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Russian Election Watch, February 2004

After The Presidential Elections.
The Political Regime: Regional Variations

By Galina Michalyova, Head of the Yabloko Party's Analytical Center

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 political results.

* United Russia has incorporated most governors, but significant provincial opposition remains.

* Regional elections may provide the basis for a second wave of Russian democratization.

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 courses.

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 elite.

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 democracy.

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 elections.

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 of disadvantage.

Thus, while Nazdratenko did wind upleaving his gubernatorial post, he receiveda ministerial appointmentwhile his prot?g? won the replacementelection for governor.

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 methods.

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 elections?

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.


Russian Election Watch, February 2004

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