Debate - Opinion in English, Russia and Baltic States
Debate - Opinion in English
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Putin Moving to Control Russia on All Political Levels 19 December 2000 Summary In the coming months, the Russian Duma will vote on legislation that would redefine the legal concept of a political party. Under this new legislation, most of the smaller political parties would disappear or be absorbed into larger parties, leaving the Unity Party and the Communist Party as the two largest parties in politics. Once the law passes, the Unity Party, backed by President Vladimir Putin, will increase control of politics at the local and the federal levels. Analysis Russia’s Central Elections Commission is pressing the Duma to pass a bill that would redefine the terms and establishment of a political party in Russia. According to the Moscow Times, this new law would take effect in two years and reduce the existing number of political groups by more than 90 percent, leaving only major players at the local and federal levels. The law will probably pass through the Duma, as the large political parties – namely the Communist Party and the Unity Party – control the majority of parliamentary seats and have the most to gain. Both parties originally banded together as a majority coalition in December 1999, but in reality they often clash over economic issues, such as passing the 2001 budget. Because neither party controls a majority of parliament’s 450 seats, they count on the smaller parties’ support, on an issue-by-issue basis, to pass legislation through the Duma. Though both parties will gain supporters, the Unity Party will probably gain the most, therefore building a strong party infrastructure from the local level to the federal level. Under the new law, a political party would need at least 10,000 registered members nationwide, with at least 100 registered members at branch offices in at least 45 of Russia’s 89 regions. Through this infrastructure, the Unity Party, controlled largely by President Vladimir Putin, will secure a stronghold over Russian politics at every level. When implemented, the new law could go to a vote in March. The Communist Party and the Unity Party probably will absorb the smaller parties, which hold more than 100 Duma seats. Only registered members of a legitimate party can run for the 225 Duma seats and local legislative assembly seats distributed via party lists. In this voting system, if a party gains a percentage of the popular votes, it would gain the same percentage of seats in the Duma. This would encourage small parties to join forces with larger parties, rather than try to compete against the large parties in single-mandate district elections for the remaining 225 Duma seats. In the new system, one district would elect one candidate to represent it in parliament, and independent representatives would have little power. These new alliances will take place in parliament and at local and regional levels. Most local parties, which do not extend beyond the regional level, will disband. The Unity Party has been trying to build up local mechanisms and infrastructure that will give the party a lasting legitimacy and longevity. By replacing many local politicians with Unity Party candidates, Putin will simply take the next step in his campaign to rein in the regions and secure their loyalty to Moscow. Closely aligned with Fatherland All Russia and the Agrarians, which jointly hold 176 Duma seats, the Communist Party is still very popular in Russia. Fatherland All Russia may survive the restructuring, but the Agrarians, a small party, probably won’t. The Communist Party would absorb the Agrarians and the Stalinists, another party that is unlikely to make the cut. The Unity Party has the most to gain from the impending political restructuring, as it will likely absorb more of the remaining smaller and local party members than the Communist Party. Aligned with the People’s Deputy, the Zhironovsky Bloc and the Union of Right Forces, the Unity Party essentially controls 193 Duma seats. Any party in this coalition other than Unity is highly unlikely to make to make the cut. Several additional factors give the Unity Party an advantage over the Communist Party. First, the Unity Party is generally regarded as Putin’s party, as it was originally established to support Putin in the 2000 presidential elections. Putin is also a popular president. Though his approval ratings fluctuate, hitting a low after August’s Kursk disaster, the latest November polls show Putin’s rating at slightly more than 70 percent. As the Unity Party expands its infrastructure locally, many people will join the Unity Party simply to show support for Putin. Second, the oligarchs who control their regional parties will throw their support behind the Unity Party if their parties disband. For example, media tycoon Boris Berezovsky is closely associated with the Zhironovsky Bloc, which holds 17 Duma seats. More often than not, this bloc has voted with the Unity Party and will likely align with Unity if it cannot hold its own as an individual party. Though the oligarchs and Putin often clash, the businessmen depend on capitalism and a market economy to flourish financially. Given the choice between the Unity Party and the Communist Party, which works against market reforms, the oligarchs will sign on with the Unity Party. Finally, Putin’s Unity Party offers many of the same attractions as the Communist Party but is not plagued by the same measure of instability. Russian media report that the Communist Party is slowly beginning to split, and a lack of confidence in the party may deter some independents and smaller party supporters from aligning with the Communist Party. This may convince smaller independent parties, such as the Yabloko Party that holds 19 Duma seats, to sign on with the Unity Party. Putin, in recent months, has extended a diplomatic hand to the Communist Party. For instance he revived the old Stalinist national anthem and coat of arms. He has also revived nationalistic pride and portrayed Russia as a regional leader with his diplomatic efforts in the Middle East and Asia and his economic deals with Europe. As well, the Communist Party has failed to prove that Putin’s diplomatic and economic efforts have been ineffective. Over the two years that it takes to implement the new law, the Unity Party will move to broaden its support base and secure the alliance of smaller parties that don’t stand a chance of surviving the political reforms. Once it secures support and its infrastructure is in place, the Unity Party and Putin will control Russia on all political levels.
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