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Electoral intrigue: how many votes will go to United Russia?

December 02, 2011, 17:36 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila

MOSCOW, December 2 (Itar-Tass) — Generally speaking, results of the forthcoming elections to the Russian State Duma lower parliament house are quite predictable, although they may yield some surprises. The key intrigue around the December 4 balloting is how many votes the ruling United Russia party might score, whether it is able to win more than 50 percent of the vote to keep a constitutional majority, or two thirds of seats, in a new Duma. Another question is the result of the Just Russia party, a party that, according to experts, may draw protest votes. And, finally, a third aspect – possible encroachments and their impact on the political situation in the country.

All the seven officially registered political parties are vying for Duma seats. Four of them, United Russia, Just Russia, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF), and the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), had factions in the previous, fifth, Duma. Opinion polls show that these four are sure to win seats in a new Duma as well.

Three other parties, Yabloko, Right Cause, and Patriots of Russia, had no representation in the State Duma, and sociologists say their chances to win Duma seat are next to nil.

To win seats in the State Duma a party needs to score at least seven percent of the vote. This year, however, under the amended election legislation, a party, which scores from five to seven percent of the vote, will be allowed to have one or two seats in parliament.

In the previous elections of 2007, United Russia, with President Vladimir Putin at the top of its election list, scored 64.30 percent of votes and won the constitutional majority, or 315 out of 450 seats, in the State Duma. The CPRF won 11.57 percent of votes, the LDPR – 8.14 percent, and Just Russia – 7.74 percent.

This time however the positions of the ruling party are not that stable. United Russia’s ratings have been going down in the past few months, although it was still well ahead of other parties. United Russia’s positions staggered after September 24, when it was announced that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who topped the United Russia list in the 2007 parliamentary elections and who has led the party since 2008, was not going to run in the 2011 Duma elections campaign. His place in the party list was ceded to President Dmitry Medvedev, while Putin himself was nominated as a candidate for president.

This change of places was met in society and in the ruling party as well quite ambiguously. Dmitry Medvedev at the top of the United Russia list was a surprise for party members. “Our campaign was tightly hinged on Putin, but with his name lacking in ballot papers, we got a technological problem, the Kommersant newspaper then cited United Russia spin doctors.

Hence, the party had to take hasty measures to re-shape the campaign but failed to find a good way to shift accents from its leader Vladimir Putin to Dmitry Medvedev. They say, Medvedev’s pet subject – modernization – is of little interest for the bulk of voters. The party’s centre began to issue instructions to regional offices when the campaign was already in full swing. Thus, instructions for party canvassers were issued in late October only.

Medvedev-led United Russia has put aside Putin’s project of the All-Russia Popular Front initiated in May. As an unregistered structure with no formal membership, the Front was proclaimed as a tool to bring new people, including those unaffiliated with any parties at all, to parliament. In summer, when entire industries enrolled in the Front, the authorities seemed to seek to build their election strategies on it. But after September 24, the Popular Front went off the forestage.

Meanwhile, United Russia’s ratings were going down week by week. Finally, Governor of the Omsk region, Leonid Polezhayev, a number one on the regional party list, said in public that he would not be surprised to see the party losing in his region. Appearing in the Governor’s Hour program of local television on November 29, he said that residents of the Omsk region, like people in the rest of Russia, have all reasons not to vote for the ruling party because of “corruption orgy” that rules the country. “Our people is wiser than it is believed to be, people will try to find a way to give vent to their discontent: somebody will vote for [LDRP leader Vladimir] Zhirinovsky, somebody – for [CPRF leader Gennady] Zyuganov, the rest – for somebody else,” said.

Distribution of protest votes is another question, since the “Against All” line has long been crossed off ballot papers. It looks like some people unhappy with the current authorities are going to just spoil ballot papers, as radical opposition wants. The bulk of them however, according to opposition media and the Internet, will cast their votes for any party other than United Russia.

According to latest polls, a surprisingly big number of people may cast their votes for Just Russia, the party led by former speaker of the Federation Council [upper parliament house] Sergei Mironov. Whereas a couple of months before polls showed that Just Russia was unlikely to get over the seven-percent barrier, recent polls demonstrate utterly different attitudes. Since its very birth in 2006, the party has been trying to get rid of its nickname of the “Kremlin project,” or a second ruling party. The situation began to change in early 2010, when Sergei Mironov laid it bare that his party was no longer going to support Vladimir Putin. This summer, the party was stripped off its key administrative resource, when its leader was sacked from the post of speaker of the upper house of Russian parliament. Since then, the party has been tending ever closer to the opposition.

Opposition parties, which were denied registration for Duma elections, have split into two camps. The Party of People’s Freedom (PARNAS) led by Mikhail Kasyanov, Boris Nemtsov and Vladimir Ryzhkov call on their supporters to come to polling stations to strikethrough their ballot papers, while popular blogger Alexei Navalny and his supporters call on people to vote for any party that is likely to score votes enough to win Duma seats to ruin United Russia’s monopoly.

Numerous encroachments have been reported in the course of the election campaign, and opposition thinks the voting day would not be an exclusion. Hundreds of complaints have been filed with election commissions and police. The opposition says infringements “have been put on an industrial-scale stream,” outnumbering those reported in the 2007 campaign “by times.”

The opposition plans to engage a record-breaking number of observers to counterbalance official inspectors and observers from the pro-Kremlin youth movement Nashi. The Communist party plans to commission the biggest number of observers – 264,000 across Russia. Just Russia also plans to delegate 7,794 people, including those enjoying the status of observers, and the number of Yabloko observers reaches 4,000.

Police will be put on alert on the voting day. Their basic task is to calm down observers, experts say.

More than 50,000 policemen and volunteer guards will be on duty on December 4, or by nearly 30,000 more than in presidential election in 2008. The authorities have already warned to dispel any unauthorized rallies on the voting day. Nonetheless, opposition leaders said they were not giving up the idea of protest actions.