Vienna, March 19 – The introduction of party-list voting in place of single- member-district polls is helping the Kremlin to marginalize its political opponents, but in non-Russian regions, this change is exacerbating inter-ethnic relations and weakening both republic governments and Russian control.
In an online essay, Sergei Markedonov, one of Moscow’s most thoughtful commentators on ethnic issues, not only pointed to the difficulties Daghestan had with the new system but outlined three reasons why Moscow should be concerned about them (http://www.prognosis.ru/news/region/2007/3/16/dagestan_elections.html).
Markedonov notes that in Daghestan, unlike the other regions where voting was conducted eight days ago, the authorities were unable to count the vote quickly and then had to acknowledge that there were massive irregularities that called the outcome of this election into question.
But however problematic that development is – and it is increasingly widespread in the Russian Federation under President Vladimir Putin – the vote in Daghestan points to three developments, Markedonov suggests, which may prove even more threatening to political stability and Russia’s national interests.
First, the introduction of party-list voting undermines what has been the basis of Daghestan’s relative stability over the past 15 years. That is because, Markedonov notes, it eliminated the ethnic gerrymandering of single member districts that had ensured representation in the political system for many of even the smallest groups.
With that system now gone, he continues, ever more of the members of such groups are likely to view the government as illegitimate and to be more prepared to listen to the appeals of Islamist extremists, hardly an outcome that serves “all-Russian national interests.”
Second, the marginalization of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) which secured only a few seats (after earlier reports had suggested it had failed to do so -- see http://www.nr2.ru/policy/110026.html) and the Union of Right Forces (SPS) further exacerbates the situation by effectively removing from the Daghestani scene the only two groups explicitly committed to an itnernationalist perspective.
Consequently, however welcome to the Kremlin the elimination of the KPRF as a serious force in Daghestan, Markedonov argues, its departure highlights the ways in which party politics in Daghestan is becoming more, not less ethnic, as a result of the change in voting systems.
To be successful under the new arrangements, the Moscow analyst says, party leaders in Daghestan must base themselves on one or two of the four largest nationalities of the republic. To the extent they do so, however, they will become representatives of those groups rather than consolidators of broader social and political interests.
Not only will that set them at odds with the smaller national communities excluded by the new arrangements, but it will also almost certainly lead to clashes between the major groups, a development that will “deepen” the political crisis in Daghestan and possibly render it ungovernable.
And third, the increasing ethnicization of parties in turn will have the effect of ethnicizing the parliament and the government, creating new classes of ethnic winners and ethnic losers – something that will be exploited by both but that will make the building of broader coalitions almost impossible.
These developments, Markedonov argues, are only to be expected “in regions where there are no traditions of multi-party governance,” where the primordial ties of ethnicity rather than broader social interests define political loyalty and provide the basis for stability.
Thus, the new system of voting in Daghestan represents a step backward in that republic’s political development. But unfortunately, Markedonov concludes, the damage there, which threatens the stability of the entire North Caucasus is not going to end there
Nine months from now, Moscow plans to introduce this form of elections not only to six other non-Russian republics in the North Caucasus but to also to the Middle Volga republics and Tuva as well. Unless that decision is modified, the problems that Daghestan now faces almost certainly will become problems for the entire Russian Federation.