Tag Archives: Communist Party of the Russian Federation

Analysis of Russian Election Results

The results of last week’s election to the lower house of the Russian parliament, the State Duma, are now in. The big winners? The ruling United Russia party (UR) which won 50% of the vote. Second was the Communist Party of the Russian Federation at 19%; next at 7.5% was Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) as well as A Just Russia – For Truth; and last to win a batch a seats was a new formation, New People, which got just over 5%. Nine other parties collected 12% between them but failed to get over the 5% needed to get seats according to the party list system. 

I have analyzed the results in an article for RT (here) As I say, both UR, whose result was 5% down compared with the last election in 2016, and the Communists, whose vote was about 6% up, have reason to be happy. UR will win close to 320 seats out of the 450 available, a majority of over two-thirds. Meanwhile, the CPRF has enjoyed its best election for 20 years, consolidating its position as Russia’s main opposition. When Russians are dissatisfied with their rulers, the Communists are their first choice for an alternative. It’s a sobering thought for those in the West who imagine that a post-Putin Russia will be all love and cuddles. 

There’s only so much that one can put in a 1,000 word article, so I thought I should develop some points further here. 

1. Fraud. UR’s 50% is well above predictions. Pre-election polls had the party pegged at about 35% of decided, definite voters. In the past, undecideds have tended to gravitate towards UR or have just not voted at all, so it was to be expected that UR would get more than the 35% polled. 40% would not have been unreasonable. The state polling company VTsIOM was predicting 45%. But 50% is way beyond expectations. Unsurprisingly, some people consider the result more than a little fishy. 

Of course, some were going to shout fraud whatever happened. But UR’s showing certainly provides grounds for suspicion. The Central Electoral Commission cancelled results from several polling stations after cameras spotted ballot stuffing. Who knows how many others got away with it. 

The main target at this moment in time is the system of electronic voting. For the first time, Russians had the option of voting in person in the old fashion way with pen and paper, or online. Even before the election, critics were saying that the latter was a recipe for abuse, as it would be impossible for outsiders to verify the published results. 

What makes people doubly suspicious is that when the results were issued, it turned out that a higher percentage of online than in-person voters cast their ballots for UR. Moscow has become a particular focus of attention. The electronic results from Moscow were delayed for several hours. Until they were published, opposition (i.e. non-UR) candidates were leading in nearly all the Moscow constituencies. Once the electronic votes were declared, the balance tipped and UR won every single seat. Some people are calling foul, and suggesting that the delay was caused by the requirement to rig the result and calculate just how many extra votes were needed to give UR a win in each constituency.

The Moscow electoral commission stands by its results and says that the delay was due to the novelty of the system, the large number of electronic voters, and the fact that in Moscow electors had the option to change their vote, which supposedly caused some problems in the system. The commission says that it checked the results 4 times to ensure that they were accurate. You may believe it or not, as you wish.

An explanation for the Moscow anomaly could be that different categories of voters prefer different systems of voting. In last year’s US presidential election, for instance, postal voting was greatly preferred by Biden supporters. Trump appeared to be about to win several states until the results of the postal ballots were added, 80% of which went to Biden, swinging the states in favour of the latter. Perhaps a similar dynamic is at work in Russia. Maybe anti-UR voters didn’t trust electronic voting and so stayed clear of it, thus giving them a majority among paper voters but ensuring a majority the other way around among electronic voters.

Or maybe it was fraud, pure and simple. The very nature of electronic voting means that we don’t the evidence at our disposable to say definitively one way or the other. At any rate, the Moscow electronic results will provide those wanting to denounce the elections as fraudulent with a plausible means of doing so. Defeated Communist candidates are calling for protests in Moscow. It will be interesting to see if anyone turns up.

2. Liberal defeat and New People. If the Communists did well, Russia’s main liberal parties – Yabloko, Civic Platform, and the Party of Growth – did dismally, polling just 1.5% between the three of them, although it looks like they all might get one Duma deputy due to victories in single member constituencies. Yabloko did the best of the three, but at just over 1% this was its worst result ever. At this point it’s hard to see what purpose the party serves by continuing to exist. It’s a mere shell of its former self and I see no way that it can recover. It’s well past time for the banner of liberalism to pass on to somebody else.

That somebody could perhaps be the party New People, which garnered 5% and so is entitled to about a dozen seats in parliament. New People was only created last year, so it’s hard to say much about it or what it stands for. But as far as I’ve been able to find out (and I’m willing to be corrected if I have this wrong), it’s a moderately economically liberal party that stresses getting practical results in Russia’s localities rather than fighting with the authorities in Moscow. If you know your 19th century Russian liberal history, it strikes me as a little bit like the ‘small deeds’ liberalism of the late imperial zemstvo movement.

