| Some key points: |
* The political regime
in Russia canbe characterized as "soft" authoritarianism.
* Elections are turning into a means of legitimizing bargains made among
ruling elite groups.
* Governors under Putin must supply not only loyalty, but economic and
* United Russia has incorporated most governors, but significant provincial
* Regional elections may provide the basis for a second wave of Russian
Presidential Elections and the Political
Regime in the Country
On the eve of the 2004 presidential elections, the political regime
in Russia by all indications could be characterized as "soft"
authoritarianism. The following basic democratic institutions are lacking:
- a division of power with independent legislature, judiciary, and massmedia;
- legal principles as a foundation for cooperation among state institutions
or between state institutions and citizens.
Such cooperation is realized on the basis of informal agreements. In
contrast, legal norms are used arbitrarily as a means of political pressure,
as the Yukos affair blatantly shows.
In addition, the following undemocratic circumstances are evident:
-the absolute domination by one political institution-the president,
who controls virtually all significan forms of political and social activity;
-the thorough exclusion from political life (with the help of administrativeresources)
of parties representingcitizens' interests and proposing alternativepolitical
Political control is beginning to expand into spheres other than politics:
nonprofit organizations, education, science, and culture.
What's more, it is increasingly clear that ideologues close to the Kremlin
are deciding the direction of the country's development. An example of
thisis Stanislav Belkovsky, whose "newstate ideology" by his
own accountconsists of the formation of a newnational elite bolstered
by the armyand the church. This world view, particularlythe religious
basis for nationalconsolidation as well as relianceon the power organs
goes beyond authoritarianismto evince the classicfeatures of totalitarianism.
Finally, the central institution ofdemocracy-competitive, honest, freeand
fair elections, the presence ofwhich distinguishes incomplete democracyfrom
"soft" authoritarianism-is largely fading. Elections areturning
into a means of legitimizingbargains made among groups withinthe ruling
The upcoming presidential electionclearly illustrates this development.Without
serious challengers, it hasvirtually become a referendum onconfidence
in the current president.Furthermore, those candidates whocould potentially
win more than 7-10% of the vote have been excludedfrom the contest.
Political control is beginningto expand intospheres other thanpolitics:
nonprofit organizations,education,science, and culture.
On the one hand, this was achievedby creating conditions extraordinarilydisadvantageous
to candidates wholack administrative and financial resources.
On the other hand, the conductand result of the Duma campaignforced
national-caliber politicianswith significant reserves of citizens'trust-Zyuganov,
Yavlinsky,Nemtsov, and Zhirinovsky-not torun.
It is not out of the question that eventhose candidates expected to
win lessthan 7-10%-Glaziev andKhakamada-will be disqualified forone reason
or another during thepresidential registration and campaignperiods.
Judging from VTsIOM-A's latestpoll (conducted at the end of January),Putin's
standing in the presidentialrace has already reached 79%. Glazievtrails
him with 4%, and all theother candidates are at 1% or less. IfGlaziev
and Khakamada are taken outof the race and the elections turn intoa completely
grotesque spectacle ofPutin running against only his ownshadow (Mironov),
political puppetsand third-string politicians, this willbe an important
sign that the presentregime has no need to bother evenwith a charade of
From Regional Political Regimes to Unification
The story of establishing a new Russiangovernment is one of pitting
elitegroups against each other in a strugglefor influence and consolidation
ofpower and resources. At the beginningof the 1990s, an alliance between
Yeltsinand regional elites neutralizedinternal opposition, Communists
andstatists in the Supreme Soviet. Thisprocess led to a decentralization,
atfirst controlled and later not, that wasbuttressed by the 1993 Constitution.
By 2000, the asymmetry and negotiatedcharacter of the federation hadresulted
in the lack of a unified legalsystem and an enormous number ofcontradictions
between the Constitutionand provincial laws.
In the political sphere, "economicprivileges in exchange for loyalty"was
the general rule of thumb in informalnegotiations between more orless
autonomous regional regimesand the central government (the "Center").
This deal primarily took theform of regions' delivering the necessary
votes to the Center during
presidential and parliamentary elections.The political systems and regimes
inthe regions were varied, ranging frompolycentrism with large free zones(for
example, the provinces of Karelia,Sverdlovsk and Perm) to ethnicallynuanced
authoritarian regimes(as in Kalmykia, Bashkortostan, andTatarstan). The
political diversity ofthe regions not withstanding, they allhad one thing
in common: their chiefexecutives successfully took controlof regional
business and local selfgovernment.In return for maintaining loyalty tothe
Center, regional and local electionswere entirely farmed out to localelites,
although there were consultationswith the Center, especially forgubernatorial
Unlike the Kremlin,regional leaders oftenhave rather strongchallengers
with financialresources and,most importantly, theresource of publictrust.
