The political and economic results of December 2007
S. Zhavoronkov

By the general election’s results, four parties got access to the State Duma. The outcome of the Duma elections can be summarized as follows: United Russia has managed to keep its constitutional majority in parliament, the “referendum to test confidence in Putin” has indeed taken place and yielded a positive result, although the methodology of its actual conduct casts doubts as to its legitimacy. The candidate to succeed to the post of this country’s president has been determined. As for V. Putin, he was offered the post of Prime Minister by D. Medvedev, in the event of the latter’s very likely victory in the forthcoming presidential election. Such developments create opportunities for the emergence of an institute of co-rulers, wherein Medvedev’s role will, in time, become more prominent, while that of Putin will diminish. The stability of this dual power will depend, most importantly, on adequacy of the levels of political ambitions of them both.

December, as expected, has provided answers to several vital questions concerning the impending transfer of power. Besides, the completed elections to the Duma have also given food to much thought. First of all, one should speak of the official results of the parliamentary elections. The voter turnout at the polls was 63.78 % (higher than that at the previous parliamentary elections but lower than at the presidential election in 2004). Four parties entered parliament: United Russia with 64.3 % of votes, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF) with 11.57 %, the Liberal Demicratic Party of Russia (LDPR) with 8.14 %, and A Just Russia with 7.74 %. Thus, just as we expected, the forecasts of a “two-party Duma” turned out to be groundless – both the LDPR and A Just Russia have passed the threshold although, similarly to the other rivals of United Russia, they were victims of abuse. In fact, this can be translated as obvious success for these two parties, especially for A Just Russia – a new party in Russia’s politics, which has confirmed the current popularity of “the New Left” ideas, and which stands for a fundamental redistribution of public benefits, purified of Marxist dogmas and Soviet nostalgia. The election also turned out to be a success for the LDPR, whose losses as compared to the previous election were negligible, despite the fears that United Russia’s aggressively populist campaign would win some of its former votes. However, it should also be pointed out that the results achieved by these two parties also reflect their endowment with resources – they both launched impressive newspaper campaigns and invested in surveillance of the election’s conduct (which is particularly true of A Just Russia).

The results achieved by the CPRF invite rather skeptical comments. Firstly, their percentage of the vote is even lower than that at the 2003 election, especially if one considers the fact that this time the conditions for their campaigning were incomparably more favorable: during the previous election, the Communists were subjected to total ostracism by the state-owned TV channels, but now there was no counter-propaganda. Secondly, their most recent campaign was funded much more generously than in 2003 – the level of CPRF’s expenditures was second only to that of United Russia, and they covered the cost of numerous large-scale handouts of printed matter and of a similarly large-scale observation at the election polls. At the same time, the Communists have certainly confirmed their parliamentary potential.
The other parties were featuring rather bleakly. The Agrarians gained 2.3 %, Yabloko -1.59 %, Civil Force - 1.05 %, the Union of Right Forces (SPS) - 0.96%, Patriots of Russia - 0.89 %, the list being bottomed by the “spoiler” DPR with its 0.13 %. Among these results, the old parties aspiring to represent the democratic voter – SPS and Yabloko – deserve a special commentary. The election has proved to be their ultimate failure as political subjects – considering, moreover, that the leaderships of them both have announced their “victories” and refused, in categorical terms, to resign. Of course, to be just, it should be said that Yabloko had practically no financial resources, while SPS was subjected to a massive denigrating campaign on the stateowned TV channels and confiscations of promotion printed matter (which indeed seems to be the real reason for their results being so oppressively low). However, the fact remains that SPS and Yabloko failed to approach the election threshold even in Moscow and St. Petersburg, their maximum gains in Moscow being 2.8
% and 5.6 %, respectively. Thus, the liberal flank of Russia’s politics produced an empty space, which in a truly democratic situation would have certainly be filled. The same, by the way, can be said about the nationalists, whose votes were partly absorbed by the LDPR (although it would be a gross exaggeration to call the present-day the LDPR a nationalist organization), and partly, quite simply, fell outside of the election ballot (the list of the last moderately nationalist party, S. Baburin’s People’s Union, was not registered by the Elections Commission which had found their submitted signatures to be invalid).