There’s a long-standing streak in Russian liberalism that regards fighting the state as pretty much the definition of what it means to be liberal. Gosudarstvennost’ (statehood) and obshchestvennost, (roughly speaking, hand-shakeable, liberally correct public opinion) are assumed to be irreconcilable enemies. Consequently, New People’s attitude to the central authorities makes many members of contemporary obshchestvennost’ consider the party to be little more than a bunch of Kremlin stooges. However, given that the alternatives have failed so utterly dismally, New People’s non-confrontational approach may be about the only hope that Russian liberalism has for a revival.

Will New People amount to anything? Only time will tell, but for now it can legitimately claim to have more appeal among liberally-minded urban professional types than do the likes of Yabloko. Likewise it has some good reasons for claiming that its approach offers greater prospects than the street liberalism of radicals like Alexei Navalny.

Which provides a suitable link for a discussion of ‘smart voting.’

3. Smart Voting. This is the scheme dreamt up by imprisoned activist Alexei Navalny and his team. It encourages electors to vote for whatever candidate in a given constituency has the best chance of defeating the candidate of United Russia. It doesn’t matter which party that first candidate is from – smart voting says that you should vote for him or her in order to stop UR from winning.

Navalny and his boosters claim that smart voting is the bees knees and has the powers that be trembling in their beds. The reality is that it is a dud.

Navalny’s top aide, Leonid Volkov, claims that smart voting won in nearly all the constituencies in Moscow and St Petersburg, at least until the authorities fiddled the vote with the online results. There’s a few things wrong with this.

In the first place, fraud or no fraud, at the end of the day, the candidates recommended by smart voting lost. In the second place, most of them were Communists. If they did well, it was because of the general upsurge in Communist support, not because of smart voting, which in any case didn’t identify the preferred candidates until the day before the election and so can’t have made that much of a difference. Calling Communists ‘Navalny-backed candidates’ and claiming credit for their success is a fraud that nobody should fall for.

And third, in some cases where non-UR candidates won, they did so despite smart voting recommending somebody else. For instance, the Communists beat UR into second place in the far eastern province of Yakutia, but smart voting told people in Yakutia to vote for A Just Russia. Anybody who followed smart voting’s advice would have helped UR not hindered it. Similarly, a Yabloko candidate managed to win a seat in a by-election for the Moscow City Council. But smart voting told electors to cast their ballot for the Communist candidate. This latter case, I think, proves the point that even in Moscow, the most liberal city in Russia, voters don’t do what smart voting tells them to.

To tell if smart voting had any effect, one would have to do a detailed study comparing local single-member constituency results with the votes cast for party lists in the same constituencies, taking into account issues which might distort the sample, such as the popularity or non-popularity of individual candidates. Obviously, this is beyond my means. But even if one did manage to find some minor impact in a few places, at the macro-level UR won nearly 200 of the 225 constituency seats. At the level which matters, in other words, smart voting failed totally.

This confirms what I’ve been saying for a long time, namely that Navalny and his team are over-hyped deadenders. It’s time to stop pretending otherwise.

For Christ and Communism!

The inter-war Young Russians movement led by emigre Alexander Kazem-Bek had the wonderful slogan “For Tsar and Soviets!” A modern day equivalent might be “For Christ and Communism!” At least that’s what you might imagine judging by the statements of the leader of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF), Gennady Zyuganov.

As I point out in an article published today by RT (which you can read here), in the run up to parliamentary elections this month in Russia Zyuganov has been reiterating a claim he’s made before that Jesus was the original communist (which makes you wonder why the Communist Party of the Soviet Union expended so many bullets exterminating Jesus’s followers). If it seems odd, it is, but it’s entirely in keeping with the general thrust of Zyuganov’s ideology over the past 30 years, which is a curious blend of seemingly incompatible elements.

Digging into Zyuganov’s past for the purposes of writing the article revealed something rather curious to me. If you go back to the mid-1990s, when he was pressing on Boris Yeltsin’s heals and looked likely at one point to beat Yeltsin in the 1996 presidential election, you find Zyuganov saying all sorts of things which seemed outlandish at the time, but are nowadays absolutely mainstream in Russia. As I note in my RT article, Zyuganov was well ahead of the curve in claiming that Russia was a unique civilization, that it was under attack from the West, that it must abandon liberalism, that it must protect ‘traditional’ Christian values, and so on. Although Zyuganov lost in 1996, he ultimately won in the sense that the Russian state has co-opted many of his ideas and made them its own.

This, of course, hasn’t helped the CPRF. If anything, this act of co-optation has taken the ground from beneath it. And this is not a unique case. A study of Russian political rhetoric reveals a quite interesting phenomenon whereby ideas put out by members of the so-called ‘systemic’ opposition, such as Zyuganov and Vladimir Zhirinovsky, eventually find their way into the mouths of Putin and other senior officials. And this leads me onto the point of this post, for it reveals something quite interesting about the nature of Russian politics, namely the responsiveness of Russia’s rulers, especially Putin, to fluctuations in public opinion and the overall ideological inclinations of the Russian people.

