| President Vladimir Putin looked close to gaining outright
control of the State Duma as early
results from Sunday's election showed United Russia on track to win a sweeping
one-third of the vote.
Yuri Kadobnov / Reuters
Vladimir Putin and his wife, Lyudmila, filling
in their ballots at a polling station at the Institute of Chemical
Physics on Sunday.
The pro-Kremlin party's victory came at the expense of the Communists,
whose share of the party-list vote appeared to have fallen sharply since
1999, when they received almost a full quarter of the vote.
United Russia's showing was the strongest for any political party since
the Soviet Union's collapse. In the last three elections, in 1993, 1995
and 1999, no party won more than one-quarter of the party-list vote.
If United Russia's striking margin of victory was the top story of the
day, the strength of two nationalist parties, Liberal Democratic Party
of Russia and Homeland, was the second. The weakness of the liberals,
the Union of Right Forces and Yabloko, was the third.
As of 1:30 a.m., with 17 percent of the vote tallied, United Russia
had 36.3 percent, the Central Elections Commission reported. LDPR was
second with 14.4 percent, followed by the Communists with 12.9. Homeland
was fourth with 7.6 percent.
At press time, it was still uncertain whether the Union of Right Forces,
or SPS, and Yabloko would clear the all-important 5 percent hurdle required
to win a block of seats. Early returns from the Far East had them falling
short, with 3.5 percent and 4.1 percent, respectively. Both parties, however,
have tended to gain strength as votes from Moscow and St. Petersburg are
United Russia also was way ahead in a nationwide exit poll commissioned
by The Moscow Times together with the Soros Foundation and Renaissance
Capital. The poll, conducted by ROMIR Monitoring, showed United Russia
with 34.1 percent and the Communist Party second with 13.2 percent. LDPR
was third with 10.9 percent, followed by Homeland with 9.5 percent. The
exit poll showed both SPS and Yabloko just past the post, with about 6
That Homeland was able to break away from the pack was the "expected
unexpected" news of the day, political analyst Sergei Markov said.
Casting his own ballot Sunday morning, SPS co-leader Anatoly Chubais
warned that complacent voters had not fully realized the seriousness of
the possibility that SPS could be shut out of the Duma. "We could
go to sleep tonight and wake up in a different country," he said.
By the time the results started coming in, Chubais had become even more
alarmist. He warned that the emergence of the "leftist and brown
forces" amounted to "the most dangerous redistribution of the
political field of influence" and "would completely change the
political picture in the country."
In 1999, 63 percent of eligible voters cast ballots. Central Elections
Commission chairman Alexander Veshnyakov said he expected a similar share
of the country's 109 million registered voters to turn out this time around.
Millions of voters who took the trouble of going to a polling station,
however, voted "against all": 5 percent according to the early
returns; 6 percent according to the exit poll.
Michael McFaul, a Stanford University expert on Russian elections, said
the combined strong showing for United Russia, LDPR and Homeland meant
that nationalists were in ascendance, and would set the tone for political
debate for at least the next four years.
"Virulent" nationalists that characterize Homeland and LDPR
"are the people who are supposed to be disappearing from the scene,
not getting stronger, if Russia is consolidating democracy and integrating
with the West," he said. For liberals, "it is a giant setback."
Back in 1999, when Yabloko won 6 percent and SPS won 8 percent, liberal
forces appeared to be on the rise. The political chattering classes started
to predict that they could double their share of the vote in 2003, which
would put them in position to play a major role in politics come 2008,
McFaul said. "That scenario is no longer playing itself out."
Now, "they're just barely surviving," he said, and their ideas
have lost momentum.
Valery Bogomolov, chairman of United Russia's general council, arrived
at the Central Elections Commission late Sunday night looking triumphant.
He said the party expects to have won 40 percent once all votes are counted
and to get a total of 190 seats in the 450-seat Duma.
Bogomolov said the party would propose Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov,
the party leader, as the next speaker of the Duma, because "he's
the most suitable and consolidating figure."
