Saturday, March 7, 2009

Window on Eurasia: If Parliamentary Elections Had Been Honest, United Russia Would Still Have Won a Majority, Albeit a Smaller One, Analysts Say

Paul Goble

Vienna, March 7 – Direct falsification and the use of what are euphemistically called “administrative resources” gave the pro-Kremlin United Russia Party 37 more seats in the Duma than the simple majority it would have won without such pressure, according to a new book-length statistical analysis released this week.
But even as this research was being released, a leading Soviet-era dissident argued that even if the opposition had won a majority then or should win a majority in upcoming elections, the consequences for Russia would be small not only because the powers that be would ignore such outcomes but also because the opposition itself would likely behave like those now in office
Whether such a pessimistic judgment is correct, of course, is certain to be disputed, but it reflects the conclusion of many anti-government activists in Soviet times that the political culture which defines the current leaders of the opposition is not very different than the one that informs the current powers that be.
This week, Andrey Buzin, an analyst at the Nikkolo-M political consulting firm and a former Academy of Science specialist on mathematical modeling of social trends, and Arkady Lyubarev, a specialist on statistics now at the Moscow Independent Institute of Elections, released a book on last year’s federal voting (
Entitled “Crime without Punishment, Administrative Technologies of the Federal Elections of 2007-2008” (in Russian), the book concludes on the basis of three different models that the misuse of office by the party of power gave its supporters more seats and its opponents fewer seats than a free and fair election would have yielded.
Had the elections been free and fair, the two say, the party of power United Russia would have received 30.88 million votes and won 278 seats, some 55.6 percent of the total in the Duma. But because of administrative pressure, they argue, it received 13.83 million additional votes and thus 37 more seats, giving it a “constitutional” and not just numerical majority.
In the Duma now, United Russia has 64.3 percent of the seats, while the three other parties, the KPRF, the LDPR and the Just Russia Party have a combined total of 27.4 percent. Had the elections been honest, the two say, United Russia’s share would have fallen to 55.6 percent of the seats, with the other increasing proportionally.
In principle, that would have changed the power relations between United Russia and the others and potentially between the Duma and the government and presidency, at least on a symbolic level given the likelihood even near certainty that both the Kremlin and the Russian White House would have found ways of ignoring the opposition’s views anyway.
In an essay posted on the website yesterday, Aleksandr Podrabinek, a former Soviet-era political prisoner, the editor of PRIMA News, and a member of the leadership of the new Solidarity Movement, said that unfortunately in many ways the opposition is “a mirror image” of the government (
His despairing comments about the opposition were prompted by two recent events – the statement of a Solidarity leader who welcomed the use of the militia against the opponents of Solidarity and suggests that would become the norm and a journalist who argued that the first principle of journalism must be to do no harm, something appropriate for medicine but not news.
Having examined these two events, Podrabinek poses the troubling question: “What then would happen if suddenly Solidarity in its current form turned up in power? Most likely, nothing would change if the place of Vladimir Putin were taken by Sergey Gorodilin,” who welcomed the use of police power against his group’s opponents.
Different people would be targeted by the new regime than are being targeted now, but the “new” rulers almost certainly would see it as their right to use “administrative resources” to silence “their” opponents and to ensure “their” victories at the polls, attitudes that would ultimately subvert the progress they claim to represent.
But unfortunately, the former Soviet political prisoner continues, “alas, [this] problem concerns not only Solidarity but if you will the entire democratic opposition. [Indeed,] it is possible that the opposition is only a mirror image of the powers that be, its antithesis as concerns goals but its analogue as concerns means.”
“Certainly, goals define ideology,” Podrabinek says, “but in many cases, means are defined by mentality, education and culture. Therefore, as far as means are concerned, the opposition although it distances itself from the powers that be has not been able to go very far in this direction.” And until it does, its coming to power would change less than many assume.

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