A separate comment should be offered concerning United Russia’s results. This is due in part to the fact that this party’s vote was claimed to be a “referendum to test confidence in Putin” and in Putin’s policy in a broader sense, and in part because such a result was achieved through large-scale direct falsifications, which had also been observed during the previous election cycle, but this time were even more open and numerous. Thus, in some Republics with totalitarian regimes (Chechnya, Ingushetia), where the poll turnouts were 99 % and 98 %, respectively, the party in power gained the same 99 % and 98 %. In Khabez raion of Karachaevo - Cherkessia both indices were even more brilliant – as high as 100 %. The party in power enjoyed fantastic success in the Republics of Kabardino – Balkaria, Mordovia, Karachaevo – Cherkessia, Dagestan and Tyva, as well as in the rural areas of Tatarstan, Bashkortostan and Kemerovo Oblast. Gross fraud was applied in the drawing of protocols, when observers received one protocol from a district elections commission (DEC), and then it was redrawn by the territorial elections commission (TEC), the results being entered in the State Automated System “Elections” in a considerably changed version (as a rule, for lack of time, the quantitative data of other parties were left unchanged or were changed only slightly, while the total poll turnout index was increased, and all the “imaginary” votes were added up for the benefit of the party in power). The discrepancies of this sort, registered and published by the observers for the CPRF, SPS and A Just Russia, have shown than in rural areas, by applying this simple technique alone, the party in power gained additional 10 – 15 % of votes, the geography of such tricks being very wide, including even Moscow Oblast. In big cities, with their mass media on the alert, more subtle technologies were applied – “merry-gorounds” with the certificates issued to voters of their having been struck off the voters’ lists, ballot-stuffing, and removal of observers.
The worst results were achieved by United Russia in Nenets Okrug (48.7 %), St. Petersburg (50.3 %), Yaroslavl Oblast (53.1 %), Smolensk Oblast (53.9 %), and Moscow (54.1 %). After that, the governors of Yaroslavl and Smolensk Oblast were made to submit their resignation, while the heads of Chechnya and Ingushetia, on the contrary, were rewarded by membership in the Bureau of United Russia’s Supreme Council. The majority of developed countries, as well as pan-European institutions (OBSE, PACE) either ignored the elections in Russia, or estimated them negatively. However, there were some exceptions. Thus, France’s President N. Sarcosy congratulated Putin with the victory of United Russia. On the whole, the outcome of the elections to the Duma can be summarized as follows: United Russia has kept its constitutional majority in parliament, and the “referendum to test confidence in Putin” has indeed taken place with a positive result, although the methodology of its actual conduct has given grounds to doubts as to its legitimacy.
The elections’ outcome, just as it had been expected, did not produce any immediate constitutional developments. However, one week after the parliamentary elections, V. Putin made his long-awaited announcement – namely, appointed his successor. Putin’s choice, while it can hardly be regarded as original, was to a certain degree unexpected – he named as his successor First Vice Prime Minister of the RF Government D. Medvedev. For a while in 2006, he was being enthusiastically displayed to public as a possible successor, but in 2007 his media coverage practically ceased, and in the last months forecasts pointed to V. Zubkov as the most likely candidate, closely followed by S. Ivanov and B. Gryzlov.

