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The Dominant Party and transformation of the Russian multiparty system in the early XXI century
Kovalev Dmitrii Vladimirovich

Doctor of History

Professor, the department of Russian and World History, Moscow Region State Institute of Humanities and Social Studies

140410, Russia, Moskovskaya oblast', g. Kolomna, ul. Makeeva, 12, kv. 49


The subject of this research the transformation of party system of the Russian State due to emergence of the dominant party – “United Russia”. Special attention is given to such aspects of the topic as changes in the electoral and party legislation, as well as the correlation of political forces at the level of representative bodies as a result of the rapidly increased influence of the “party of power” and its enhancing control over the system of public administration. The author focuses on the assessment of V. V. Putin's consolidating role in unification of the largest sociopolitical organizations of centrist orientation. The study carries a historical-political character, as well as leans on the interdisciplinary approach towards analyzing the phenomena and processes in political life of the Russian State of the early XXI century. The scientific novelty lies in the author's attempt to determine and describe the factors that substantiated the long-term dominance of the “party of power” within the Russian state political system throughout the first decade of the XXI century. The dominant position of the “United Russia” is associated not as much with the traditional to Russia use of administrative resource, but the peculiarities of political culture of the society, characterized by a relatively high level of preferences in favor of the ruling elite.

Keywords: multi-party, deputy, electorate, politics, elections, president, power, party, law, opposition



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The Dominant Party and the Transformation of

Russian Multi-party System in the early XXI century


During the first post-Soviet decade, Russia has formed a reasonably stable multiparty system, which has become an integral part of the political system, stabilized the electorate of the most influential parties, each of them was associated with certain social strata. However, the logic of further development of the country has led to a radical change in the balance of forces in Russian politics, the main result on the party level has been the emergence of a dominant party – «Edinaya Rossiya», managed to gain control of virtually all state power. Meanwhile, the main political resource of «edinorossov» has proved to be extremely fast growing popularity of President Vladimir Putin, thanks to which during 2000-2001, they were already able to consolidate under its banner as the ruling of the Federal and regional elite and the largest political Association of centrist orientation.


The immediate task of the «party of power» at its creation it was declared a victory in the upcoming parliamentary elections in December 2003. For this purpose, not only socially oriented bills were offered and accepted (the increase in pensions and benefits, higher wages of public sector employees, etc.) they were carried out measures welcomed by the population against the oligarchic structures, but also various polittechnological manipulations held to intend and to weaken the main competitor, at that time it was the Communist party of the Russian Federation. The main tool to achieve the goal was in such circumstances, the traditional tactic of «stripping» of the left electorate. On the recommendation of the Kremlin the agrarian party of Russia took part in the election campaign (during previous elections, one of its part entered in the block «Fatherland – All Russia», another entered in the KPRF). In the end of APR drew off a relatively large number of left-wing voters from rural areas (3.6% of all who appeared for the Duma elections in 2003). Already in the middle of the campaign it was formed the electoral bloc «the Russian party of pensioners and the party of social justice», which received over 3 % of the vote. So, the idea to take away voices of pensioners from Communists partially was successful by no means. But the most successful move of the presidential administration need to recognize the active promotion of the establishment of the left-Patriotic bloc «Rodina», which practically halved the electorate of the Communist party and received 9% of votes [4, pp. 429–430]. As a result, the latter was forced to settle for very modest twelve per cent, that was exactly half compared to the previous election campaign.

According to the results of the elections, «Edinaya Rossiya» received almost half of the seats in the lower house of the Federal Assembly: 222 out of 450 – almost as many as had centrist fractions and Deputy groups in the previous composition of the state Duma. However, already in the Parliament, the fraction of the «party of power» increased soon due to the part of independent deputies and odnomandatnikov representing other political associations. This was prompted by the increase in the minimum number of deputies from 35 to 55 people, as a result of which the deputies failed to form any Deputy group, and the decision that all the committees of the state Duma should be headed by «Edinaya Rossiya» [5]. Thanks to the addition of new members, the number of the Duma fraction «Edinaya Rossiya» has reached 306 deputies, providing the so-called constitutional majority, allowing without regard to the opinion of the other fractions to adopt Federal constitutional laws and even amendments to the Constitution [9, p. 53]. Taking into account the control of the edinorossov of presidential administration, the Federal Parliament has turned from an opponent of the Executive into its obedient assistant.

In the coming year, after the elections, the «party of power», seeking to consolidate the favorable «status quo», with the support of LDPR and «Rodina», took a number of initiatives to tighten the electoral and party legislation. The law from 20 December in 2004 increased the requirement for the minimum number of parties at once five - from 10 thousand to 50 thousand members, and their regional offices from 100 to 500 in half of the subjects of the Russian Federation, the rest from 50 to 250 [10]. The parties already registered were to bring their numbers into the line with the new requirements by January 1, 2006, or otherwise to be transformed into a public association of any different legal status. In addition, the law first obliged the parties to submit to the territorial registration on the list of members of the regional branch that could scare off citizens, who feared to advertise their membership in opposition political associations [2, pp. 15, 46]. The authors of the new edition of the party legislation did not hide that its purpose is to prevent the creation of new parties and to achieve the elimination of most of the existing ones [3, pp. 174-175]. According to the new law «on elections of deputies of the state Duma of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation» single-mandate constituencies were liquidated and all deputies of the lower chamber of the Parliament were elected only on party lists in the uniform Federal district. This innovation has reduced the level of representation of the state Duma, considering that for the Duma there parties voted a little more than 80% came to polling stations. In such circumstances, the increase in the barrier in parliamentary elections to 7 per cent could be considered excessive, since it also cut off from the distribution of mandates and parties that received significant (several million votes) electoral support, further limiting the representativeness of the Parliament. The situation was aggravated by the exclusion from the legislation norm, which provided for the opportunity of creating electoral blocs and thus made it possible for the parties of the «second tier» to overcome the barrier together. In addition, the rejection of the majority component meant the loss of the right to self–promotion as one of the conditions of genuine democracy of elections [3, pp. 174-175].

