Russia's Political Party System as a (Continued) Impediment to Democratization: The 2003 Duma and 2004 Presidential Elections in Perspective

By Riggs, Jonathan W.; Schraeder, Peter J. | Demokratizatsiya, Winter 2005 | Go to article overview

Russia's Political Party System as a (Continued) Impediment to Democratization: The 2003 Duma and 2004 Presidential Elections in Perspective


Riggs, Jonathan W., Schraeder, Peter J., Demokratizatsiya


The primary purpose of this research note is to offer a brief assessment of the 2003 Duma and 2004 presidential elections in light of the arguments concerning the development of Russia's party system that we presented earlier in Demokratizatsiya (Riggs and Schraeder 2004). In that article, we argued that Russia's transition to democracy has been inhibited by the development of a dysfunctional and unstable party system. Specifically, we made three arguments: (1) the sudden collapse of the Soviet system disrupted the development of the nascent party system, severing its connections to society and leaving it to be reconstituted from above by elites in circumstances that limited its connections with the society and the political system; (2) the later changes made to the overall political system during the 1993-95 and 1999-2000 election cycles have reinforced the party system's susceptibility to the behavior of the elite at the expense of developing links between political and civil society; and (3) those changes also shaped the incentives for self-interested elite action in ways that have led away from the development of a well-structured party system. We concluded that, until the Russian party system re-establishes its links with society and the incentives of party elite behavior are shaped by the need to promote societal interests rather than their own, Russia's party system will continue to be dysfunctional, contributing to democratic decay as opposed to assisting democratic consolidation. Unfortunately, proponents of strengthening democratic consolidation in Russia cannot take heart from the 2003 Duma and 2004 presidential elections, which have become more elite driven, contributing to the "Mexicanization" of the Russian political party system (i.e., the creation of a one-party dominant political system).

The More Things Change, the More Things Remain the Same

The 1993 elections for the newly created Duma and the elections that followed were held under new rules designed to foster a stable party system. Half of the Duma's 450 seats are elected by party list through a proportional representation system (in which votes are cast for parties, and seats are apportioned to the parties based on the percentage of the vote attained), while the remaining half are elected through a single-member district plurality system (in which votes are cast for individual candidates in electoral districts, and the one with the greatest number of votes wins). Rules were added to minimize insignificant parties and concentrate votes.

A cursory examination of the results of the 2003 Duma election might suggest that a stable multiparty system is developing in Russia (see table 1). Most of the parties have an established identity, whereas the new parties are the result of party consolidation rather than constituting elite "parties of convenience." The Motherland (People's Patriotic Union) party has brought together more than thirty political organizations under one umbrella. The United Russia party was formed by the merger of the Unity and Fatherland-All Russia parties. The People's Party of the Russian Federation represents the transformation of the People's Deputies Duma faction of independent candidates into an electoral party. Yeltsin's party of power (Our Home Is Russia) has disappeared. Other parties in the Duma hold only six seats divided among four parties, and the contingent of independents is down to sixty-eight. In short, the 2003 Duma election encouraged a less fragmented party system than had previously existed in Russia.

These patterns do not signal that Russian civil society is becoming more vibrant and politically engaged, however. Russia's parties are still primarily elite driven, with the main difference in the 2003 and 2004 elections being that President Vladimir Putin became the prime mover in Russian politics. The structure United Russia party was not as popular as the outcome suggests. In a December 2003 survey that asked what party or political outlook respondents sympathized with most, only 20 percent responded "the party of power" (United Russia) while 30 percent responded "none of them" (Russia Votes 2004a). …

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