Publication: Prism Volume: 5 Issue: 17

By Vladimir Mironov

By the middle of September, most of the regrouping on the Russian political stage was a done deal, and the main centers of consolidation of political forces preparing to participate in the election campaign for parliament were established. The main participants are now ready to do battle. Many of them have already registered with the Central Electoral Commission, allowing them legally to begin electioneering, and to open accounts in the Savings Bank to amass the funds they will need to finance their election campaign. Although the campaigning has only just begun, a number of observations are possible about the unfolding campaign, the targets for future “propaganda strikes” and the allies and enemies among those seeking parliamentary seats….


The election race now unfolding is characterized by an intermingling of features common to all parliamentary elections in Russia, and features unique to the present circumstances.

First, if Boris Yeltsin decides against participating in next year’s presidential campaign, the parliamentary elections will be held–just as in 1995–at the time laid down by the constitution and the electoral law. It is unlikely that the head of state will decide to move beyond the bounds of the constitution just a few months before his period in office expires. There is no evidence to suggest that he is in such grave danger that he has to destroy the current legal system and establish a new one in order to eliminate this danger. Neither is it likely that Yeltsin will quit the presidency early, causing the parliamentary and presidential elections to be held concurrently, much of which is being made in the Russian media. Of course, such a move would be fully in keeping with the style of a head of state who, when finding himself in a tight corner, has regularly changed the “rules of the game” by an effort of will backed up by the full might of the state, inviting participants to begin again with a “clean sheet.”

However, this hazardous method of solving the problems arising during the transformation of the Russian state is not an end in itself, but a means of ensuring that all power remains in the hands of the president. To use it to relinquish power would not be Yeltsin’s style. Analysts describing the current situation in Russia often talk about the “Family,” which is supposedly capable of putting pressure on the president and influencing the political decision-making process. But if one takes a closer look at this “Family,” one finds Yeltsin himself, and his closest advisers, whose composition is not fixed and can be changed at the president’s will. It cannot be ruled out that individual members of the Family are determined to promote their own interests, but these can only be realized by getting Yeltsin on their side and proving to him that this will reinforce his own power. In other words, the Family has a certain freedom of political movement, but this freedom is severely restricted by the limits of the president’s will. Yeltsin does not balk at dismissing prime ministers if they begin to represent even a hypothetical danger to presidential authority. Given this, it is unlikely that the head of state will shrink from replacing this or that member of his retinue who has begun playing his own political games–especially bearing in mind that there is no formal process for becoming part of the Family, which includes only one close relative–Yeltsin’s daughter Tatyana.

In his official statements, the Russian president has more than once indicated his interest in stabilizing the situation in the country, and maintaining the strategic path of economic and political reform. Politically, the status quo means–in the words of the president’s press secretary Dmitry Yakushkin–preserving a presidential republic at least until the presidential elections in August 2000. It therefore looks as though the Kremlin will place the main emphasis in the election campaign on the elections for the future president.

Second, the Russian parliamentary elections will once again be dominated by personalities–despite the fact that voters will not only be voting in single-mandate constituencies, but also for federal party lists. This will be the case not just because there is a dearth of “ideological” parties capable of formulating their ideological and political creed, but also because most Russians have maintained since the end of the 1980s a skeptical attitude towards theorizing and abstraction. Only the KPRF has an ideological electorate, which is controlled not so much by the party leaders but by the familiar “communist party” tag. Because of this, the strength of character of this or that political figure will be of great significance. The main positions in the unfolding pre-election battle will be taken by symbolic politicians, against a background of Brownian motion among the parliamentary candidates.

Third, much is being made in the media of the idea that political parties, industrial and agricultural “barons” and regional elites control the electorate, guaranteeing the support of the population of this or that Russian region, this or that social group and so on. Because of this, there will be a scramble for the blessing of this or that governor, businessman or party leader capable, in the opinion of Duma candidates, of using administrative, financial and other levers to convert voters to their cause.


The reasons why Yeltsin is not focusing on the parliamentary elections have been outlined. Aleksandr Lebed, governor of Krasnoyarsk krai, is also exhibiting “self-sufficiency” and a lack of desire to encumber himself with any commitments. In some sense, his position is dictated by the fact that, first, he is in favor of preserving a presidential republic in Russia. At the same time, he advocates changing the principles of interrelations between the federal center and the regions, and shifting the financial flows in favor of the federation subjects. To a large extent, however, he does this because he needs to amass funds to finance his own future presidential campaign. Second, representatives of local officialdom and regional elites as a whole are rather wary of Lebed’s leadership style and performance, both in his former role as Security Council secretary, and in his current position as governor. His controversial nature and propensity for major scandals, his determination to maintain his popularity among his already well-defined electorate–over which only LDPR leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky could rival him for influence–and his flouting of many of the principles of the bureaucracy and the elites–particularly those related to their hierarchical nature–all make it very difficult for him to make any coalition contacts. And, third, public opinion associates Lebed very closely with Berezovsky, who makes it all too clear that his first priority is the protection of his own economic interests (which deters many potential election sponsors), and who has a negative image among the Russian electorate, which means that a significant number of votes could be lost.

