| The results of the parliamentary vote on 7 December suggest
that Russia has entered a new political era. For the first decade of post-communist
politics in Russia, the central cleavage was between left and right, communist
and anticommunist, or "reformers" and non-reformers. The central
issue was the economy and policies to reform it. The vote tally from the
election suggests that a third parameter -- nationalism -- has overtaken
these earlier divides and debates. The long-term consequences could be
Of the major Russian political parties, three are rising, and three
are falling. United Russia, the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR),
and Motherland (Rodina) all won more votes in the 7 December election
than in the 1999 Duma election. The Communist Party of the Russian Federation
(KPRF), Yabloko, and the Union of Right-Wing Forces (SPS) all won fewer
votes in 2003 than in 1999. The last two -- Russia's liberal, democratic,
pro-Western parties -- did so poorly that they will not even be represented
in the new Duma.
Several factors unite these winners and losers and distinguish them
from each other. First, the winners v United Russia, LDPR, and Motherland
-- are all parties created initially by the state: the LDPR over a decade
ago, United Russia (called Unity before) in 1999, and Motherland during
this electoral cycle. In contrast, societal actors founded the KPRF, Yabloko,
and the SPS. Parties beholden to the state are gaining popular support.
Parties beholden to societal forces are losing strength.
Second, the three winners in the 7 December vote are all loyal to the
president. United Russia ran in this election as the party of Russian
President Vladimir Putin and is fully subservient to the Kremlin. Neo-nationalist
Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the LDPR leader, and the leaders of Motherland are
more colourful personalities than the grey suits leading United Russia,
but these two parties will also serve the interests of the president on
important issues. In contrast, the three losers are all opposition parties
that have never fully succumbed to the president's will.
Third, and most importantly, all three winners in the vote are nationalist
parties. Running on the coattails of Putin, UnitedRussia leaders and campaign
materials called for a "strong" state and "orderly"
country. Motherland leader Dmitri Rogozin even more stridently echoed
nationalist themes in his campaign appearances, prompting some of his
opponents in other parties to publicly use the word "fascist"
to describe his ideology. And the LDPR head, Zhirinovsky, is a long-time
populist demagogue who has relied on outrageous xenophobic and racist
one-liners to keep his party in parliament since it splashed onto the
Russian political scene in the 1993 parliamentary elections by capturing
a quarter of the popular vote. In this year's election, Zhirinovsky's
main campaign slogan was "I am for Russians, I am for the poor,"
an echo of the nationalist-socialist cocktail that proved so explosive
half a century ago.
After the 1993 election, many (including this writer) worried about
the spectre of fascism in Russia. After his strong showing in 1993, however,
Zhirinovsky and his ideas seemed to fade from the centre of Russian politics.
In 1999, his party barely made it into the Duma, winning a mere 6 percent
of the vote. At the end of the decade, it seemed as if one of Russia's
greatest successes was that nationalism had not taken hold as a major
force in Russian politics -- a sharp contrast to the deadly and destructive
role that nationalism played in Serbia, the only other empire to collapse
after the fall of communism.
Today, Zhirinovsky is back. And so are his clones. In ideological terms,
the losers in this election can be mapped on the traditional left-right
scale. The KPRF is the left of centre party and the SPS and Yabloko are
right of centre (with Yabloko closer to the centre). For most of the 1990s,
those on the right battled to keep those on the left out of power. As
in Western party systems, economic debates defined the battle lines between
left and right in Russia. Now, this battle is over and serious debates
about economic issues are no longer a central theme of Russian politics.
To be sure, the KPRF has tried to capture the nationalist, patriotic
vote before, but never with any success. And SPS leader Anatoly Chubais
has recently floated the idea of Russia as a "liberal empire,"
but the concept did not steal votes away from the three winning nationalist
parties. Instead, these parties won votes in the past without inflaming
nationalist sentiments within the Russian electorate. This time around,
their non-nationalist themes seem less important to Russian voters.
It is premature to predict Russia's long-term political trajectory
after a single vote. We made that mistake back in 1993. That said, the
trend line after the elections does not look promising. Throughout his
presidency, Putin has sought to eliminate or emasculate alternative sources
of political power. Since becoming president in 2000, Putin has chased
away or arrested oligarchs with political ambitions, seized control of
all national television networks, emasculated the power of the Federation
Council, and tamed regional barons who once served as a powerful balance
to former President Boris Yeltsin's presidential rule. The individual
rights of Russian citizens, including especially those living in Chechnya,
are abused now more than at any time since the collapse of the Soviet
Union. Putin believes that he is on a mission to clean up the mess left
behind during the Yeltsin era and create a new and powerful Russia state.
"Managed democracy" is the euphemism for this agenda of democratic
To this less democratic regime, the Kremlin has now added nationalism
as the principle ideological theme, and helped to empower nationalists
as the rising political leaders. Under the control of the more moderate,
Western-oriented Putin, the increasingly centralized, less pluralistic
political regime in Russia today has not been deployed to carry out massive
repression against the Russian people or threaten countries on Russia's
borders. But who takes power after Putin? The electoral results suggest
that the liberals have no chance, while the nationalists of a more virulent
sort than Putin are up and coming. In their hands, the regime that Putin
has built could become truly threatening to the people of Russia, to Russia's
neighbors, and eventually to the West.
Michael McFaul is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, associate
professor of political science at Stanford University, and a non-resident
associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.