I’d like to begin my piece with a new entry to the increasingly valuable Duran Lexicon. Dull election = Peaceful exercise of democracy.
That’s what Sunday’s election was. But do not be fooled by the calm, the results are significant.
Whilst the four parties that dominated the Duma after the previous election in 2011 remain the parties of power, the shift in the particular balance of power represents an intellectual referendum on the state of Russian affairs over the last 5 years, more than it represents changing feelings towards particular parties.
With over 97% of votes now counted, United Russia have increased their percentage of the vote from 49.3% in 2011 to 54% in 2016.
That United Russia were going to win the election was an assured assumption. In a country that is broadly contented with its government and exceptionally contented with its President who supports the party of government, it is only natural for such a party to win and win big.
Whilst some early indications pointed to United Russia getting a bit of a bloody nose due to general ‘success fatigue’ as well as regional allegations of corruption, this didn’t pan out. The status quo won and won convincingly.
The most interesting race of the evening was the race for second place, the race for the official opposition party.
Contrary to western claims, Russia has vibrant, strong, respected and respectable opposition parties, the leaders of which are household names.
To many in Western media a Russian opposition leader is a failed, corrupt ex-pat businessman hiding his failures behind a half-arsed hatred for the government and shareholders to whom he owes money.
When this doesn’t pan out, it often seems as though western media wait with camera in hand by the exit door of a regional lunatic asylum. They then shove the microphone into the face of the first person they see and presto…instant opposition leader.
The reality is completely different. Russia does have real, diverse and respected opposition parties.
The fact of the matter is that since 2003 the official opposition has been the Communist Party of the Russian Federation. Last night’s early results however indicated that this might change as the LDPR was set to come in second. However after a long night and early morning, the democratic dog fight between the Communists and the LDPR was won by the Communists, but with only around 0.2 of a percentage point.
I said earlier that the race for second was going to be close and important, but this was closer than most commentators had imagined.
To put things in perspective, in respect of the notion of an ‘intellectual referendum’ a Communist vote was a referendum on the notion that with the West’s economic warfare against Russia showing no signs of stopping, the Communists had been right all along in saying that Russia must be increasingly self-sufficient in industry and agriculture, and must form fraternal trading bonds with Russia’s true friends, rather than strike what appear to be short term economic deals with unreliable western partners.
A general downturn in the world economy has also vindicated many traditional Communist polices.
Demographically, older individuals tend to vote Communist, though this should not be thought of as a negative statement the way it is in the West. The West’s glorification of the vanity and stupidity of youth is not much of a social phenomenon in Russia, with society there on the contrary still tending to respect and value the contribution of those with life experience.
Whilst the strong-willed and tough Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov would never ape western politicians like Tony Blair and speak in the guttural slang of misguided youths, the Communists did run advertisements designed to show that a Marxist-Leninist government could be a thing of the future rather than a reminder of the past. When further demographic information on voter trends becomes available, it will be interesting to see if these ads were effective.
If a Communist vote was an ‘x’ next to ‘economic self-sufficiency’ in the intellectual referendum, a vote for the LDPR was an ‘x’ next to the ‘Zhirinovsky was right about foreign affairs after all’ box.
Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the founder and leader of the LDPR, the second official party in both the USSR and Russian Federation (after the Communists), is a deeply misunderstood figure.
Contrary to what one might read in the Western media, Zhirinovsky is amongst the most historically and geo-politically informed politicians in the world. He is deeply educated, multi-lingual and understands the delicate nature of culture, nations, religions and ideologies better than most.
For years he has warned that the West’s ultimate goal was to encircle Russia with NATO and its political proxy the EU. This has become reality. He has also warned that the West would ignite Ukraine and would turn what should be a brotherly and friendly country into an enemy. This too has become reality. He has said that Russia should extend itself to the Arab world and help stable regimes there combat extremism. This is now official Russian policy.
Zhirinovsky has also said that Russia’s friends lie in the east and south, not in the west and north. This is now a proven fact.
The voters know this and it is why the LDPR came within inches of becoming the official opposition (aka second party).
Many in the west call Zhirinovsky an extremist or a clown. This is simply not true.
Zhirinovsky came to public attention at a time when Russian democracy was very young. Even in a mature democracy, one often needs to court attention in order to get one’s message across whether it be an intellectual message or otherwise.
As an undeniably clever man, Zhirinovsky knows that he often needs to be hyperbolic, humorous or outrageous in order to capture public attention over issues that few would otherwise have the time to pay attention to.
This is a fact of democracy. One has to make the intricate exciting and the serious entertaining.
It also doesn’t help that much of Zhirinovsky’s sarcasm is translated as straight speech, and that much of his humour is lost on Western audiences who take his poetic sentiments far too literally.
Another misconception is that the LDPR is ‘far right’.
‘Far right’ ought to be a term reserved for parties which bring matters of race, ethnicity and religion into the public debate, and which seek to exclude or discriminate against people on that basis.
For Zhirinovsky, the understanding of Russianness is a civic rather than ethnic term, and he is the first to condemn the actual far right if one is patient enough to listen to his speeches. Take for example the LDRP’s condemnation of Rodina, a truly extremist far-right party, and one that has little popularity anywhere in Russia.
Finally, one has A Just Russia (sometimes translated as A Fair Russia) who fell behind the LDPR to become the fourth and last of the major parties.
A Just Russia prides itself as being the socialist conscience of United Russia, often proposing more equitable solutions to government proposals whilst claiming that it is less corrupt than United Russia. However, A Fair Russia, due to its rather lacklustre campaign, did not really have an easily defined place in the intellectual referendum, and it lost votes as a consequence.
Finally, one must discuss the mechanics and logistics of the election. Because the Duma elections implemented a single member ‘first past the post system’ in addition to the traditional party list proportional representation system.
Once the final votes come in this means that there is a possibility that some independents or members of smaller parties will have some Duma seats. The effectiveness of this however remains to be seen.
Many observers are commenting on the low voter turn-out of around 48%.
Turnout in the UK election of 2001, which was generally seen as a contest between a competent but disliked party versus an incompetent and disliked party, was 59%. Barack Obama won his election campaign in 2012 with a voter turnout of just under 54%. Turnout in the 2012 French Parliamentary elections was 55%.
Bearing this in mind, the Russian voter turnout isn’t radically different from that in recent elections in many other countries. It is again symptomatic of contentment rather than frustration.
The election was calm, free and fair. The most interesting battle may have been the intellectual struggle between the Communists and LDRP, but ultimately, the entire election was a referendum on the fact that most Russians are happy with the way Russia is run, and they are the only people whose opinion matters.
To say otherwise would be undemocratic, and the West wouldn’t want that now would they?