Medvedev graduated from the Department of Law of Leningrad State University, in the early 1990s joined the team of A. Sobchak, then Chairman of Leningrad City Soviet and later Mayor of the City of St. Petersburg. From 1991 to 1996 he worked under Putin at the Committee for External Relations of St. Petersburg. After a short interlude in business, in 1999 Medvedev, together with his boss, resumed his career in civil service and became Deputy Head of the RF President’s Administration. In 2003 he moved on to the post of Head of the RF President’s Administration, and from late 2005 – to that of First Vice Prime Minister of the RF Government supervising national projects. Since 2000, he has simultaneously been working as Chairman of the Board of Directors of Gazprom. During his civil service, Medvedev showed himself as a not very brilliant, without a desire for global influence, but sometimes rather efficient lobbyist. Thus, for example, he helped to fight off the raider-type takeover of the timber holding “Ilim Pulp” engineered by the “forces” of a powerful oligarch O. Deripaska and his partners from the power structures. Besides, Medvedev won several other victories within the state apparatus in connection with appointments of governors or government officials. The results of Medvedev’s constructive activity are controversial: on the one hand, there was noticeable progress in the implementation of a number of “priority national projects”, in particular with the development of appropriate infrastructure and the granting of awards in the spheres of public education and public health care. But his failures are no less obvious, the most serious among these being the nationalproject “Affordable Housing” – in the course of its implementation housing, instead of becoming more affordable, became much less so due to an upsurge of housing prices.
When speaking of Medvedev, politologists emphasize several aspects. First of all, Medvedev is characterized as a liberal – at least to the extent possible within Putin’s circle. Secondly, Medvedev is considered to represent “the Gazprom group” within the fuel and energy complex, which competes both with its main state-owned rival – I. Sechin’s Rosneft – and with private companies. Thirdly, Medvedev features as a representative of a certain community of “St. Petersburg lawyers” (RF Minister of Regional Development D. Kozak, Chairman of the Supreme Arbitration Court A. Ivanov), and sometimes – even of the so-called “family” (R. Abramovich, A. Voloshin, etc. )
In this connection, the following can be said. The greatest liberal among Putin’s circle is Putin himself, if “liberalism” is to be estimated by appropriately demonstrated rhetoric. However, essentially the policies of either Putin or Medvedev can hardly be described as liberalism – be it in the economic or in the political sense. It would be enough to recall Gazprom’s audacious takeovers in recent years (“Sakhalin-2”, Kovykta, “Nortgaz”, legislation on gas export monopoly, etc.), let alone the whole recent Russian history of private property’s transformation into a semblance of feudal “fiefs” held from the “king” on certain conditions. At the same time, in contrast to some of his colleagues in Putin’s circle (e. g., например, S. Ivanov, V. Surkov, or former Procurator General V. Ustinov), Medvedev never attempted to resort to theoretic discourse in order to provide substantiation for Russia’s “special way” of development, preferring to speak of a “democratic version” of such development, according to which, in fact, this country’s political life is quite compatible with universally recognized democratic norms.
While speaking of Gazprom (where Medvedev is closer to Executive Director of Rosukrenergo K. Chuichenko, head of Mezhregiongaz K. Seleznev, and A. Usmanov who has grown, inside Gazprom, to its top ranks, rather than to A. Miller), one cannot but agree that the company’s evident striving to acquire assets in the territories of countries where rule of lаw is in full force is to a certain extent a guarantee against Russia’s ultimate descent into totalitarianism. It is also true that Medvedev’s relations with the group of officials within Putin’s circle most closely identifiable as the embodiment of the economic or political lawlessness of the last few years (I. Sechin. N. Partushev, V. Surkov, R. Kadyrov) are far from perfect – no matter whether it all has to do with different candidates to the post of president, or with purely business controversies. As for the version of Medvedev being supported by the “family”, we believe it to be quite groundless. Firstly, D. Medvedev replaced A. Voloshin in a situation that was far from being friendly, and secondly, all those who in 2006 were identified as Medvedev’s “support group” in 2007 already joined the “support group of Sergei Ivanov”, that is, were simply going with the flow of Kremlin gossip.
One important circumstance, by the way, could have been the easy-going way in which Medvedev survived the temporary exclusion from the ranks of “successors” – this lack of ambition could be visualized as a valuable trait by V. Putin who wanted to keep, in some or other form, the status of “co-ruler”.
As for Putin himself, he was offered by Medvedev – evidently by a previous agreement – the post of Prime Minister in the event of the later’s very likely victory in the presidential election. Putin acted very simply – not being impressed by the dubious speculations of him becoming a “national leader” without any official status, he secured for himself the second constitutionally important post, which, no doubt, he is going to fill with the second-in-importance financial and symbolic content. At the same time, it would be wrong to say that Putin actually is going to remain the country’s leader, considering the once again confirmed policy of the Constitution’s unchangeability – one simply has to bear in mind that, according to the Constitution, a Prime Minister can be dismissed from his post by a president’s edict alone, without any need for parliament’s approval. It would be correct to speak of an institute of co-rulers where, no doubt, Medvedev’s role will be growing in prominence, and that of Putin – diminishing. As for the stability of such dual power, it will primarily depend on the adequacy of the ambitions of both these figures, and especially Putin’s, whose main guarantee under conditions of a non-ideological regime will be unofficial human friendliness and his successor’s gratitude.

After the successor’s candidacy was finally determined, he received support from United Russia and A Just Russia, while from the formal point of view Medvedev had been nominated at the party in power’s congress. On the other hand, the manner in which the party in power silently sealed V. Putin’s choice, is by no means an evidence, in our opinion, of any strengthening of “party trends” in the activity of Russian bureaucracy.
The “commander” of D. Medvedev’s headquarters became Head of the RF President’s Administration S. Sobianin, and not the actual “director of policies” V. Surkov. This is yet another confirmation of the doubtful political future of Kremlin’s “chief technologist” V. Surkov, who was too obviously in favor of the scenario involving S. Ivanov’s “successorship”.
As for the presidential election itself and the authorities’ goals, the answer will become evident in a month’s time. The main issue, in brief, is this: whether V. Putin truly needs the highest vote for his “successor” and, consequently, the highest legitimacy of the election, or, on the contrary, both the vote and legitimacy should feature far less prominently. However, even if the latter is true, it would be technically very difficult to ensure a “limited vote” during the election.
From the point of view of the election’s legitimacy, the issue of access to it of a democratic candidate – M. Kasianov (beside G. Ziuganov and V. Zhirinovsky who, as candidates from parliamentary parties, are registered automatically) - remains no less important.

Source: The Consulate General of the Russian Federation in Hong Kong and Macau