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Campaign in the run-up to December’s parliamentary elections in Russia is in full swing, although so far it has been proceeding rather smoothly, with no major unexpected developments. Traditionally, it is accompanied by minor rows, however pre-election debates neither stir any interest nor carry any message. Despite the fact that the ruling party, United Russia has deigned to take part in these debates, for the first time in its entire life. The election campaign, according to sociologists, is proceeding on the background of general apathy and growing skepticism.
Early voting started from Friday in remote and hard-to-reach localities across the country, at polar stations, and onboard ships that on the balloting day, or on December 4, are to be at sea. According to the Central Election Commission, it is expected that some 150,000 voters, or slightly more than one percent of eligible voters, will take part in early balloting.
Seven parties have registered to vie for seats in the State Duma, or lower parliament house. Of these seven, only four, namely United Russia, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF), the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), and Just Russia, have chances to get over the seven-percent barrier and win seats in a new Duma.
The All-Russia Public Opinion Centre (VCIOM) has published its regular electoral rating of political parties. This time, the question was “If the elections were held this Sunday, which political party would you vote for?” A total of 40 percent of respondents said they would vote for United Russia, or by three percent less than a week ago.
The communist party has added one percent to its former rating, winning 13 percent of votes, according to VCIOM.
This week, Just Russia has finally managed to score seven percent of respondents’ votes, enough to have a faction in the Duma.
Liberal Democrats have been keeping their electoral rating for three weeks in a row. As many as nine percent of the polled invariably say they are ready to vote for Zhirinovsky and his party.
As for the three other parties, Yabloko, Patriots of Russia, and Right Cause, their ratings have hardly ever changed. Yabloko is supported by 1.38 percent of the polled, Patriots of Russia – by 0.31 percent, and Right Cause – by 0.56 percent.
Televised pre-election debates seem to arouse little interest among general public. Ordinary people take next to no interest in party programs, and debates participants are too dull to glue people to television sets, analysts say.
“It looks like they have nothing to debate about, because all their eloquent rhetoric is directed towards the past. We see neither new ideas nor new players,” the Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper writes. “It seems that the only thing opposition parties can really do is to criticize the authorities, but for these ends debates are the worst of possible formats, because they are about advocating a certain point of view. But when a party lacks any clear program, it has nothing to advocate. So, instead, we have to listen to a torrent of absolutely populist slogans that are highly unlikely to ever be materialized.”
Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov is roaming about TV and radio programs with a tiny piece of paper he calls his program. It calls for nationalization of enterprises and imposing a progressive income taxation scale. But similar ideas are voiced by both the Liberal Democratic Party, and by Just Russia. Then, what is the difference between Communists, Liberal Democrats and Just Russia?, the newspaper asks rhetorically. The debates can hardly ever clarify the difference.
Once unchallenged leaders, the Communist Party and Liberal Democrats are gradually climbing down. Whereas they used to have all the attention by virtually making a slapstick comedy of debates, now the trick does not work any longer. Suffice to watch their TV debates with United Russia, rather than with their alikes.
It was not very easy for CPRF leader Gennady Zyuganov to debate with a United Russia leader, Sergei Neverov. Neverov did nothing but merely asked if there were any relation between the “popular happiness” rhetoric with the fact that the CPRF was headquartered in a building that used to house a kindergarten. Zyuganov seemed to be thrown off his stride till the end of the debates, when the United Russia man suggested that the building should be used to its original design, or as a kindergarten.
It is obvious that the chief political task for the next Duma is to be putting the current party system in proper order, i.e. with primaries, ideology, and personnel rotation, the newspaper draws a conclusion. The situation is ripe for changes, and the debates have demonstrated only too well that these changes cannot be put off any longer, the newspaper stresses.
“The current election campaign is somewhat more spicy and interesting than the previous ones,” Boris Makarenko, the chairman of the Centre of Political Technologies, told Itar-Tass. “Competition is tougher, which stems from the fact that regulating rules have been slightly allayed.”
Moreover, he said, United Russia’s decision to take part in pre-election debates has, to a certain extent, added to augmenting competitive spirits. Although, in his words, the debates were “rather dull.” No wonder – public politics “have long been kept down” in Russia, he noted.
Protest votes at the forthcoming elections will “go in all possible directions,” Makarenko forecasts. “Communists will win such votes because they are the biggest opposition party. It might be a wise option for those who are against the current authorities,” he said. Just Russia, in his words, is likely to win votes thanks to “the fine banner of social justice” and its “intermediary position” between political extremes, while Liberal Democrats will not fail to use growing nationalistic moods in society.
Meanwhile, another distinctive feature of the current election campaign is a social background of apathy and skepticism.
A public opinion poll Levada-Centre published on Friday demonstrates that the bulk of respondents are reluctant to ever be involved in any kind of political life, both federally or locally. People are simply sure that they could never have any influence on what is going on in the country.
The overwhelming majority of Russians (82 percent) are sure they can influence nothing. As many as 66 percent of the polled said they believed the current interests of the authorities have nothing to do with the interests of society. According to the poll results, 85 percent of respondents think that next to all Russian politicians do politics for reasons of pure self-profit.
MOSCOW, November 18