Those politicians who place great importance on the parliamentary elections and simultaneously plan to run for the presidency are trying to “measure” their popularity “at the state’s expense.” This because the size of their financial support for their presidential campaign depends on their level of public support. Many of them also associate the parliamentary elections with their hopes for a future shift in jurisdiction between the branches of power, and for a related increase in their influence and authority in both political and business circles.

One such movement is the Fatherland-All Russia bloc headed by Primakov, Luzhkov and Vladimir Yakovlev. This coalition unites part of the federal elite and a large section of the regional political elites (not for nothing are they often referred to as the “second party of power”), and the interests of these elites are sometimes diametrically opposed (notably Luzhkov’s statists and Shaimiev and Aushev’s regionalists). The coalition thus has an internal instability, shored up to a great extent by the authority of former prime minister Yevgeny Primakov, on whose reputation–alongside the assumption that the regional elites will be able to control their electorates–everybody is pinning their hopes for success in the elections. The possibility of forming long or short-term coalitions with influential factions or groups of deputies is prompting the leaders of Fatherland-All Russia to avoid being overly aggressive during the election campaign. This also extends to their attitude to the Kremlin, because the leaders of Fatherland-All Russia have made a point of stating that they are not an “antipresidential” party.

However, it is unlikely that there will be a total absence of enemies in the election campaign. It is most likely that this role will be taken by representatives of the Union of Right Forces. On the one hand, they are unlikely to be an influential faction. But, on the other hand, it is the policies of Yegor Gaidar, Anatoly Chubais and Sergei Kirienko–the formal and informal leaders of the radical right political circles–which are the target of the statists of Fatherland-All Russia who call for amendments to the reform program in Russia.

Grigory Yavlinsky’s Yabloko movement–which has been joined by Sergei Stepashin, recently dismissed as prime minister–is a contender. Stepashin is a symbolic politician, a nod or gesture to the bureaucracy that Yabloko’s radicalism is a thing of the past, and that it is ready to work with officialdom. It seems that this policy shift of Yavlinsky’s was prompted by the fact that due to the active political work of the leaders of several cities (Moscow, St. Petersburg, Nizhny Novgorod and others), Yabloko may lose part of its traditional vote in these cities on the eve of the parliamentary elections. This sign of “peace” allows Yavlinsky’s colleagues to hope for “peaceful coexistence” with their rivals from Fatherland-All Russia, and for the chance to use the administrative levers of influence at their disposal to promote the candidacies of their political allies. It seems that this is the embryo of a “third echelon of the party of power.”

The Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF)–whose leaders have already made it fairly clear that their priority is the parliamentary elections, because according to a whole range of opinion polls they have almost no chance of victory in the presidential elections–is also in the running. The current election strategy of the KPRF is characterized by the party’s reliance primarily on its traditional electorate in the towns and the countryside; they do not hope to secure much of the protest vote. The establishment of a DPA (Movement in Support of the Army) column is supposed cast an additional net and attract those protest voters who do not support the communist ideal, but who hold traditionalist, statist and nationalist views.

Taking all of the above into consideration, it may be supposed, first, that the importance of personalities in the parliamentary elections will lead to a sharp increase in the significance of any embarrassing material leaked to the media, because if a particular symbolic politician is discredited it may weaken the corresponding political movement, greatly reducing its chances of winning seats in the State Duma. Second, there will be propaganda clashes between the KPRF and Fatherland-All Russia, but both these organizations will reserve their most powerful attacks for the Union of Right Forces, which they will portray as “pure evil.”

Third, one can expect a decrease in anticommunist propaganda, because this device will only be used by those on the margins of politics, supported by the Kremlin. This pragmatic solution will allow them to consolidate their own right-wing electorate. At the same time, Fatherland-All Russia will try to avoid stirring up anticommunist feeling, thus leaving itself the option of working in parliament with KPRF deputies.

Vladimir Alekseevich Mironov is a senior fellow of the Institute of International Economic and Political Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow.