* Politicians advocating restoration of Russia as a great power strengthened their position in the December 1995 Duma elections. Although communist and nationalist gains fell short of the two-third majority needed to override a presidential veto, these groups (who are united in their suspicion of Western intentions) now enjoy a solid majority in the new lower house.
* By contrast, parties advocating integration with Western security systems suffered significant losses, even though they had muted the pro-Western components of their programs.
* The dominant role of great power restorationists in the new Duma will increase pressure on the Yeltsin regime to assume a more assertive stance vis-a-vis the West.
* The most important consequence of the parliamentary election is its impact on the election that really counts: the presidential race. The main beneficiary of the strong conservative showing is Communist Party leader Gennadiy Zyuganov, who emerged as the strongest challenger to both President Boris Yeltsin and the still-disunited reformists.
Great Power Restorationist Victory at the Polls
The new Duma which began its session on January 16th is considerably more nationalist in its orientation than the one it replaced. Communist and nationalist parties--deeply divided on some domestic issues but united in the idea that Russia must be restored as a great international power--significantly strengthened their position, from 39% in the old Duma to 62% in the new one. These great power restorationist deputies share many common national security goals, such as reintegration of some of the other Soviet successor states and strengthening the armed forces. They also share a strong suspicion of Western, particularly U.S., intentions toward Russia. The strong showing of the mainstream Communist Party (which advocates restoration of the USSR and won 157 of the 450 Duma seats) is symptomatic of the shift in political alignments in the new Duma.
At the same time, parties advocating Russia's integration with Western security systems were soundly defeated. Such groups controlled a quarter of the seats in the old Duma; in the new one, they represent only 15%. For instance, in 1993, the pro-Western Russia's Choice party came in second in the party list race and did well in the single seat races, winning 76 seats in all. In the most recent election, Choice won less than 4% on the party list vote (failing to break the 5% barrier), garnering only nine seats in the new Duma--not enough to form their own faction.
Centrist parties also fared poorly, mirroring their modest results in the 1993 election. Most significantly, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin's "Russia is Our Home" party received only 10% of the vote, despite its advantages as the incumbent party in control of major electronic media and patronage and at least some tinkering with voting results (i.e., in Chechnya).
Yeltsin staffers and party spokesmen tried to buffer the negative public relations consequences of the vote by pre-election statements stressing their modest expectations. Nevertheless, 90% of the electorate voted for groups running in explicit opposition to the Government's policies--an undeniable rejection of the President's and Prime Minister's policies.
Reform-minded commentators and officials have also tried to portray the election not as a victory for conservative forces, but a defeat for "democrats," who bungled their chances of victory by refusing to unite. Nine percent of the party list vote went to parties that support integration with Western security systems but failed to gain the 5% minimum needed to acquire a share of the party list seats. In fact, however, candidates on the opposite end of the foreign policy spectrum--great power restorationists--suffered even more from the failure of conservative forces to unite: 21% of the party list vote went to communist or nationalist parties that failed to make the 5% cutoff. …