| On Monday, we woke up in a different country.
For starters, the outcome of Sunday's parliamentary elections means
President Vladimir Putin now has the two-thirds majority he needs to amend
the Constitution. He can merge regions, replace gubernatorial elections
with a system of presidential appointments, and most importantly he can
extend his stay in office indefinitely if he likes.
Is this Putin's intention? He probably isn't thinking about becoming
president for life just yet. But who knows what he will be thinking three
years from now. Putin himself doesn't know. I would venture to say that
president has learned a lot about himself in the last three years.
The next important fact is that the Kremlin won the election without
resorting to vote rigging. It won with an extremely effective two-pronged
campaign strategy. On the left, it created the Rodina bloc to divert votes
away from the Communists. On the right, it played Yabloko off against
draining the support of both parties.
Rodina was conceived as a handy tool for chipping away at the Communists'
core support. It was almost certainly not intended to clear the 5 percent
barrier for representation in the State Duma. A nationalist-socialist
in the Duma is a dangerous thing, after all. But Rodina's success makes
sense. You can't start throwing oligarchs in jail and shouting "Down
the rich!" and expect a party of bureaucrats to reap the rewards.
air is filled with extremist slogans, the Communists always win.
It's worth remembering that the Communists, not the democrats, were
primary guarantors of democracy in Russia during the Yeltsin years. Thanks
to the Communists the Duma did not subordinate itself to the president.
for this reason they were enemy No. 1 in the 2003 campaign -- not as the
left-wing opposition party, but as the party that would vote against
On the right, the slanging match between SPS and Yabloko was not supposed
to result in the absence of democratic parties in the fourth Duma. Quite
the contrary, the Kremlin would have been better served if one anemic
democratic party had cleared the 5 percent hurdle -- preferably the one
had thrown a few votes to at the last minute. In fact, such a party would
have been entirely in the Kremlin's pocket, yet it could still have been
paraded in the West as evidence of a political opposition.
Word is that the debate on whether or not to pad Yabloko's vote total
continued late into the night Sunday. In the end, the Kremlin hung Yabloko
out to dry. Their mistake.
At the end of the day, the Kremlin prevailed not by vote rigging but
following the strategy drawn up by Vladislav Surkov, deputy chief of the
presidential administration. This inspires a modicum of optimism. Perhaps
the president will realize that if society can be run by clever
campaigning, there is no need to crack the whip.
Finally, it has been said that Sunday's vote was a crushing defeat for
democrats. That's not true. The democrats didn't lose; they didn't even
There were parties that claimed to represent the political right. To
voters they portrayed themselves as the opposition; to the Kremlin they
played the role of loyal insiders. The results of this two-faced strategy
were predictable: The voters turned away and the Kremlin opted not to
For huge numbers of Russians, however, democracy remains a prized ideal.
The "none of the above" party took 4.8 percent of the vote on
it was supported by democrats. Voters in favor of a strong hand and Holy
Rus had plenty of parties to choose from. The democrats had no choice
whatsoever. Now add to that 4.8 percent those who would have voted for
"none of the above" but simply stayed home and those who voted
or SPS for lack of anything better. When you tot it all up you get an
of just how many people would support an opposition party on the right.
On Sunday, the right opposition had no party of its own to vote for.
Yulia Latynina is a columnist for Novaya Gazeta.
the original at
State Duma elections 2003