In 2006 two more amendments were made to the electoral legislation to strengthen the position of the leading political parties in the elections, they are the abolition of the «against all» form and the minimum turnout threshold for the recognition of elections to be valid. The changes were controversial even by the Chairman of the Central election Commission A. Veshnyakov, who considered them to be «premature» and soon after resigned his post [6]. However, it was obvious that the criticism of the retired head of the TZIK was by no means groundless: the toughening of demands on political parties and the restriction of opportunities for demonstrating protest moods took place in the situation when the «party of power» was, in fact, out of competition, none of the opponents could oppose anything, in principle, to its most powerful administrative, information and organizational capabilities. Thus, opposition parties have increasingly become political statisticians.

The imbalance in the balance of party forces not only made the government vulnerable to criticism and reproaches of undemocraticity and authoritarianism at home and abroad, but also could not help but fear for the further development of the political situation in the country. After all, «Edinaya Rossiya» has already turned into a kind of «state in the state», although it remained obedient to the President, but Putin's presidential powers expired in the spring of 2008 and what further and where «party of the power» would evolve it wasn't quite clear. In such circumstances, the logical attempts of the Kremlin administration are to create a controlled political opposition to «Edinaya Rossiya». In this role, neither the Communist party nor even more implacable to power SPS did not fit. As for the LDPR, the odious nature of its eccentric leader did not inspire confidence that the party would follow the line planned by the Kremlin political technologists. Thus, from the associations having serious political weight, «Rodina» has remained, in the creation of which the Kremlin played not the last role.

After a series of preparatory contacts with the President through the merger of the party «Rodina» with the Party «Zhizn» and the Party of pensioners on 28 October in 2006 the party of social democratic orientation of the «Spravedlivaya Russia: Rodina/Pensioners/ Zhizn» was established (IV Congress of the party in 2009 reduced its name to the first two words). The leadership of the party has started active work to involve in their ranks ideologically close political associations, and the lexicon of Russian political scientists was enriched by the concept of «new left», implying the combination of a social democratic platform with an emphasized loyalty to the country's top leadership. The final thesis at the first Congress of the newly created party, held on February 26 in 2007, became the phrase of its Chairman S. Mironov about unconditional support of V. V. Putin and even invitation last as a party leader [7].


However, the calculation of dividends from solidarity with the popular President was not justified. Despite the obvious sympathy for «social revolutionaries», Vladimir Putin made a pragmatic political point of view, the choice in favor of «Edinaya Rossiya», agreed to head its list in the upcoming Duma elections. This decision was a painful blow to S. Mironov's party, provoking a mass outflow of supporters of the head of state from its ranks. Nevertheless, in such a crisis situation, the «spravedlivorosy» managed to achieve quite a decent result during the election campaign, exceeding the required minimum of 7 %. At the same time, the «party of power», headed by the incumbent President, triumphantly consolidated its dominance, having collected almost two thirds of the votes – 64.3% and received again a constitutional majority in the Parliament. However, the desire of Vladimir Putin to retain future freedom of maneuver and status as a national leader has made him to take a very unusual and, in our view, quite far-sighted decision: he accepted the offer to lead the «Edinaya Rossiya», but refused from formal membership in it.


The consequences of the economic crisis of 2008-2009, as well as the failure or shortfalls caused by local and Federal bureaucracy of government social programs, the growth of bureaucracy and increasing administrative pressure in all spheres of life of Russian society, it has led to drop in support for the «party of power» by Russian citizens: in 2010 and 2011 public opinion polls showed that the confidence rating of the «Edinaya Rossiya» decreased more than one and a half times [1]. The prospect of losing the constitutional majority in the Parliament was not very pleasant for them, which eventually happened. Meanwhile, parliamentary elections in 2011, although did not allow «Edinaya Rossiya» to repeat the success of four years ago, but still brought the victory with a very solid margin from competitors – 49.3% with the second result of 19.2% in the KPRF.

It seems that this is due not so much to the traditional use of the notorious administrative resource for Russia as to the peculiarities of the political culture of society, characterized by a fairly stable mood in favor of the ruling elite, as more predictable or, in any case, the least of the evils. Therefore, even in the most unfavorable or simply failed periods of the country's recent history, the level of support for the elections of the «party of power» remained quite high. So, in the crisis of 1995 and 1999, identified with the power of the NDR and «Edinstvo» were respectively 10.1 and 23.3 % of the vote in the Duma elections. Some political scientists in this regard even allocate within the Russian electorate subculture of voters of «party of the power» who vote for the power by habit, education, etc. [8, pp. 115–116]. Such a subculture not only remains widespread, but also expands as the situation in the country improves and stabilizes, favouring the dominance of the party, which serves the interests of the ruling elite at the level of public policy and the system of representative bodies.

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