New Delhi: Russia’s three-day polls to elect a new State Duma, its lower house of the Parliament, is underway with experts expecting the “pro-Putin” ruling party, United Russia, to retain its constitutional majority.
The poll is being seen as a litmus test for the presidential election in 2024. Vladimir Putin, who has served as president or prime minister of Russia since 1999, will conclude his term that year, though it is still unclear whether he will seek re-election. Having United Russia as a majority in the lower house will prove helpful should he decide to run again.
Last July, Putin amended the constitution to allow him to extend his rule potentially until 2036.
Besides United Russia, a trio of opposition parties — the Communist Party, the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), and Just Russia — are in the fray for the Duma polls. However, “careful management of systemic opposition parties” limits these outfits from challenging the ruling party in a significant way, say experts.
There has also been a clampdown on Alexei Navalny, Putin’s most fierce opponent who survived an attempted poisoning in August 2020. His movement, Anti-Corruption Foundation, was banned as “extremist” in June.
Google and Apple pulled down the group’s “smart voting” app Friday, aimed at directing supporters towards those with the best chance of defeating United Russia in the upcoming polls.
According to VTsIOM, the oldest polling institution in Russia, all four parties are likely to get seats in the lower house by surpassing the 5 per cent threshold.
The New People, a fifth outfit launched in 2020, has also entered the fray but it is rumoured to be government-backed whose aim is to attract Navalny’s support base and hence diminish it.
ThePrint looks at the make-up of the State Duma and the top parties in the fray.
United Russia, founded in 2001, currently has 334 or roughly 75 per cent of a total of 450 Duma seats. It unanimously allows adoption and approval of any bill Putin wants. That said, the party has been so unpopular that the president has tried to distance himself from it, notes Al Jazeera.
“Loudmouths and opportunists who have been clinging to the ruling party status can betray not just the party itself but our country as well,” Putin said during a speech in November 2019.
United Russia’s approval ratings have also been dipping below 30 per cent in recent years. Analysts say this is due to stagnant incomes, pandemic woes, and rising inflation. During the 2019 Moscow city council polls, the party suffered a crushing defeat and lost a third of its seats.
According to a report in the Financial Times, “The problem for United Russia is whether patriotic sentiment can trump pocketbook issues.”
This election is also the first time United Russia campaigned in eastern Ukraine on territory controlled by Moscow-backed separatists. The votes of 6 lakh people, who were given Russian passports after a Kremlin policy change in 2019 that Ukraine opposed, are up for grabs.
Established in 1993, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF) is the second-largest party after United Russia and has largely benefited from the ruling party’s ratings slump. It is led by 77-year-old Gennady Zyuganov, who was Boris Yeltsin’s biggest opponent in the 1996 presidential polls.
Though the Communists usually back Putin’s initiatives, they surprised many by opposing a rise in the retirement age in 2018 and Putin’s constitutional amendments last year.
It holds 43 seats in the State Duma.
Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR)
LDPR, which has 40 representatives in the lower house, was founded in 1989. It has an aggressive nationalist ideology, is anti-immigration, and in favour of protectionist policies.
In a surprise move last year, the Kremlin appointed the party’s deputy, Mikhail Degtyarev, as the new governor of Khabarovsk region, which some analysts viewed as a way for Putin to make it seem like the “LDPR is responsible for extinguishing the fire of discontent raging in the region”.
The “discontent” refers to large protests carried out by people in the region against the arrest of its former governor and LDPR representative Sergei Furgal, charged on suspicion of ordering contract killings.
The smallest and youngest of the four parties, Just Russia, has just 23 seats in the State Duma and was founded in 2006.
The party began by adopting a moderate left-wing ideology that emphasises social justice, order, and stability. It appears to be a hardcore socialist party with plans to nationalise Russia’s oil industry and triple the salaries of government employees.
(Edited by Paramita Ghosh)
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