Political Parties and Legislative Elections

Russia Table of Contents

After early 1990, when the Soviet constitution was amended to delete the provision that the CPSU was the "leading and guiding" force in the political system, many political groups began to operate more openly in Russia. The constitution of 1993 guarantees Russians' right to a multiparty system. Political party development has lagged, however, because many Russians associate parties with the repressiveness of the CPSU in the Soviet era. In the mid-1990s, most of Russia's parties were based on personal followings, had few formal members, and lacked broad geographical bases and coherent platforms. Prior to the legislative elections of 1993 and 1995, much shifting occurred as parties formed and abandoned coalitions, sometimes involving partners with which they had little in common politically. Even the KPRF, direct heir to the CPSU, waffled on many central economic and foreign policy issues in the 1996 presidential campaign. One observer noted that for most Russian voters, the two major sides in the 1996 election had no identification with broad national issues; they were simply the anti-Yeltsins and the anti-communists. Experts identified the lack of focused national party organizations as a key factor in the diffusion of political power to subnational jurisdictions in the mid-1990s (see The Federation Treaty and Regional Power, this ch.).

The Elections of 1993

In November 1993, Yeltsin issued decrees prescribing procedures for multiparty parliamentary elections, which would be the first since tsarist times. Besides setting the configuration of the new bicameral parliament, the Yeltsin plan called for half of the 450 State Duma deputies to be elected from national party lists with representation proportional to the overall votes received by each party. The other half would be elected locally, in single-member districts (see The Parliament, this ch.). The party-list procedure, a new feature in Russian elections, was designed to strengthen the identification of candidates with parties and to foster the concept of the multiparty system among the electorate. To achieve proportional representation in the State Duma, a party would need to gain at least 5 percent of the nationwide vote.

The CEC declared thirteen parties eligible for the party list, and 2,047 individual candidates were selected to compete for Federation Council seats (490) and State Duma single-mandate seats (1,567), allotted to individuals regardless of their parties' overall performance vis--vis the 5 percent threshold. Although the CEC reported some voting irregularities, the vast majority of the more than 1,000 international observers termed the elections largely free and fair, with some reservations expressed about manipulation of results. In several republics, the referendum results were invalidated by low turnouts caused by boycotts, or because voters failed to approve the constitution.

Many experts divided the myriad parties of the 1993 elections roughly into three main blocs: pro-Yeltsin reformists, centrists advocating a slower pace of reform, and hard-liners opposing reforms. The main reformist party was Russia's Choice, led by former prime minister Yegor Gaydar. The main centrist parties were the Yavlinskiy-Boldyrev-Lukin bloc, commonly referred to as Yabloko (the Russian word for apple), headed by economist Grigoriy Yavlinskiy and former ambassador to the United States Vladimir Lukin, and the Democratic Party of Russia, headed by Nikolay Travkin. The main hard-line parties were the LDPR, the KPRF, headed by Gennadiy Zyuganov, and the Agrarian Party, which represented state- and collective-farm interests and was headed by Mikhail Lapshin.

In 1993 the strongly nationalist, antireform LDPR emerged with the largest vote on the State Duma party lists, followed by Russia's Choice. By faring much better in the single-member districts, however, Russia's Choice emerged with sixty-six seats, the most in the State Duma. The LDPR followed with sixty-four seats. Altogether, reformist and centrist parties emerged with the greatest number of seats in the State Duma, followed by nationalist and antireform parties. Some 127 State Duma seats were won by individuals not formally affiliated with a party, many of whom were former CPSU members.

Of the thirteen parties participating in the December 1993 legislative elections on the party lists, eight exceeded the 5 percent threshold to win seats in the State Duma. In addition, all thirteen parties, as well as some local parties, won seats in single-member districts. Once the new parliament was seated, the parties aggregated into several factions. A number of deputies coalesced into the Union of December 12 faction. Sixty-five centrist deputies formed the New Regional Policy faction, and some LDPR members shifted their affiliation to the KPRF or the Agrarian Party, or supported former vice president Aleksandr Rutskoy's Concord in the Name of Russia policy agenda.

The Elections of 1995

In June 1995, the Federal Assembly passed--and Yeltsin signed--a new law to govern the next legislative elections, which were planned for December. This legislation echoed many provisions of Yeltsin's 1993 electoral decree, such as the division of the State Duma seats into party-list and single-member districts. Yeltsin had urged a change in this provision because he feared that Zhirinovskiy's LDPR might again gain many seats in the party-list voting, but the Duma had insisted on retaining the even-split voting procedure that gave such meaning to the party lists. The 1993 election had demonstrated that voting by party lists generally encouraged party formation and program pledges, whereas voting by district encouraged loyalty by deputies to local interests. The 5 percent threshold for party-list voting also was retained. In September 1995, Yeltsin decreed that the Federation Council seats would not be filled by regional elections; instead, the upper house would be composed of regional and republic executive and legislative leaders--a group with which Yeltsin had close contacts and from which he could expect strong loyalty. All of the suggested provisions were incorporated into the new election law (see The Parliament, this ch.).

