Карта сайта                           
Институт открытой экономики
Об институте

 Независимые производители газа

 Политические режимы стран Восточной Европы и бывшего Советского Союза и их влияние на экономическое развитие

Расширенный поиск
     Главная   Публикации   Публикация в СМИ 


Giving Voters More Than Meetings
The liberals in Russia are confused. Their chances to create a new democratic party are dissipating, as the major political players are moving rapidly away from one another
Ситников Алексей
The Moscow Times, Issue 3163; 12.05.2005

The liberals in Russia are confused. Their chances to create a new democratic party are dissipating, as the major political players are moving rapidly away from one another. Just recently, after long and cumbersome discussion, the Union of Right Forces, or SPS, elected a new leader who is basically a political unknown. Independent State Duma Deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov, who had actively participated in Committee 2008, decided to leave this organization in an attempt to breath new life into the Republican Party of Vladimir Lysenko. Yabloko leaders want to see the democratic forces unified but demand more concessions from potential coalition partners than they can afford to give. Finally, Committee 2008 itself announced recently that it saw no point in continuing the discussion about the creation of a new party.

As a result, Russian voters see endless meetings and arguments and no action. Opinion polls indicate that there is in fact a sizable "democratic" electorate out there, perhaps 30 percent of the total voter base. However, instead of gathering all democratically minded citizens the leaders of various liberal parties are once again more or less trying to go it alone.

Why can't democrats get it together? One reason lies in the inflated individual egos of certain so-called democratic leaders. They are not willing to sacrifice their own political ambitions for the sake of unifying Russia's liberal forces. There are also objective limits to the consolidation process. According to polls by the Levada Center, the popular ratings of both Yabloko and SPS in April were 3 percent and 1 percent respectively. It would be safe to argue that given the margin of error, these ratings are close to zero. It is very difficult for any party that operates outside the parliament to maintain positive political ratings.

Does this mean that the liberals in Russia stand no chance of at least crossing the 7 percent electoral threshold? Should they close up shop and give in to the machinery of the party of power? No. Democratic parties' problem is not that there are no voters that support their cause, but that leadership of liberal parties does not have a clue what kind of voters they are dealing with and what voter expectations they need to satisfy in order to win.

If you simply add Yabloko's 3 percent to SPS's 1 percent, you still do not get the 7 percent needed to guarantee at least some representation in the Duma. However, these dismal ratings do not mean that there are only 4 million democratically oriented voters in Russia. A study conducted by the Institute for Open Economy revealed that during the last two Duma election campaigns, the democrats lost more than 8.8 million of their core voters, those who voted for them in previous elections. The majority of these votes were not lost due to ideological changes in voter preferences, but because people simply stayed home during the elections.

The low voter turnout during the last parliamentary elections hurt all major political parties. However, regional turnout dynamics reveal that Yabloko and SPS suffered more than others. In the Tver region in 2003, for instance, Yabloko managed to win the support of slightly more than 27,000 voters. At the same time, the party lost more than 23,000 votes due to an extremely low turnout of Yabloko supporters compared with the 1999 election. In other words, many Tver residents who voted for Yabloko four years earlier simply did not show up at the polls. The situation was similar in regions such as Bashkortostan, Tatarstan, Karelia, Tula, Chelyabinsk, Yaroslavl and St. Petersburg.

In Moscow, Yabloko lost more than 80,000 votes to the newly created Rodina, and more than 100,000 party supporters in Moscow stayed home during the 2003 Duma elections. The same study showed that voter flight had already begun back in 1996, when over half of Yabloko voters who supported the party in the 1995 Duma elections did not support Grigory Yavlinsky during the 1996 presidential campaign. Instead, they voted for General Alexander Lebed. The Yabloko leadership should have learned its lesson and adapted its tactics to prevent losing more votes. However, the party did not take heed and continued to lose voters.

Is it possible to win them back? This may prove difficult, and so far the record shows no signs of improvement. Yet if only a half of those who stayed home during the 2003 elections showed up at the polls in 2007, this would bring the liberal parties more than 800,000 additional votes.

The dynamics of shifting preferences within the democratic electorate show that simply consolidating liberal voters will not get the democrats into the Duma. That is, to cross the higher 7 percent threshold, liberals will need to expand beyond their core electorate. This would require new ideological tactics. The new democratic party, if it is ever formed, should stay away from both the ideology of marginal liberalism and social populism.

In developed party systems in other countries, political parties that rely heavily on the support of a narrow ideological base stand no chance at national electoral success. Parties in developed systems adopt a catch-all strategy, and on the average, people vote with their wallets and eschew radical ideologies.

But Russia remains a society in transition. Voters are still more ideologically motivated than in stable political regimes. After the social protest earlier this year, the Kremlin began to realize that reforms might cost the party of power many votes on the left of the political spectrum come next election. In 2003, the Communists lost more than 3 million votes to the party of power but are likely to win them back in 2007. To compensate for future losses and retain a majority in the next Duma, the political architects in the Kremlin administration are considering a move to the political right. Searching for additional electoral support, United Russia will sooner or later create a party that appeals to the aspirations of liberal voters.

The only survival strategy for liberal parties today is to counterattack on all fronts in the battle for the democratic vote. The tactics of retreat will result in the capture of the core liberal voters by United Russia and its allies. This strategy does not call for revision of the core principles of democracy, liberty and the rule of law outlined in the programs of all current liberal parties. However, the leaders of all groups on the democratic front should realize that the strategy of unconditional opposition to the president, who enjoys the support of 66 percent of the public, may not pay much in terms of electoral returns.

A more subtle approach of carefully targeting electoral groups of all stripes would enable the democrats to gain more support. This position assumes that the democratic parties were initially created in order to channel societal preferences and turn them into policies, and not just satisfy the political ambitions of certain party leaders.

   © 2004 Openecon. Все права защищены.