A landslide United Russia victory and a remarkably poor showing of the opposition forces in Russia’s parliamentary elections earlier this week shouldn’t be attributed entirely to rigged electoral rules or fraud. There is another, different lesson to be drawn: the exhaustion of the opposition and its lack of ideas for garnering support.
Politics in Russia has been an extremely personalized business for decades, and it remains so today. What happened in the elections is that President Vladimir Putin’s approval rating of 87 percent was distributed among the parties that are more or less loyal to the Kremlin: the four parliamentary parties together received 87.1 percent of the popular vote last Sunday.
Russian liberals put at the head of two liberal tickets two men they believed had enough renown to at least dent Putin’s grip on the voting public, Mikhail Kasyanov, former prime minister, and Grigory Yavlinsky, founder of Yabloko, a left-leaning liberal party. But when it came to a personal showdown, those two stood no chance. No one in Russia stands a chance right now.
Putin might be defeated only when his charismatic leadership, severed from any plausible program for the country, is faced with an ideas-based movement that does not emphasize any particular leader.
- Cutting taxes and making a number of sectors of the economy free of them, including agriculture, food processing, smaller retail outfits (restaurants, cafes)
- Challenging the sovereignty of Putin’s Russia “by advocating a pivot back to Europe and even some kind of submission to the EU along the lines of the Swiss and Norwegian model.” Paying the EU 2-3 billion Euros per year for access to its market; respecting its laws but not participating in the decision-making process; not accepting aid. Who knew there was such a thing as “excess sovereignty”?
- A strong anticlerical program, which would remake Russia as a secular state and release the grip of Orthodox Fundamentalism on public life.
I’m sure these ideas would resonate wonderfully with enough of the Russian electorate to get Putin out of power –
Wait, this was a parliamentary election we were talking about?