Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 224

The latest scandal in Russia’s increasingly scandal-ridden parliamentary election campaign broke out yesterday, and it involves ultranationalist leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky. The Central Election Commission (CEC), which in October denied registration to the list of candidates running on the ticket of Zhirinovsky’s Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), citing problems with the income and property declarations of some of its candidates, suddenly reversed its decision yesterday–just seventeen days prior to the December 19 State Duma election. But, despite having done so, the CEC nonetheless ruled that Zhirinovsky himself had originally submitted inaccurate income and property statements and thus could not run on the LDPR slate. Zhirinovsky, though, had meanwhile hastily put together a new election organization, called the Zhirinovsky Bloc, and registered a group of candidates to run on that bloc’s ticket.

This means that two separate slates of candidates created by Zhirinovsky are now registered to run in the parliamentary vote. Only one of them can run, however, because by law candidates are allowed to run on only one slate. If Zhirinovsky himself wants to run, it would have to be on the Zhirinovsky Bloc ticket. It is unclear how the situation will be resolved, but it could cause confusion among Zhirinovsky’s voters, lessening even further the chances that his slate of candidates (whichever one ultimately runs) will receive the required 5-percent minimum vote necessary for a bloc or party to be represented in the Duma. The LDPR’s popularity, as reflected by the polls, has been dropping steadily for many months. This might account for Zhirinovsky’s performance yesterday: After the CEC’s vote yesterday to change its mind about invalidating the LDPR slate, he went ballistic, screaming at CEC head Aleksandr Veshnyakov (Russian agencies, December 2).

However, as is usually the case in Russia, things may not be as they appear, and Zhirinovsky’s performance–like those he has given in the past–may have had a strong theatrical element. The CEC’s vote yesterday to reverse its original decision barring the LDPR came several weeks after Russia’s Supreme Court ruled that the CEC had overstepped its authority in a similar case–when the CEC banned the obscure Russian Conservative Party of Entrepreneurs from running in the December 19 vote because some among its top candidates had submitted erroneous income and property declarations. Thus, in voting yesterday to overturn the LDPR ban, the CEC appears to have reasoned that it had to reinstate the LDPR, otherwise Zhirinovsky would be able to take his complaint to court after the Duma elections, which could mean a nullification of the election results. Indeed, CEC chief Veshnyakov apparently had advised Zhirinovsky to take his case to court prior to the December 19 vote, but Zhirinovsky did not do so. During their shouting match yesterday, Veshnyakov hinted at why Zhirinovsky did not challenge the LDPR ban in court, openly accusing Zhirinovsky of being part of a plot to nullify the Duma election. “You, or those who stand behind you, are waiting for the elections, in order to appeal afterwards to the Supreme Court and overturn them!” Veshnyakov shouted (Kommersant, December 3).

If Veshnyakov is correct, then it is not unreasonable to assume that when he used the phrase “those who stand behind” Zhirinovsky, he was referring to members of the Kremlin administration. Zhirinovsky has long been suspected–and openly accused by some Russian media and politicians–of being on the Kremlin’s payroll. The Kremlin is reportedly worried that even while the polling numbers for its main rival–the Fatherland-All Russia coalition (OVR) led by Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov and former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov–are dropping, OVR’s deputies in the new Duma could still combine with those from the Communist Party of the Russian Federation and push through anti-Kremlin measures, including a vote of no-confidence in Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s government and changes in the constitution reducing the powers of the presidency. Thus the Kremlin may be looking for a pretext to challenge the legality of the Duma election–or at least to have that option in reserve, just in case. Indeed, even with the CEC’s decision yesterday, Zhirinovsky could still have a basis for complaining that he did not have a fair shot in the election and thus challenging its legality. In addition, yesterday’s scandal may help whatever slate of candidates he runs, given that he now looks like the aggrieved underdog (Segodnya, Kommersant, December 3).