Academic journal article Current Politics and Economics of Russia, Eastern and Central Europe

Russia's December 2011 Legislative Election: Outcome and Implications *

Academic journal article Current Politics and Economics of Russia, Eastern and Central Europe

Russia's December 2011 Legislative Election: Outcome and Implications *

Article excerpt

BACKGROUND

The trajectory of Russia's democratic development has long been of concern to Congress and successive Administrations as they have considered the course of U.S.-Russia cooperation on matters of mutual strategic interest and as they have monitored problematic human rights cases. A major question of U.S.-Russia relations is whether Russia can be an enduring and reliable partner in international relations if it fails to uphold human rights and the rule of law.

Most analysts agree that Russia's democratic progress was uneven at best during the 1990s, and that the three cycles of legislative and presidential elections held under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin (in 1999-2000, 2003-2004, and 2007-2008) demonstrated serious weaknesses in Russian democratization.1 After the pro-Putin United Russia Party gained enough seats and allies to dominate the State Duma (the 450-member lower legislative house of the Federal Assembly; the upper house is not directly elected) after the 2003 election, the Kremlin moved to make it more difficult for smaller parties to win seats in the future, including by raising the hurdle of minimum votes needed to win seats from 5% to 7%. Also, the election of 50% of Duma deputies in single-member district races-where independent candidates and those from small opposition parties usually won some seats-was abolished, with all Duma members to be elected via party lists.

Changes in campaign and media laws also made it more difficult for small parties and opposition groups to gain publicity in the run-up to the December 2007 Duma election. Putin assumed leadership of the ruling United Russia Party and when it gained a two-thirds majority in the Duma election that year, United Russia no longer needed to seek accommodation with the three other parties that won seats in order to pass favored laws, including those amending the constitution. Electoral changes since 2007 included a provision that parties gaining between 5% and 6.99% of the vote would be granted one or two seats, and an increase in the Duma's term from four to five years.2

At a meeting of United Russia on May 6, 2011, Prime Minister Putin called for the creation of a "broad popular front [of ] like-minded political forces," to participate in the 2011 Duma election, including United Russia and other political parties, business associations, trade unions, and youth, women's and veterans' organizations. Putin also proposed that non-party candidates nominated by these various organizations would be included on United Russia's party list. Critics objected that the idea of the "popular front" was reminiscent of the one in place in the former German Democratic Republic when Putin served there in the Soviet-era KGB.

On September 24, 2011, at the annual convention of the United Russia Party, Prime Minister Putin announced that he would run in the March 2012 presidential election. President Medvedev in turn announced that he would not run for re-election, and endorsed Putin's candidacy. Putin stated that he intended to nominate Medvedev as his prime minister, if elected. Until these announcements, the United Russia Party had left the leading slot open on its proposed party list of candidates for the planned December 2011 State Duma election. Putin suggested that Medvedev head the party list, and hence be in charge of assuring that the party win a majority of seats in the December election.

In mid-October 2011, Medvedev unveiled his idea of "big government," involving the establishment of a group of his supporters to back the United Russia Party in the Duma election. He stated that during his presidency, he had "tried to develop our party and political system. This was not entirely successful and there were some failures, but nevertheless this is what I tried to do." He also argued that his government had worked to combat corruption and encourage the development of civil society and economic modernization, and should be endorsed by the electorate to continue such work. …

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