Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 235

As of noon today, Moscow time, 80 percent of the results were in from yesterday’s election for the State Duma, the lower house of Russia’s parliament. The results showed the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) in first place with 24.54 percent of the votes; the pro-Kremlin Unity bloc in second place, with 23.92 percent; the anti-Kremlin Fatherland-All Russia (OVR) bloc in third, with 11.67 percent; the Union of Right-wing Forces (SPS) in fourth, with 8.68 percent; the Zhirinovsky Bloc in fifth, with 6.19 percent; and Yabloko in sixth place, with 6.07 percent. It is unlikely that the remaining 20 percent of the votes still being counted will significantly change the standings.

The likely final results can be characterized simply: a huge victory for both Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin (which includes such insiders as Boris Berezovsky). Indeed, Unity, which received Putin’s “unofficial” benediction and declared its unconditional support for him, was pumped up by the country’s two main media outlets–Russian Public Television, the 51-percent state-owned channel controlled by Berezovsky, and RTR state television (along with the state’s Mayak radio). These same media, meanwhile, conducted a relentless campaign against OVR, the Kremlin’s main opponent, which is headed by former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov and Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov. OVR began the campaign earlier this year with the second-highest rating in opinion polls (behind the KPRF).

At the same time, the Kremlin strategists undoubtedly also expected that their campaign against OVR would redound to the benefit of the KPRF, and undoubtedly saw this as by far the lesser of evils. Indeed, despite the KPRF’s reputation as the “irreconcilable” opposition to the Kremlin, the party usually lost in its major anti-Kremlin initiatives in the previous parliament, such as its attempt to impeach President Boris Yeltsin earlier this year, and usually ended up passing major Kremlin initiatives–such as various federal budgets–after the Kremlin granted it some token compromises. While the pro-Kremlin forces–Unity, SPS and the Zhirinovsky Bloc–may or may not represent the biggest alliance in the Duma (much will depend on the leanings of the 105 independent candidates elected to single-mandate districts), the KPRF can continue to provide the powers-that-be with a convenient foil–the threat to “economic reform,” “democracy,” et cetera–to present to the West, when and if needed.

On the other hand, the KPRF and the government are likely to see eye-to-eye on a number of issues, particularly those involving domestic security–such as Chechnya–international affairs and support for the military-industrial complex. Finally, the Duma elections have effectively destroyed OVR as a force capable of mounting a successful presidential bid. This means that the KPRF is again, as in 1996, best positioned to put forward the main challenger to Putin in this coming June’s presidential vote–possibly KPRF leader Gennady Zyuganov or some other party figure. And while Primakov announced on Friday (December 17) that he will indeed run for president in 2000, he will now probably need to seek the KPRF’s backing, given OVR’s weak showing in yesterday’s vote. This means that in almost any case, the Kremlin will be able to replay the presidential campaign of 1996 by portraying the race as a “the battle between the communist past and the democratic future”–with Putin representing the latter–and thus winning.