Russia’s parliamentary elections may have revealed a slump in support for the ruling United Russia party, but it is still too early to talk about the decline of the country’s most powerful political force, analysts say.
They agree, though, that the results of Sunday’s State Duma vote present a challenge for the party’s traditional dominance over Russian political life.
With almost all the ballots counted, it seems as if Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev’s party has won around 49.6 percent of the vote, down from 64 percent in 2007. The result means the party will lose its two-thirds majority and the ability to rewrite the constitution at will.
But United Russia will enjoy a simple majority, sufficient to push through the majority of laws without having to bargain with other parties.
“Will United Russia be able to push through the party line in the State Duma? Of course they will,” political analyst Vladimir Pribylovsky said.
He added that the decline in the party’s share of the vote was a “moral blow” for United Russia rather than a defeat as such.
“If we compare United Russia’s [current] results to those gained at previous elections [in 2007],” said Alexei Mukhin of the Centre for Political Information, “We can say that United Russia was defeated.”
“But if we look at the situation objectively, it is absolutely obvious that United Russia maintains its leading position in the State Duma,” he added.
A constitutional majority is only required in a few cases – mainly to pass constitutional laws and amendments or to overcome a veto imposed on a law by the upper house of parliament, the Federation Council.
If needed, Pribylovsky said, Putin’s party will be able to persuade lawmakers from other parties to support its initiatives.
“The Federation Council is also Kremlin-oriented and quite loyal,” said Alexei Makarkin from the Center of Political Technologies.
As for United Russia, he said, “its result is a dream for any Western [political] party.”
But there were also other, more obvious “winners” in Sunday’s vote – namely the Communists and A Just Russia party, which are widely believed to have managed to accumulate the protest vote.
“The Communists and A Just Russia attracted the disappointed voters, many of whom represent the middle class,” Makarkin said.
The Communist Party, headed by its veteran leader Gennady Zyuganov, gained over 19 percent of the vote, increasing the number of its parliamentary seats to 92 from 57 in the previous State Duma.
A Just Russia, a center-left party that has long been seen as United Russia’s satellite in the State Duma, managed to gain more than 13 percent of the vote, some 5 percent more than four years ago. Its State Duma faction will now increase to 64 from 38 seats.
The “protesters” who supported the Communists and A Just Russia are “unhappy with the authorities,” although “many” of them voted for United Russia in 2007, Makarkin said.
“Their optimism is now gone, and their mood has changed… The more liberal part has swung to A Just Russia, the less liberal to the Communists,” he added.
Beginning of changes?
Nikolai Petrov from Moscow Carnegie Center said he believed that despite United Russia’s continuing political dominance, Sunday elections have “dramatically changed” the political landscape in Russia.
“United Russia has lost its initiative, and now the question is whether it will be able to change the situation,” he said.
Russia is on the brink of presidential elections, and this is not an “abstract” question, he said.
“The leaders of those parties which significantly increased their representation in the Duma will have to propose positive programs to the voters,” the analyst said. “Putin is turn will also have to propose a real and concrete plan of action to strengthen his support.”
The Communists intend to nominate veteran party leader Gennady Zyuganov to challenge Putin in the March 2012 presidential polls. Sergei Mironov, a leader of A Just Russia party, said on Monday he would also seek to run.
Petrov said he believed Sunday’s vote meant Putin could no longer “count on the presidential elections going smoothly without proposing a serious election program,” he said.
Whoever was the “real” winner in the State Duma vote, United Russia now “looks weaker,” and the three other parliamentary parties – the Communists, A Just Russia and the nationalist LDPR party – “stronger” than previously, he added.
All four parties, Petrov said, “will now have to respond to the new challenges” posed by the voting results.
“This is the beginning, not the end of changes,” he said.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.