I read an interesting analysis once that said that while authoritarian regimes are not ‘responsible’ to the people, in that the people have few means of holding their leaders to account, let alone getting rid of them, authoritarian regimes can be very ‘responsive’ to the public.

One shouldn’t go too far with that – the fact that an authoritarian system may be more responsive than a notionally democratic one, doesn’t mean that that is generally the case, and so shouldn’t be used as an argument for authoritarian rule. But, it’s true nonetheless.

That in turn makes one consider what is truly ‘democratic’. It’s easy to get stuck on the mechanics of elections, and assume that because a state has free and fair elections, then it enjoys popular sovereignty. But one may have the mechanics of democracy without the state being in any way responsive to popular opinion. By contrast, the alert dictator may, in order to stay in power, be far more responsive to popular demands. Which then begs the question – in which country are the people really in control?

Anyway, the point is that Putin and his government belong in the responsive authoritarian category. That’s a large factor in their political success. There’s a tendency to imagine that everything in Russia comes from the top down, and that insofar as there is a regime ideology, it’s one that is foisted on the people by the government. But it’s actually a two way process – the regime has shown itself adept at latching onto trends in public sentiment and making them its own. It thereby disarms opponents, and secures its own power. But doing so means that it’s a follower as much as a leader.

So perhaps Zyuganov thinks that he’ll gain a few votes by playing the religion card, but his problem is that by now there isn’t a major political force in Russia which isn’t doing the same thing. In essence, the triumph of his ideas has made him redundant. It could be that the CPRF makes some gains in the parliament elections on 19 September, but a triumphant return to power seems most unlikely.

Communists for God

Discussions about amending the Russian constitution continue. As I mentioned previously, the Russian government has submitted a formal proposal to the State Duma, providing details on how the government believes the constitution should be changed. The proposal has already passed its first reading. In the meantime, however, all sorts of other people have thrown out all sorts of other ideas to tack onto the government’s proposal. Many of these are being discussed in the commission that Vladimir Putin set up to discuss the issue, and it seems possible that some of the ideas will end up before the Duma when the bill to amend the constitution comes up for its second reading in the coming weeks.

Today, for instance, the online newspaper Vzgliad reported that Putin had reacted positively to a suggestion by the Director of the Hermitage Mikhail Piotrovskii that the constitution should be amended to strengthen the idea that ‘culture is Russia’s unique inheritance, which is preserved by the state.’ Responding to Piotrovskii, Putin said that culture ‘is the nation’s DNA, which makes us the multinational Russian [Rossiiskii] people, and shows our originality. We’re thinking of how to do that.’

One integral feature of most cultures is religion. And so it should perhaps not come as a surprise that some people want to include God in the Russian constitution. Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church made this proposal a week or so ago, and it rapidly gathered support in influential circles. TV talk show host Vladimir Solovyov, for instance, boosted the idea on his evening show, and now the head of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, Gennady Zyuganov, has said that he has no objection. Asked about including God in the constitution’s preamble, Zyuganov commented that,

It’s an image that is in line with the main moral and spiritual values of our state. … When I studied the Bible, the Epistles of Paul the Apostle […] it contains the main slogan of communism: ‘He who does not work, neither shall he eat.’ As a matter of fact, we borrowed a lot in the Moral Code of the Builder of Communism from the Bible. And if anyone tries to say otherwise, they just have to put those documents side by side.

It may seem odd that the Communists are turning to God, but it’s hardly the first time Zyuganov has done this. In fact, he’s been attempting to fuse communism and Christianity for the best part of three decades. And back in 2014 Patriarch Kirill recognized the Communist leader’s devotion to the Church by awarding him an order ‘for glory and honour’. With the Communists on board (or at least not opposed), the Patriarch’s proposed constitutional amendment has at least some chance of success.

I think that this case is interesting for a couple of reasons. First, it shows what happens when the Russian government invites the public for input into fundamental issues connected to the nature and purpose of the state. The government’s own proposal pretty much preserves the liberal autocratic nature of the constitution. But once civil society, including Mr Piotrovskii and Patriarch Kirill, were asked for their ideas, they started introducing matters which the guardians of the liberal autocracy had never considered – most notably, issues of culture and religion start raising their head. It perhaps gives one a sense of the direction Russian politics might take if it indeed became less autocratic.

Second, much has been written in the past 20 years about the alleged political influence of the Russian Orthodox Church. Academic studies which I’ve read on the topic suggest that this influence isn’t nearly as great as often claimed. The fate of Patriarch Kirill’s proposal to include God in the constitution will, therefore, be a very valuable case study to determine just how much pull the Church really has. Far from everybody supports Kirill’s amendment. According to Interfax, ‘Russian State Duma Committee on State Building and Legislation Chairman Pavel Krasheninnikov has opposed this initiative.’ Putin himself has remained silent on the matter. It will be interesting to see who wins.