- Owing to the country’s seven decades as a one-party totalitarian state, the status of political parties in Russia is complex and protean. In 1990, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) abandoned its monopoly on political representation, opening the door to opposition parties in the Soviet Union. The domain that experienced the most rapid growth was nationalist parties; in each of the non-Russian union republics and some of Russia’s ethnic republics, the lifting of the ban on opposition parties resulted in a flurry of ethnically oriented political organizations, many of which had been previously established as cultural organizations. Other parties such as Democratic Russia, the Green Alternative, and the Ukrainian Beer Lovers’ Party were also founded during this period.The dissolution of the Soviet Union in late 1991 disrupted the embryonic multiparty system in Russia. The inherent weakness of Russia’s civil society and comparative lack of economic factors reflecting real social divisions amongst the masses provided few bases on which to develop political platforms in such a short period of time. In the political vacuum, the old Soviet nomenklatura> were rather effective in maintaining their status as political elites, though they rebranded themselves for the rapidly evolving system. Boris Yeltsin, who was elected as the Russian Federation’s first president, was able to build a personal power base that did not rely on political parties. Following Yeltsin’s example, other prominent political figures used weak pseudoparties to advance their own political agendas during the first two years of independence.During this period, avidly pro-democratic parties were critically undermined by infiltration by the KGB. Yeltsin’s simmering rivalry with members of Russia’s parliament boiled over during the constitutional crisis of 1993, sending further shocks through the anemic protoparties of the Russian Federation. Out of the chaos, Yeltsin’s reforms provided some impetus for the development of a stronger, more coherent party system, though many political analysts argue that the changes actually weakened party politics. The new system for electing the 450 State Duma members, introduced in late 1993, was evenly split between a party list system of proportional representation and a single-member system that precluded the listing of the political party of the candidate on the ballot.Much to the president’s chagrin, this reorganization significantly aided Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), originally formed in 1989, and Gennady Zyuganov’s newly constituted Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF). In the party list poll, the LDPR, which finished first, won 23 percent of the vote in elections for the new Duma, while the KPRF ranked third, taking 12.4 percent of the vote. Yegor Gaydar’s pro-Yeltsin Democratic Choice of Russia placed second, with 15.5 percent of the vote; in terms of single constituencies, the party placed first, winning 24 single constituencies. The Agrarian Party of Russia, which genuinely represented the interests of a welldefined constituency, namely farmers, also performed well. In the subsequent period, the use of political parties as fronts for individual political aspiration grew, resulting in the evolution of “parties of convenience.”Yeltsin unsuccessfully attempted to impose a two-party system from above through the creation of Viktor Chernomyrdin’s Our Home—Russia (NDR) and a competing loyal opposition party led by Ivan Rybkin, further fragmenting the political party system. In the 1995 Duma elections, the KPRF emerged as the most popular party, outpacing the NDR by more than two to one and capturing 157 seats. The liberal Yabloko party also did well. Four years later, electoral reform made it more difficult for small parties to contest for the election, due to imposed monetary requirements of the one-year advance registration. The KPRF narrowly edged out the pro-government Unity (Iedinstvo) party, which, along with third-place finisher Fatherland—All Russia, was formed exclusively for the elections. The Union of Right Forces, formed out of the Democratic Choice of Russia, placed fourth.With the rise of Vladimir Putin, the steady growth of the KPRF was reversed, and in the 2003 parliamentary elections, the pro-Kremlin United Russia, which was formed in 2001 as a merger of Unity and Fatherland—All Russia, captured 37.5 percent of the vote. The Communists finished a disappointing second with only 12.6 percent, while Zhirinovsky’s LDPR won a respectable 11.5 percent of the vote. Liberal parties fared poorly, losing most of their seats in the Duma. In 2007, Putin instituted reforms making the elections by party list only, resulting in a further diminution of the number of political parties in the Russian Federation. Backed by a pliant media and enjoying support from regional governors fearful of losing their seats under the new system of presidential appointment that was established by the 2004–2005 electoral reforms, United Russia, as expected, took first place with a commanding 64 percent of the vote.Putin, in an attempt to maintain power, put himself on the United Russia ballot in preparation for assuming the office of prime minister in 2008. The cowed KPRF and the now pro-Kremlin LDPR generally held their positions, while a new “working man’s” party, Fair Russia, took fourth place. The parliamentary elections were criticized within and outside Russia as a carefully orchestrated vote of confidence in Putin’s leadership and totally lacking in genuine political competition. Marginal political figures like Garry Kasparov and radical groups like the National Bolshevik Party, which were barred from standing for office, represented the only anti-Putin voices in the campaign.With the ascendency of Dmitry Medvyedev, United Russia, now under Prime Minister Putin’s leadership, gave its full support to the new president. While the KPRF has enjoyed some level of political rehabilitation with the 2008–2009 global financial crisis, most political parties in Russia have been thoroughly sapped of influence, while the pro-government “party of power” continues to dominate the parliament. However, United Russia no longer acts as a rubber stamp for the president due to Putin’s dramatic increase in the power of the premiership since 2008.
Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. Robert A. Saunders and Vlad Strukov. 2010.
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