Elections by Design: Parties and Patronage in Russia's Regions

Article excerpt

Bryon Moraski. Elections By Design: Parties and Patronage in Russia's Regions. DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2006. 164 pp. Tables. Bibliography.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia has been experimenting with its electoral laws, a process that began under Yeltsin and continues under Putin. The country's leaders recently abandoned the mixed single-member district (SMD) and proportional representation (PR (system Russia adopted for electing members of the State Duma in 1993 in favour of a system based completely on PR beginning in December 2007. At the regional level, the authorities imposed the old federal system, now requiring all regional legislatures to elect at least half of their members by PR, with the rest coming from singlemember districts.

Bryon Moraski's concise and well-written Elections By Design gives us the necessary background information to understand what these reforms are likely to mean. His study focuses on the variety of electoral systems that Russia's 89 regions adopted in the early 1990s. In lucid prose, he examines how the regional legislators, governors, and the Russian president affected the choices the different regions made.

Among the legislators are "insiders" and "outsiders." The old Soviet elite insiders preferred SMDs as a way to preserve their power and patronage networks, while the outsiders sought expanded elements of PR. After his crackdown on the Russian legislature in 1993, Yeltsin decreed that the Russian regions should base their electoral systems on an SMD-plurality model. Ironically, this electoral system helped the old elite he was fighting against stay in power. The governors pursued a variety of strategies. After all, the institution designers did not know what the outcome of their choices would be for power relations in the regions, a problem that makes political engineering very difficult.

The book makes important contributions on democracy, ethnic politics, party building, and federalism. …