption that has come to plague Russian society both public and private sector.

"During a recent visit to Moscow, I was struck by how many people told me that corruption under Medvedev was more extravagant than under Putin, when it was in turn more widespread than under Russia’s first president, Boris Yeltsin. More remarkable and more concrete is a recent interview by Russia’s chief military prosecutor in Rossiiskaya Gazeta, the government’s official newspaper, stating that almost 20 percent of the country’s military budget is “plundered” through corruption, including fake invoices and kickbacks. If this is happening in the military, it’s hard to imagine that the situation is different in the rest of Russia’s government bureaucracy. Medvedev himself has said that $35 billion in government funds was stolen in 2010."

You may remember Putin's early premiership grabbing headlines for his crackdowns on the "Oligarchs" many of whom fled abroad often to London, thats was helpful however take a look at the list of names and see how many had been active in politics or about to enter politics when there arrest warrants were issued, it isn't all of them but its quite a few.

And then coupled with corruption is the global recession stagnating economic growth and compounding the damage that corruption is inflicting on the economy. That leaves a vibrant and robust independent Russia to fall back on and fortunately for the United Russia campaign team the West was here to lend a hand. The ongoing row over a proposed anti Iranian Missile Defence Shield being placed in Europe (Eastern Europe to be exact) has given the Kremlin the perfect excuse to rally round the flag and rattle the sabre a little.

Here they threaten a vague retaliation.

And here with the election getting ever closer they actually mention the mobilisation of troops.

However given that Corruption is a serious ailment even in the Russian Military a symbol of Russian pride and Unity since the Romanov's and the Peoples Republic of China competing with Russia for arms sales and research development cutting into there exports (arms exports are virtually a way to subsidise the costs of an arms industry) not to mention the risk that another nation might actually respond forcing another conflict, if Chechen rebels and Georgia could do it whats stopping a stronger nation from calling the bluff? In short relying on militaristic Patriotism is a trick that can only works so many times.

Of course with Putins "shock" announcement that he would be standing as Presidential Candidate again much of the focus in the media has been on how the Duma turnout will affect his Presidential election bid, given what I've already written on the subject you might infer that I think that his election (should that be re-election?) chances in a free and fair election aren't very good. Well not necessarily there is a difference between the support/popularity for a party and its leader, this is true even in parliamentary systems where the party is the main decision maker and is especially the case in Presidential systems where one man or woman(and there hand picked team of advisers) become the driving political force in the nation. The disintegration of United Russia's support base doesn't necessarily correlate to a decline in support for Putin personally though it isn't a positive indicator and if I where his PR man I'd be a little worried.

Of course the election is still a ways off and now that Putin has become the official centre of attention again how he deals with Russia problems especially with a reduced majority -though remember the non Communist parties have a track record of supporting United Russia- and if any scandal should emerge that he is personally to close to and he could find his own support frame eroded. Only time will tell of course I'm just glad that more and more people both inside and outside of Russia are waking up from his spell.

* The Russian name can be translated as either Fair or Just.

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