Existing economic mechanisms only achieve the
very narrow goal of maintaining the present [economic] level,
but fail to provide for medium-term economic growth. In terms
of solutions to the main problems facing the country, the economic
system has been in a state of decline and has The State Duma's
most numerous and servile faction -- the pro-Kremlin Unity Party
and its centrist allies -- is set to purge the house of its smaller
factions, such as Yabloko, the Union of Right-Wing Forces (SPS),
and Vladimir Zhirinovsky's LDPR, and in the long run form a bipartisan
Once again in a joint effort with the Communists, United Russia
-- the party formed by an alliance between Unity and Fatherland
All Russia last year -- is considering raising the election barrier
from 5 to 12.5 per cent. According to Gazeta.Ru's sources, the
political future of the liberal SPS and Yabloko now depends on
For two days in a row the governing body of United Russia --
its central political council -- held consultations in the luxurious
Vatutinki country hotel near Moscow. The party's activists were
setting new goals and summing up their work so far.
Those results are, indeed, astonishing. Over the past three
months hundreds of thousands of Russians have joined the ranks
of United Russia. ''You will take away with you party-membership
cards for 200,000 people. Our machine has been working hard,''
the head of the party's general council Alexander Bespalov informed
Obviously, the allusion to the machine was a reference to the
printing press that has been producing so many party-membership
cards. In early September they were distributed to 147 deputies
of the State Duma, and at the end of September to 35 senators
in the Federation Council.
Cynical observers suggested that the delegates prolonged their
stay in Vatutinki until Monday so that the main decision of the
party session would be announced on President Putin's birthday.
It was rumoured that party-membership card No.1 issued in the
name of the President could be presented that evening. At any
rate, on the eve of the party council session United Russia's
activists said they would ask Putin to stand at the helm of their
Duma vice-speaker and Unity member Lyubov Sliska said in an
interview with Gazeta.Ru last month that the law on elections
would be amended to enable senior state officials to join political
parties. It appears that nobody in United Russia doubts Putin's
desire to become their leader.
However, the aforementioned presidential amendment was one of
the less serious legislative initiatives proposed at Vatutinki.
For instance, the United Russia delegates still want to introduce
the so-called anti-defection rule, banning deputies elected to
the lower house on the list of one party from joining another
And even this pales in comparison with the main proposal of
the party's council. They are set to establish a single criterion
for determining the winners in gubernatorial and parliamentary
elections at all levels.
In particular, according to the United Russia party members,
a candidate to the governor's post should be declared winner only
if he scores at least 50 percent of the vote. And as for candidates
running for Duma seats in single-mandate constituencies, the minimum
should be 25 percent, while political parties should clear a 12.5%
hurdle to be represented in the lower house.
If the election barrier is raised, the only parties that are
sure to clear it are the Communists and the party of power, a
position which United Russia is striving to consolidate in the
run-up to the December 2003 parliamentary polls.
This would also means only six of all the factions presently
in the State Duma would survive in one form or another. The Communists
and their long-standing allies, the Agrarian Group, would most
likely merge, while the centrists -- Unity, Fatherland All Russia,
the People's Deputy Group and Regions of Russia -- would form
a strong alliance and enter the house under the banner of United
Russia. The Union of the Right-Wing Forces, Yabloko, and Vladimir
Zhirinovsky's LDPR would most likely find themselves sidelined
and be forced to switch their political activities to the streets.
Judging by a public opinion survey conducted by the All-Russian
Centre for Public Opinion Studies (VTsIOM) in September, the Communist
Party is still popular with 34 per cent of those polled, while
28 per cent are ready to cast their vote for United Russia. The
ratings of all other political parties barely reach the present-day
5 per cent required to enter the lower house.
This begs the question: why do United Russia want any changes?
''So the voters understand what political force represents them
and that it can do something tangible for them,'' the Regions
of Russia leader Oleg Morozov said on Monday. At the same time
Morozov added that the 12.5 barrier is not a concrete proposal
from the centrists -- the election barrier may also be raised
from 5 to 7 per cent.
According to Gazeta.Ru sources, at the second reading of the
new bill on parliamentary elections, to be held this October,
the centrist faction will insist on raising the hurdle to 7 per
cent. As soon as this idea appeared in the Russian media it met
with harsh criticism from many observers and liberal politicians.
Thus, it appears that the 12.5 per cent proposal was simply
an attempt to gauge the public's reaction and was used as a measure
to scare other factions into the compromise 7 per cent barrier.
Then most factions, except the SPS, Yabloko, and the LDPR, will
back the 7 per cent-proposal and the relevant amendment will be
introduced to the draft law.
Incidentally, the centrists will once again have to reach an
agreement with the Communists, who also have their own agenda
-- to prevent the nascent left-wing force headed by Gennady Seleznyov
from entering the lower house. [Back in early 2000 the pro-Kremlin
Unity and the Communists signed a so-called package agreement
on the distribution of key posts in Duma committees. Earlier this
year the pact was reversed, and the Communists were ousted from
most of their posts. The Duma speaker Gennady Seleznyov, who refused
to side with the Communists and leave his post in protest, was
expelled from the CPRF, and established a new left wing party.]
In these circumstances the right-wing parties and Yabloko can
merelypray that the Kremlin rejects the initiative. Earlier this
month the Central Election Committee's chief Alexander Veshnyakov,
who presented the draft law on elections to the lower house on
behalf of the presidential administration, said the 5 per cent
election barrier provision must remain unchanged. So, it appears
that the right-wing parties, as well as Mr. Zhirinovsky, still
retain a glimmer of hope.
State Duma Elections