Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 104

President Boris Yeltsin’s aide, Georgy Satarov, was in Saratov oblast on May 23-24, taking the temperature of the political waters in the Volga region. Satarov was clearly interested in tapping the province for fresh ideas. The Monitor’s correspondent in the region reports that he expressed particular interest in Saratov’s experience in conducting elections to the regional legislature, or oblast Duma, by a first-past-the-post system, rather than by party lists. The decision provoked considerable controversy in Saratov, but Satarov’s interest adds weight to recent rumors that the Yeltsin leadership is thinking of switching to just such a system for elections to the federal parliament, the State Duma. (Moskovsky komsomolets, May 25) At present, some members of the State Duma are elected by party list while others run as individuals in first-past-the post constituencies. The party list system was adopted in a deliberate effort to stimulate the growth of parties, but, Satarov told a meeting of Saratov lawmakers, all it has done is "encourage the proliferation of political clubs." Satarov praised Saratov’s initiative, saying it and other Russian regions are "outstripping" the federal center.

If the first-past-the-post system were introduced for the State Duma, it would certainly reduce the number of seats going to Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s Liberal Democratic Party. The Kremlin is probably hoping that it would also reduce the number going to the Russian Communist Party, though this is less certain. Nor is it obvious that Satarov was right when he told his audience in Saratov that the majority system would do more to foster the growth of parties than the list system has done. Introduction of first-past-the-post voting might, however, encourage the Russian political spectrum to polarize into two large blocks, excluding the center ground. One of these large blocks would certainly include the Communist Party, which has consistently demonstrated its ability to command the votes of one-third of the Russian electorate. The Kremlin is probably hoping that the other block would be the pro-government "Russia is Our Home" movement, which has yet to turn itself into a political party. (See following story) (Itar-Tass, May 24)

Chernomyrdin Plans Right-of-Center Coalition.