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Rossiyskaya Gazeta, 25 June 2003

Voters Nabbed by Networks. Election Race Begins: Political Parties Seek Support from Virtual World

By Anna Zakatnova

When parties start fighting for the voter's attention, everything is brought into play. Ranging from films with foul language which have mysteriously aired or brawls on the Duma floor to high technologies. There is every reason to believe that during the new election season the Internet will be in particular demand in party circles.

The latest amendments to election legislation impose fairly tough restrictions on the media as a campaign and propaganda tool. But the use of the Internet in election campaigning is not regulated by legal documents. Consequently there is no threat of warnings from the Ministry of Press or of being closed down by court ruling. In this respect the Internet proves to be particularly valuable for party newspapers, after all, even if they are closed down it will still be possible to disseminate material, albeit to a more limited audience.

Parties' fondness for the Internet has gone so far that Yabloko members have even proposed using the Net for public supervision of the elections. The party believed that conveying data via the Internet as well as drawing up primary protocols and publishing the results of voter exit polls could help to prevent data falsification and rigging.

In addition, for most parties the Internet is the simplest way of managing regional branches from the capital. The latest decisions of the apparatus, campaign material, photographs, and fresh slogans can all be dispatched over the Net far more rapidly. Hence, the CPRF, for instance, at its recent plenum discussed the need to have a computer position with Internet access in every regional branch with far greater fervor than intra-party disputes or its election platform. Needless to say, maintaining a web site is a costly pleasure, hence every party usually has a home page that is produced in Moscow but only certain regional organizations have enough money to maintain their own sites.

Sometimes, however, the regional branches' web sites make an even more striking impression than the capital's web pages. Thus, a report appeared on 7 January this year on the site of the Kostroma branch of United Russia that the party was conducting the "Heartache for Russia" action. People were invited to leave a "piece of their pain" in a special book. It was promised that they would be analyzed and "aid programs for the region would be drawn up on this basis."

Parties represented in the Duma -- United Russia, the CPRF, the LDPR (Liberal Democratic Party of Russia), the People's Party, the Union of Right-Wing Forces, and Yabloko -- keep a very careful eye on their Internet pages. The work of the Duma faction is one of the most successful ways of attracting visitors to your site during the period between elections. Furthermore web sites are used not just for a party's own propaganda but also for information-gathering. Thus, the Union of Right-Wing Forces' site is conducting a poll on the subject of "How do you view the fact that Vladimir Putin has transferred the functions of the Federal Government Communications and Information Agency and the Federal Border Service to the Federal Intelligence Service?" And the LDPR is still seeking allies for the possible use of non-standard vocabulary, even though the relevant draft law has already been turned down and is consequently asking visitors "Do you support the idea of Russian language reform?" The value of these polls is obvious only to party members themselves: after all, with the help of these polls web site owners can test their visitors' potential enthusiasm for party matters.

Other mandatory rubrics encountered on all party web sites invariably include the work of the press service and press reviews. However, the trouble with all press releases on the web sites is that they are always late, the texts are posted at best 24 hours later. Hence it is usually not clear for whom they might be intended, apart from people wanting to study poor-quality PR, after all, by that time journalists have already had time to write their pieces.

The most original rubrics are to be found on the LDPR and People's Party web site. Zhirinovsky's associates obviously gravitate toward philosophical reflection, calling their sections "Political Rudiments," "The Duma from Within," "Such Is Life." The idea of the "Rudiments of Politics" rubric has obviously been borrowed from the immortal work "From Two to Five." The Rudiments explain the nature of men, women, the environment, Ukraine, fascism, officials, and the Russian question in an extremely unique way. The rudimentary piece about "officials" begins as follows: "It is possible to combat corruption, but only if officials are afraid of the president. Officials need to be scared of the president in conjunction with administrative reform."

Raykov's associates, without beating around the bush, have exploited the word "people's" to the full in the names of their rubrics. There are "People's Opinion," "People's News," "People's Affairs," and even "People's Letters." The idea of placing working people's letters alongside Raykov's official letters is undoubtedly a good PR move, encouraging visitors to visit the new party's web site more frequently.

Lastly, each party web site has several other mandatory pages of information covering the association's policy and charter documentation and the leaders' personal data, as well as a page for anybody who wants to join the party. Most frequently the party leader has his own web site and, by the way, it is quite possible to judge the relationship between the party leader and his colleagues from the ratio of information on them on the general web page. For instance, several new personalized web pages for party leaders who will evidently be promoted during the election campaign have appeared on the CPRF web site in time for the campaign. The LDPR web site contains a fairly large amount of information about party members but it is all focused around Zhirinovsky. Thus, all you get on the entire LDPR central apparatus, which is presented as one of the party's "main links," is just a piece of the map of Moscow, explaining how to reach this link. A great deal of space is devoted on the party web site to Grigory Yavlinskiy's colleagues, furthermore, the information is grouped so as to indicate which members of the Yabloko Duma faction specialize in which areas (local self-government, military reform, education reform).

But the leaders also have individual web pages. Boris Nemtsov was one of the first to open his own personal web site in his days as Deputy Prime Minister in 1998, furthermore at the time it was visited by 11,000 people in just three days -- a kind of record. By the 2000 presidential election of the 12 Russian Federation presidential contenders only Stanislav Govorukhin and Aman Tuleyev did not have their own web sites. The Union of Right-Wing Forces currently holds the absolute record in terms of the number of personal leadership web sites: Each of its five co-chairmen have their own web site. Interestingly Anatoly Chubais' web site stands out even among right-wingers who are inclined to bizarre gestures. It contains funny stories and caricatures of Chubays, which are fairly unpalatable, moreover, like the following: "A popular people's swear word containing the letters U and Y? Surely you can guess: 'Chubais'..."

Party web sites are also hacked into. The best-known case is the appearance on the LDPR leader's web site in December 1999 of a photograph of Zhirinovsky holding Zyuganov's head in his hands. The second record in terms of popularity was set then -- 4,000 people visited the site to admire the image. According to Rambler.ru statistics, there are only four party web sites in the top 100. The CPRF is in 43rd place, the Union of Right-Wing Forces is in 62nd place, United Russia is in 66th, and Yabloko is in 67th. Admittedly, the Union of Right-Wing Forces is clearly leading in terms of the number of visitors since the site was registered -- 178,187, and 25,808 in the past 30 days. Yabloko is visited the least frequently of the four.

Over the past few months party web sites have obviously been refreshed and current information has begun to appear more frequently. Thus, the Union of Right-Wing Forces web page contains extracts from the news reel and on the United Russia web site news of party life, including the regions, is carried virtually on-line. At the same time there is still not much blatant PR and that is understandable, since parties are only now writing their election platforms and dreaming up slogans to attract the voters.


See also:

State Duma Elections 2003

Rossiyskaya Gazeta, 25 June 2003

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