The big story of this year’s Russian Duma election is that United Russia’s share of the vote has dropped below the psychologically critical 50% mark. With 95% of ballots counted, United Russia has 49.67% of votes which, because of the 7% threshold needed for parties to enter Russia’s Duma, means that United Russia will actually retain just over 50% of the seats (update: RIA Novosti is reporting 238 of 450 seats for UR).
As expected the Communist Party are second with 19.13% of the vote, which gives them almost twice as many votes as they received in the 2007 Duma elections.
The big surprise of the night, however, has been the performance of A Just Russia – with 13.18% they’ve sneaked ahead of the Liberal Democratic Party (11.66%) to become the third largest party in Russia. Polls have shown them with around 7% support over the past few months, so to get more than 13% is an impressive achievement.
No other parties secured the 7% of votes needed to secure proportionate representation in the Duma. Yabloko received 3.25% of the vote, just enough to secure free air-time at the next election, Patriots of Russia 0.96% and Right Cause 0.50%.
Infographic from RIA Novosti.
Reaction and the future for Putin and United Russia
The result will come as a real disappointment for United Russia, which has been luxuriating in a constitutional supermajority of more than 66% in the current Duma, and is a massive drop in support from the 64.3% of the vote it enjoyed in 2007. At one point, when it looked as though United Russia might not secure a majority in the Duma, there was talk of United Russia entering into coalition agreements with other parties. At a United Russia conference, President Dmitry Medvedev told delegates that:
“Given the more complex configuration of the State Duma, we will have to enter coalition agreements on separate issues. This is normal, this is parliamentarianism, this is democracy.”
It looks as though United Russia will have just about enough seats not to have to rely on coalitions, although its lead will be sufficiently fragile that it will need to worry about defections from the party reducing and potentially even eliminating its majority over the course of the next four years.
Vladimir Putin’s reaction has been rather muted. He is quoted in RIA Novosti as saying that the results “really reflect the situation in the country” and that they “allow for the steady development of Russia.” Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail described him as looking “angry” as he criticised United Russia’s performance, saying that his party “has to bear some responsibility for the failures, as well as the successes for the past few years.”
Putin, of course, will have an eye on next year’s Presidential election because, if today’s result were replicated there, he would be forced into a second round ballot against Gennady Zyuganov, the Communist Party candidate. Given the widespread reduction in support for United Russia – which many believe is linked to Putin’s decision to stand again for the Presidency – this is not an unlikely scenario.
It will be interesting to see how the global press interprets the election in the wake of today’s results – I expect a mixture of stories proclaiming that this is the beginning of the end of the Putin era and stories explaining how democracy will now be stifled in Russia a Putin worried that democracy might cost him his job.
A fair reflection of public opinion, or a rigged election?
Today’s Duma election result shouldn’t be seen as a complete surprise. Over the past year, opinion polls have been reporting a steady drop in support for United Russia, and polls conducted just before the election showed United Russia having only around 55% support. To drop to around 50% in the actual election demonstrates only a 10% difference between the polls and the results, which is not something that would shame pollsters anywhere in the world.
From the perspective of the health of Russian democracy as a whole, the result seems fairly encouraging, and may well silence some critics who say that Russian democracy is entirely managed. That a regime that supposedly controls the ballot box secured less than 50% of the vote in a result that more or less mirrored the predictions of pollsters is quite difficult to imagine.
Early indications from international observers – including some from the OSCE and the European Parliament – is that they believe the polls were conducted freely and fairly. However, the election has not passed without controversy and reports of violations.
Independent (and US/European funded) election observers Golos reported more than 5,000 violations on a day in which their head was arrested briefly at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport; a number of big-name independent (read: critical of United Russia) websites, including Livejournal, Echo Moscow and Kommersant, were shut down entirely by hackers using Denial of Service attacks; a number of journalists, including a BBC cameraman were briefly detained, and hundreds of demonstrators were arrested in Moscow and St Petersburg for attempting to hold unsanctioned rallies (all have since been released).
And as is now traditional in Chechnya, the voters voted almost unanimously for the ruling party. The result there was 99.47% in favour of United Russia (pic via Twitter courtesy of Nils van der Vegte).
Russia’s leading liberal party, Yabloko, have announced that they intend to contest the results of the election. Their Chairman Sergei Mitrokhin told reporters that:
“Despite gross violations throughout the country, despite ballot stuffing, falsifications, we see that on the whole, Yabloko’s results are rather positive.”
Yabloko will be particularly upset by the results released from polling stations abroad, where they are the most popular party. In the United Kingdom, where more than 2,000 voted, Yabloko secured 41% of the votes, well ahead of the second placed Communists (19.7%) and ahead of United Russia whose 10.6% was only enough to secure fourth place. Similar results were seen among Russian ballots held elsewhere in Europe – in France, for example, Yabloko won again with 31.5%.