United Russia, a party that ran on a platform of unswerving support
for President Vladimir Putin, hovered around 25 percent support in pre-election
polls. Roland Nash, chief strategist at Renaissance Capital, said winning
over 30 percent is "a surprisingly large victory."
"It will allow the Kremlin to run parliament even more tightly
than it has in the past four years," Nash said.
Putin is looking ahead to March 14, the date set for presidential elections
when he is all but certain to win a second term, and to 2008, when that
term ends. The Constitution bars him from running a third time, though
with a two-thirds majority in the Duma and the approval of two-thirds
of regional legislatures, the Constitution could be amended.
"The party of power, including LDPR and Homeland, is going to have
a constitutional majority of two-thirds," said Andrei Piontkovsky,
an independent analyst who is often critical of the Kremlin. He added
that this majority would build its policies on nationalism and on populism.
"This shift is all the more worrying because it is accompanied by
an exact same move within the Kremlin administration."
United Russia benefited from hefty backing from Putin, who called it
"a party I can work with." Campaign material called on citizens
to vote for the party "together with the president."
United Russia refused to participate in televised debates against the
other 22 parties on the ballot, but fawning coverage blanketed the airwaves,
ostensibly in the form of news items featuring party leaders Gryzlov and
Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu. An OSCE report said 56 percent
of all news coverage on Channel One in November involved either Putin
or United Russia.
Piontkovsky said United Russia would never have been able to come in
so far ahead of the pack without "strong television anesthesia."
Just four months ago, the tables were turned and the Communist Party looked
set to win by a wide margin. Networks gave preferential access, too, to
LDPR and Homeland. The little coverage given to the Communists was overwhelmingly
Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov accused Putin of running a "war
of extermination" against his party by starving it of access to the
media. One Kremlin-funded party, the Pensioners' and Social Justice bloc,
ran TV ads accusing the Communists of filling party ranks with oligarchs.
Homeland placed ads in the metro calling on people to vote for "the
real Communists," not for Zyuganov. McFaul said the Communists made
mistakes of their own, though, in accepting the financial support of millionaires.
"They really exposed themselves," he said.
Also, with the arrest of former Yukos chief Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the
government was perceived as having launched a long-overdue reckoning with
post-Soviet robber barons. In this way, it stole the part of the Communist
Party's agenda that called for righting the economic wrongs of the past
Dmitry Orlov, deputy head of the Center for Political Technologies,
said Sunday's vote will encourage Putin to strengthen his line against
the oligarchs, having gotten confirmation that the issue deeply resonates
with voters. The Duma, he said, will be "openly anti-oligarchic."
Speaking at Central Elections Commission headquarters Sunday night,
Lyubov Sliska, a deputy speaker from United Russia's faction in the last
Duma, had sharp words for her counterparts in Homeland. She said their
anti-oligarch positions are not as strongly held as they would have voters
believe. "What they said in debates and what they're going to do
[in the Duma] are different things."
Pro-Kremlin parties have been gradually gathering steam. In 1993, Prime
Minister Yegor Gaidar's party, Russia's Choice, won 5 percent of the vote.
In 1995, the party that backed President Boris Yeltsin, Our Home Is Russia,
fared better, pulling in 15 percent. In 1999, the Kremlin's hastily assembled
Unity party clinched 23 percent, putting it shoulder-to-shoulder with
the Communist Party. In early 2002, the balance of power shifted strongly
in favor of Putin's Kremlin when Unity merged with a former rival, Fatherland-All
Russia. Rechristened United Russia, the new centrist party controlled
over 140 of the Duma seats, more than any other faction.
The parties that do not get the 5 percent needed to win a share of the
225 seats allocated by party list still have a chance to get representatives
into the Duma by winning seats in the individual races that fill the other
225 seats. Many individuals running in these single-mandate districts
run without party affiliations, only to later align themselves with Duma
The new Duma by law must convene within 30 days of the vote.
Staff Writers Catherine Belton, Francesca Mereu and Oksana Yablokova
contributed to this report.
the original at
State Duma elections 2003