Publication: Prism Volume: 6 Issue: 1

By A.I. Kolganov

The results of Russia’s parliamentary elections on 19 December 1999 differed conspicuously from pre-election forecasts. The predicted results for the KPRF were totally accurate–it was forecast that they would win 24-25 percent in the party lists, and that is what they got (24.2 percent). But the two new political blocs which were vying for the leadership during the election campaign–Unity (Medved) and Fatherland-All Russia (OVR)–turned the predictions upside-down. They were forecast to win between 16 and 20 percent of the vote, and, regardless of which bloc was given preference in the forecasts, the gap between them was predicted to be small. But in the event, in the party lists Unity won almost twice as many votes as OVR (23.4 percent against 12.6 percent). However, it should be pointed out that the final results (including those from the single-mandate constituencies) are not so at odds with the predictions (including the one made by the author on the eve of the elections).

Lesser surprises were the slightly lower than expected result for Yabloko (around 7 percent as opposed to the predicted 7-10 percent) and the rather better than expected result for the Union of Right Forces (SPS) (8.7 percent as against the predicted 5-7 percent).

How can Unity’s somewhat unexpected success be explained? Basically in the same way as Yeltsin’s success in 1996 was explained. How did a president with an astonishingly low political rating just three or four months prior to the elections (a rating even lower than that of his secondary rivals) manage to win so convincingly?

The explanation is quite simple. Two major factors were at work. First, Yeltsin managed to show that he was a competent president–that he was capable of wielding real authority effectively. Real power is respected in Russia. Second (and contrary to all election laws, of course), huge sums of money were mobilized, as was most of the media, who launched a long campaign of relentless and entirely one-sided pressure on the voters.

In many ways this scenario was repeated in 1999. The election campaign saw a clash between two blocs aspiring to become the “party of power.” Unity, with no party structure and no program, was simply much more successful in persuading voters that they personified power.


Unity’s success should not be overestimated. When the results of the elections to single-mandate constituencies are included, the gap between Unity and OVR with regard to the number of deputies elected to the Duma is greatly reduced, to almost 15 percent (76 and 62 seats respectively). Even together with the Union of Right Forces and the Kremlin’s obedient puppets in Zhirinovsky’s faction, the pro-Kremlin deputies will not have a majority in the Duma. They will actually have fewer deputies than OVR and the KPRF combined.

Nevertheless, it is a success. Of course, the media campaign played its role, being much more aggressive and dirty than in 1996. The two semi-state-owned television channels, which broadcast to the whole country, were opposed by the local Moscow channel TVTs and by NTV, which broadcasts to only part of Russia. The forces were clearly unequal.

After Unity’s victory, the director of the state radio company Mayak, who was appointed shortly before the elections, stated in a television discussion that the role of the media should not be overestimated. And this was after open threats had been made to sack any employee who dared to permit any criticism of the pro-Kremlin forces. However, if we look at the results of the elections in those places where there was approximate equality between the channels of information supporting Unity and OVR, we see a different picture. For example, in Moscow OVR’s marked success is evident (around 40 percent in the party lists), as is Unity’s conspicuous defeat (less than 7 percent).

Another equally important factor in Unity’s success was the undisguised support of the executive and the prime minister himself, at a time when his popularity was growing fast. The effective military operation in Chechnya visibly boosted the prime minister’s rating, and he threw the weight of his popularity into the election campaign. The most popular member of the government, the minister for emergency situations Sergei Shoigu, was also involved in the campaign. It was not just a question of their administrative resources (though these were used to the full). The key was that this demonstrated where the real party of power was.

In conclusion, I would identify as the main factor in SPS’s success was the desire of most people to see some sort of stability and order (most important, protection against terrorism–the bombs in Moscow could not have come at a more opportune moment to strengthen the authority of those in power), to see some little victory (even in the dirty Chechen war, which is presented as a huge success for the antiterrorist forces), and to see other evidence of the muscle, so craved by the public, of a state capable of protecting a people wearied by change. Parenthetically I should note that the actual victors in the elections–the KPRF–are just as statist as Unity, and OVR, in third place, is also noted for its statist propaganda.


The left suffered conspicuous losses at the elections. One might have thought that the dirty information war between the two blocs representing the interests of the political and economic elite would put the KPRF in an advantageous position. In fact, this favorable situation probably did help to reduce the KPRF’s losses to some extent. These losses were not in the number of votes received; the greatest damage was done to the KPRF by the loss of its political allies. In the previous Duma, in addition to its own faction, the KPRF could rely on the Agrarians and the Narodovlastie (People’s Power) group. Even now the KPRF can depend on the support of some deputies elected as independents.