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Fair Russia’s success is one of parliamentary election sensations

December 06, 2011, 16:21 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila

MOSCOW, December 6 (Itar-Tass) —— The main outcome of last Sunday’s parliamentary elections in Russia, namely, the ruling party’s loss of monopoly, has not obscured other election sensations. One of the main of these was the unexpected success of the party Fair Russia, headed by ex-speaker of the Federation Council, Sergei Mironov. Just three months before the election most social scientists predicted that Fair Russia, which with Mironov’s resignation lost the administrative resource, would not enter into the State Duma at all. However, the party not only cleared the 7- percent barrier, but even outplayed the Liberal Democratic Party of Vladimir Zhirinovsky.
Experts say that Fair Russia, which positions itself as a Social Democratic party and is affiliated with the Socialist International, owes its success not only to an effective election campaign, but also to a great share of protest votes, including those of people with liberal views, who would not vote either for United Russia, or for the Communists. Now the future of Fair Russia will largely depend on whether it will be able to properly put to use the gained political capital.
The success of Fair Russia can be called a breakthrough: the party managed to outdo the Liberal Democratic Party and become the third largest faction in the State Duma. The Fair Russia party almost doubled its parameters - from 7.74% in 2007 to 13.22% this year. It collected the votes of 8,474,168 men and women (in contrast to 5,383,639 votes four years ago).
Fair Russia, says the daily Moskovskaya Pravda, not only mobilized the retirees, disaffected with the authorities, but managed to earn support from a large part of the liberal-minded electorate - in big cities Fair Russia showed results similar to that once achieved by right-wing parties in their prime.
Nobody could predict such an outcome just recently. According to all sociological polls the FR either balanced on the edge of the 7% barrier, or at best was to gain no more than 10% of the vote. The question of the party’s elementary political survival was on the agenda.
Fair Russia, a collection of disparate fragments of other political parties, cannot boast a firm "electoral core", in contrast to the Communist Party. In fact, the party has no clear ideology, and over the four years it has been in the State Duma there occurred no growth of confidence in it. Particularly harmful for the reputation of Fair Russia was the loss of State Duma’s deputy speaker, Alexander Babakov, who, after the dismissal of Mironov, joined Vladimir Putin’s All-Russia Popular Front - in fact, defected to United Russia. Some other fellow party members followed suit. When people unprepared for political shocks began to leave the party, experts interpreted this as a new birth of Fair Russia as an oppositional force.
Fair Russia will not enter into formal coalition agreements in the sixth State Duma, but will decide whether to throw its weight behind specific bills, Sergei Mironov said on Monday, when asked whether his party intended to enter into a coalition with other parties who had negotiated the qualification hurdle.
"There will be no formal agreements with anyone else,” he said. “We will be guided by a pragmatic approach and team up with those who support our bills. In particular, such initiatives as land tax exemption for the owners of small plots and the freeze on the housing and utilities tariffs. If someone is prepared to support these bills of ours, we shall be ready to unite."
Political analysts, meanwhile, have been looking for answers to the question what exactly explains the unexpected success of Fair Russia and their prospects.
"Probably the biggest surprise is Fair Russia’s third place - in my opinion, well-deserved,” said the general director of the International Institute of Political Analysis Yevgeny Minchenko in an interview to Finam FM. “They have held qualitative re-branding - from a stand-by ruling party they have transformed themselves into an oppositional party. It should be noted that, of course, the United Russia party, too helped them a lot with its tough criticism, which demonstrated that it was an oppositional party, indeed."
The success of Fair Russia should be associated with protest voting, political analyst Mikhail Remizov is quoted by the online periodical as saying. "That party was chosen by the electorate that wanted to vote against United Russia, but did not see itself as a supporter of the ideological parties - the Communist Party or the Liberal Democratic Party. It is an ideologically neutral protest electorate." Fair Russia positioned itself as a party opposed to all. This is precisely the capacity in which it acted. Another success factor, he added, was its popular leaders in several regions.
"Mironov’s party was rescued by his old friend Putin, who in doing so hardly thought of Mironov,” says the president of the Effective Politics Foundation, Gleb Pavlovsky. “The reshuffle at the end of September ruined United Russia’s position before the election and thereby created a window of opportunity for Fair Russia, which eagerly used its chance. What happens further remains to be seen. It all depends on what the party’s leadership and Mironov himself really want."
Pavlovsky is skeptical about the future of Fair Russia. "For some time they will be marking time in indecision, and then somehow they will find a chance to sell themselves in bulk," he believes.
In fact, Fair Russia is not a Social-Democratic Party, and it is unlikely it will ever be one, says political scientist Boris Makarenko. "The trouble is that the political space is devoid of the right-wing segment after the authorities ditched the Right Cause project," he told Itar-Tass. “If Fair Russia reads the voters’ message right, then it will move closer towards the center."
Fair Russia, he said, was in trouble lately, because the elite figures lost confidence in it. Now, when it becomes clear that the party is alive and kicking and it will be really hard to crush it, some elite-level figures may start joining it – businessmen and liberal professionals. If Fair Russia moves towards a social-liberal program, it can be very promising, concluded Makarenko.