Under these circumstances, evenwhen open conflicts arose as withPrimorsky
Krai governor YevgenyNazdratenko, the Center was not in aposition to find
coercive levers andhad to resort instead to bargainingfrom a position
Thus, while Nazdratenko did wind upleaving his gubernatorial post, he
receiveda ministerial appointmentwhile his prot?g? won the replacementelection
Beginning in 2000, with the strictimplementation of Putin's reforms
offederation structure, the regional legislationwas largely brought into
linewith federal law. In the politicalsphere, regional heads lost institutionalrepresentation
at the federallevel-in the Federation Council-along with immunity. Additionally,they
can no longer appoint the headsof power organs in the regions.On top of
that, the creation of sevennew supra-regions ("federal districts")placed
governors under new "bosses"who not only controlled them but
cutthem off from the direct cash flowfrom the Center. In addition, Moscowgained
the power to remove governorsand mayors from office, albeit onlywith a
court ruling. Interbudgetaryrelations changed also: a large portionof
taxes collected in the regions havenow been transferred to the Center.
According to the 2004 budget, only38% of taxes collected in the regionscan
be used locally.
With the adoption of the law on partiesand amendments to electoral legislation,the
system for electing regionalparliaments was standardized.
Half of each legislative assembly isnow elected through party lists,
inwhich regionally based parties areexcluded from participation. Previously,these
regional parties had effectivelyserved as political machines forincumbent
governors. This reformthus further limits the power of regionalheads while
augmenting that ofthe Center.
In the last three years, the overallmode of center-periphery relations
hasalso changed: governors are expectednot only to be politically loyal
but alsoeffective in making regional economicand social decisions, forcing
them toestablish new chains of command andto use effective management
The situation regarding loyalty hasalso changed. Whereas under Yeltsinthe
maxim "refrain from criticizingthe head of state and give help in
electionsif necessary" was perfectly fine,now regional heads must
deliver results.In the last Duma elections, regionalheads and the entire
administrative"vertical" under them workedfor United Russia,
and most governorsand mayors had already joined theparty just to be on
the safe side.
Regional Elections: What Will Change?
From Moscow's perspective, theleaders' obvious task now is to reprisethe
outcome of the Duma elections atthe provincial level, giving UnitedRussia
absolute domination in regionalparliaments. Yet this task isharder than
it seems.Unlike the Kremlin, regional leadersoften have rather strong
challengerswith financial resources and, mostimportantly, the resource
of publictrust. One example of this is the recentelection of Arkady Chernetsky,
longtimearch enemy of Governor EduardRossel, as mayor of Yekaterinburg.On
the other hand, the spectrum ofparties in the regions does not looklike
the virtual picture created by thefederal mass media, particularly whenit
comes to the importance of Kremlin-created pseudo-parties. One of thelatter,
Motherland, lacks infrastructure.
The Communist Party's regionalorganizations vary greatly in strengthand
orientation, ranging from nationalismto communist radicalism. Thereare
also internal rifts in United Russia.The organizations of Yabloko and
theUnion of Right Forces (SPS) havevarying degrees of influence as well.Those
regional elections that havealready been held under the new ruleshave
yielded results different fromthose of the Duma elections. In Vologda,Agrarian
Party representativesmade it into the regional parliament.
In Ingushetia, the Party of Life andYabloko were elected. In Volgograd,the
Communist Party garnered nearly26% of the vote.
Regional politicians used preexistingfederal parties as springboards
topolitical activity and their regionalbranches for financial support
andlegitimacy. Along with the presidentialelection, March 14 will bring
electionsin almost 30 regions if onecounts races for governors, mayors,and
local councils. In light of this,parties are an important resource notonly
in the party-list races but in allothers as well.
It is also already apparent that thealignment of forces is completely
differentin different provinces. For example,in Sverdlovsk Oblast, AltaiKrai,
St. Petersburg, and KrasnoyarskKrai, Yabloko and SPS are together ina
united bloc. In Karachaevo-Cherkessia, Yabloko has formed abloc with the
United Industrial Party.
In Yaroslavl, it is running independently.Will the Kremlin be in a position
tofirmly control all this diversity, especiallysince it is practically
impossibleto use its main instrument, federaltelevision networks, in regional
The answer to that question will bethe most important indicator ofwhether
Russian authoritarianism willbecome "tougher" or if there is
achance for a second wave of democratization.bloom in the future.