In anticipation of the legislative races, early in 1995 Yeltsin encouraged the creation of two political parties that would lend support to his policies and form the basis of a stable, moderate, two-party system in Russia. One party would be led by State Duma speaker Ivan Rybkin, the other by Chernomyrdin (who by that time had proven himself a loyal and competent manager of the Yeltsin agenda). The unnamed "Rybkin bloc" was designed to attract centrist and leftist voters, and Chernomydin's party, Our Home Is Russia, was envisioned as a right-center coalition. Both parties would occupy the moderate band of the political spectrum. Having attracted the support of many Russian Government ministers and regional leaders, Our Home Is Russia became known as the "party of power." The Rybkin bloc, which was supposed to serve as the loyal opposition in the parliament, attracted several tiny parties, but major parties and groups refused to join the bloc because of opposition to some or all of Yeltsin's reforms. As a result, Rybkin's unification effort received little practical support.

To qualify for the party-list voting, parties were required to obtain 200,000 signatures, with no more than 7 percent of signatures coming from any single federal jurisdiction. The latter requirement was designed to encourage the emergence of broad-based rather than regionally based parties. Candidates wishing to run in single-member districts had to obtain signatures from at least 1 percent, or about 5,000, of their district's voters. Forty-three parties succeeded in getting on the party-list ballot, and more than 2,600 candidates were registered in 225 single-member district races. Many individuals listed on the party ballot also ran in single-member districts. This was especially true of locally popular candidates whose minor parties could not surpass the 5 percent national threshold needed to get on the national party-list ballot.

In the legislative elections of December 1995, voter turnout was high (about 65 percent), and international observers again evaluated the balloting as largely free and fair. The second such evaluation in two years boosted the image of electoral democratization in Russia. Dissatisfaction with the Yeltsin administration was conspicuous in the election results, but the showing of the reformist and centrist parties that supported some or all of Yeltsin's program was undermined by the disunity of that part of the political spectrum. Among the forty-three parties participating in the party-list vote, only four met the 5 percent requirement to win seats for their national party lists, although several other parties won seats in individual races. In the aggregate of party-list voting, reformists and centrists performed much better than they did in the single-member phase, receiving almost as many votes as the hard-liners. But pro-reform and centrist votes were dispersed among a multitude of parties, negating almost two-thirds of the party-list votes they received and costing these parties dozens of seats by keeping them below the 5 percent threshold. In contrast, the KPRF and its allies suffered much less from such dispersion and gained many seats from the party-list vote.

Although centrists and reformers split single-mandate seats about evenly with the antireform parties, nonaffiliated candidates gained more than one-third of these seats. About 40 percent of the sitting State Duma deputies were reelected, and fifteen Federation Council deputies entered the State Duma, providing some continuity of legislative expertise. Under a provision of the new constitution, Government officials were obligated to resign their positions if elected to the parliament.

Overall, reformist parties did not do as well in the 1995 elections as they had in 1993. Gaydar's party, now renamed Russia's Democratic Choice, failed to meet the 5 percent requirement. Altogether, reformists and centrists won 129 seats in the State Duma (less than one-third of the total), and independent, nominally nonaffiliated candidates won seventy-seven seats (about one-sixth). The KPRF and its ally, the Agrarian Party, gained 179 seats as the KPRF achieved a plurality of seats, and the anti-Yeltsin nationalist parties won another sixty-five. Zhirinovskiy's LDPR received much less electoral support than in 1993, gaining 11 percent of the vote--a distant second to the KPRF--and fifty-one seats (see table 26, Appendix).

More than in the 1993 alignment, parties now tended to be either for or against reform, with former centrists moving either left or right. In the 1996 State Duma, the main reformist parties were Chernomyrdin's "official" Our Home Is Russia, the main advocate of Yeltsin's programs, and Yavlinskiy's Yabloko coalition, which was highly critical of Yeltsin's approach to reform but supportive of reform principles. The main hard-line, antireform parties in the Duma were the KPRF, headed by Zyuganov, and the LDPR, headed by Zhirinovskiy.

Altogether, in 1996 communist, nationalist, and agrarian parties controlled slightly more than half the State Duma seats. Their strength enabled them to pass some bills and resolutions if they voted together, but they still lacked enough votes to override Federation Council votes or presidential vetoes. The numerical proportions also did not permit antireformists to approve changes in the constitution, which require a two-thirds majority, that is, at least 300 votes of the full chamber.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress