United Russia Primed for Primaries
Published: May 22, 2013 (Issue # 1760)
United Russia started primaries last week inámost ofáthe regions that will hold elections onáSept. 8.
Primaries have been initiated andáare now overseen byápresidential deputy chief ofástaffáVyacheslav Volodin. Their purpose is toáimprove theáquality ofáparty candidates andáto prevent conflicts among theáelite when forming party lists. TheáKremlinĺs goal is not toácontrol theáprocess since primaries are largely theádomain ofálocal party authorities. If governors can produce theádesired results, Moscow does not interfere. Whatĺs more, United Russia primaries are consultative inánature andádo not have aádirect effect. Widespread manipulation ofáthe primaries sparked aánumber ofáscandals. Iná2011, then-Prime MinisteráVladimir Putináhad toápersonally step ináto resolve one ofáthose scandals prior toáState Duma elections ináthe Primorye region. Theáresult was that election results fromátwo polling stations were nullified.
TheáAll-Russia Peopleĺs Front, anáumbrella structure intended toáreduce theáimpact ofáUnited Russiaĺs declining popularity, has taken part ináthe United Russia primaries ever since its inception andáhad anáeven greater presence this year than ever before. Theáprimaries are held ináa number of different formats proposed byáthe federal party leadership. Theáfirst format employs special party electors andáis mainly used forágubernatorial primaries ináboth direct elections andáregions such as Dagestan andáIngushetia, where theáparliaments have chosen toáappoint their governors. Theásecond format was employed last year andáallows foráthe participation ofáelectors fromápartner organizations.
Theáthird andámost liberal ofáthe new formats foráprimaries was given aátrial run last fall ináthe elections foráthe legislative assembly ofáSakhalin, garnering 50 percent ofáthe vote foráthe party ofápower foráthe first time inámany years. This type ofáprimary is similar toáordinary elections ináthat it reflects theáwill ofávoters andáis accompanied byáan election campaign andámedia coverage ofáeach stage ofáthe electoral process. Any citizen who can enlist theásupport ofá10 United Russia members has theáright toárun as aácandidate.
These elections are noteworthy foráthe decline ináthe number ofáUnited Russia candidates, aátrend already evident ináthe primaries. Some political analysts are already claiming that theáAll-Russia Peopleĺs Front is gradually becoming theánew ruling party. Ináthe gubernatorial elections ináChukotka, all ofáthe candidates, including theáincumbent, are with theápeopleĺs front. Theásame looks toábe true ináthe mayoral race ináVoronezh, where theáincumbent is also with theáfront. As foráthe two most troublesome regions foráUnited RussiaáŚ Smolensk, where theálegislative assembly will be elected, andáRyazan, where theáCity Duma will be formedáŚ United Russia is strengthening theálocal party lists with high-profile State Duma deputies andámembers ofáthe Federation Council.
Despite theáauthoritiesĺ slapdash attempt toámanipulate theáresults byáshifting theávote toálate summer, theáSept. 8 elections do not bode well foráUnited Russia. Atábest, theáparty might be able toáminimize its losses. Theáresults ofáthe campaign will be analyzed atáthe United Russia congress ináNovember, but significant changes ináparty politics should become evident much sooner, when theáAll-Russia Peopleĺs Front congress is held ináJune immediately following theáconclusion ofáthe United Russia primaries.á
Nikolai Petrov is aáprofessor ofápolitical science atátheáHigher School ofáEconomics in Moscow.