The election to the State Duma held in Russia on December 4 became a very important step towards forming a stable, competitive party system. The most obvious outcome is decrease of support for the United Russia Party (237 seats) and strengthened positions of the Communists (93 seats).
What are the reasons of the fall of United Russia’s support compared to previous election campaigns? There is a whole row of them, but one could name the following as crucial. First, it is clear that a party cannot maintain such a high rating that United Russia had four years ago, for several election cycles, especially in such a big and complex society as Russian. A kind of “tiredness” of certain layers of society from long-established political configuration is obvious as well as a wish to change it. The country still has to solve numerous problems, including rampant corruption and weakness of social lifts. These factors have in many ways predetermined a significant share of protest vote most of which went to the Communist Party.
The Communist Party (as well as opposition as a whole) has not done anything so outstanding that would have allowed them to almost double their voter support. In this light one can conclude that the party’s result is to a large extent a consequence of weakening of United Russia. It is very likely that the Communists themselves did not expect such a growth, and in some sense they are still to realize this new situation.
The amount of votes given to Just Russia (64 seats) and Liberal Democrats (56 seats) is explicable and was largely expected. Out of the parties that have not managed to make it to the Duma, Yabloko can be distinguished: the party has demonstrated a growth in support and, according to the Russian party legislation, will be able to rely on governmental financial support until next elections. Together with serious and systemic work, that would allow the party to better prepare for the 2016 election and improve its result.
United Russia, which will nevertheless keep absolute majority in the State Duma, will be forced to be more circumspective towards the opposition than before. Any faults of the ruling party could be well used by the opposition against it already during next elections, not necessarily federal, but also regional and municipal.
In the Duma itself a reshuffle in committees will take place due to the changes in distribution of seats. It is clear that opposition parties will be able to strengthen their positions in parliamentary committees and more effectively influence the legislative process, realizing their programs and voters’ instructions.
To conclude, the level of party and political competition in Russia has risen. A truly working party system means the presence of not just a bulk of parties, even strong ones, but also of interaction among them and between party system and other institutions of the political system. Russia has made an important step on the way of forming such a system. The development of an effective party system takes place not only during election campaigns and elections themselves. Routine work of parties and their factions in parliament is of the same, if not greater, importance. In this sense, next five years in Russia promise to be quite productive.
Yan Vaslavskiy, Ph.D.,
Associate Professor, Department of Political Theory, MGIMO-University, Moscow, Russia