Putin Consolidates His Power

Russian elections:

Putin Consolidates His Power

THE CONTEST for places in Russia’s Duma, the Parliament, went almost as planned in President Vladimir Putin’s “managed democracy”.

Rob Jones, Moscow

Although the final results are still to be confirmed, the preliminary count gives the pro-Putin United Russia party 37% of the vote, the Communist Party 13%, Zhirinovskii’s ultra-nationalist Liberal Democrats 12% and the new bloc Rodina (homeland) 9%.

These were the only parties to cross the 5% barrier which entitles them to divide up half the places in the Duma between them. The other half are allocated on the basis of first past the post votes in the 225 constituencies.

This means that Putin’s supporters have an outright majority of seats in the Duma and he can probably rely on enough support from the other parties to get a two-thirds majority for any constitutional reforms he may wish to push through.

It was of little surprise that for the first time since the collapse of the USSR, the President’s main party has gained a majority. For the last two years, democratic rights have been whittled away.

Political parties have faced a new law, making it extremely difficult to register and campaign. The mass media has been largely brought back under state control and is massively biased in favour of the Kremlin’s parties and against the opposition.

The arrest of the Oligarch Khodorkovskii in the autumn acted as a warning to any section of the bourgeois of the severe consequences of financing the opposition parties. Add to this the so-called “administrative resource” controlled by the ruling elite – ie the network of regional governors and the local bureaucracies that were used to campaign in support of United Russia – and it is almost surprising that the party of power did not get a higher percentage.

Communist Party

Although it was clear that the Communist Party (CP) would not get the same support as last time, the fall by almost half to 13% was better than the Kremlin had hoped for. Many of the votes lost were picked up by Zhirinovskii, who nearly doubled his vote and the new Rodina block, which was only formed three months ago. Both the main neo-liberal parties – the Union of Right Forces of Chubais and Nemtsov and Yavlinskii’s Yabloka – did worse than expected and both lost their blocs in the Duma.

There are several reasons for the collapse of the CP vote. First of all, the CP has proved to be an ineffective opposition in the Duma over the past four years. The CP could only have succeeded if it had campaigned audaciously against the economic and social injustices in society and offered a concrete programme to solve them. Instead, the leadership tried to compete for the Russian chauvinistic electorate. Second place in the party list was given to a renowned anti-Semite and nationalistic former regional governor.

Almost unbelievably, the CP allocated the majority of the top 15 places in its party list to representatives of the oil industry. One of them was so rich he “forgot” to declare that he owned two Mercedes 600s to the Electoral Commission. This meant that the CP ended up with the image of being a party of the oligarchs.

There can be no doubt that in some regions ballot rigging was widespread. In one constituency in Chechnya, for example, the Kremlin’s candidate won 100% of the vote! Interestingly, the Communist Party organised its own parallel count of votes. According to these figures the CP gained even slightly less than officially declared but the two neo-liberal parties crossed the 5% barrier.

Significantly there was also a drop in turnout of around 3% from the last elections. Added to this is the 5% who used their option to vote “against all” candidates. In four of the single mandate constituencies “against all” gained more votes than any other candidate.

New workers’ party

These figures indicate that there is room for a new type of party to develop. Unfortunately the initiative taken at the beginning of 2002 to establish a Party of Labour by uniting the two main independent trade union federations in a party stumbled at the first hurdle.

Instead of campaigning to mobilise opposition to the policies of the government, the leadership spent their time attempting to find possible partners for an electoral bloc. The leadership proposed joining the Rodina block at the beginning of the official election campaign. This led to a crisis and the effective collapse of the Party.

But perhaps the only bright news to come out of this election is that Oleg Shein, who was a Deputy in the last Duma and fought a hard campaign against the new Labour Law was re-elected in his Constituency of Astrakhan.

Socialist Resistance (the Socialist Party’s counterpart in Russia) originally welcomed the formation of the Party of Labour and was prepared to support it in the election. We could not however have supported its participation in the Rodina bloc. We therefore called on workers and youth to not support any of the parties supported by capital – including the CP – but to organise their own organisations to struggle for their rights.

These elections show once again, that only when a genuine workers’ party with an internationalist socialist programme is formed can any real opposition to the Kremlin and Russia’s new capitalism be established.