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The Politics of Electoral Systems$

Michael Gallagher and Paul Mitchell

Print publication date: 2005

Print ISBN-13: 9780199257560

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: February 2006

DOI: 10.1093/0199257566.001.0001

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Russia: The Authoritarian Adaptation of an Electoral System

Russia: The Authoritarian Adaptation of an Electoral System

Chapter:
(p.313) 15 Russia: The Authoritarian Adaptation of an Electoral System
Source:
The Politics of Electoral Systems
Author(s):

Steven White

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/0199257566.003.0015

Abstract and Keywords

Russia’s mixed parallel system was adopted after the collapse of communism, following a series of negotiations and disagreements between parliament and president. The high thresholds applied in the PR-list component of elections resulted in considerable disproportionality and a significant number of votes cast for parties that failed to reach the threshold. The fact that the lists were closed led to very weak links between list MPs and citizens. The single-member constituencies, contrary to the predictions of Duverger’s Law, have not favoured the larger parties, but have seen the election of many independent MPs. The elimination of the single-member constituencies proposed by president Putin is part of a broader authoritarian adaptation of the electoral process.

Keywords:   Russian politics, Putin, authoritarianism, thresholds, mixed system, Duverger’s Law, independent MPs

Since Russia is a strongly presidential country, it has two electoral systems that need attention in this chapter: the one employed to elect the lower house of parliament, and the one under which the president is elected. Before examining the electoral systems in detail, we will briefly discuss the political background.

Political background

Russia resumed its independent statehood in December 1991, following an agreement between its president Boris Yeltsin and the leaders of Ukraine and Belarus to withdraw from the treaty under which the USSR had originally been established. Mikhail Gorbachev resigned as Soviet president on 25 December; the following day the upper chamber of the Soviet parliament adopted a declaration approving the dissolution of the USSR and power passed into the hands of Boris Yeltsin and the other leaders of what were now fifteen independent republics. But supreme authority was contested between the parliament, which had been elected on a largely competitive basis in the spring of 1990, and the president, who had secured his own popular mandate in the summer of 1991. A deepening tension was resolved when Yeltsin, in an acknowledged departure from the constitution, dissolved the parliament in September 1993 and then ordered the army to bombard it into submission. A new constitution had been under discussion to replace the much‐amended Russian constitution of 1978. The version that was published in November 1993 and approved in a popular vote the following month was much more strongly presidential, and its adoption marked the establishment of a presidential or—some argued—even super-presidential republic.

The 1993 constitution included a formal commitment to political pluralism, a multiparty system, and the rule of law. It also established a new legislature, the Federal Assembly, with an upper house (the Federation Council) representing Russia's eighty‐nine republics and regions, and a lower house (the State Duma) representing the population at large. The lower house consists of 450 seats, half of which are filled by a national party‐list contest and half of which are filled by a quite (p.314) independent series of contests in individual constituencies (this is, in other words, a mixed‐member parallel system—see Appendix A). Under current plans, the next elections, in 2007, will see a shift to an entirely party list‐based contest, although it will be conducted at a regional level rather than as a single nationwide exercise. The prime minister is nominated by the president, but must be approved by the Duma; if the same nomination is rejected three times in a row the Duma must be dissolved and new elections called. Other members of the government are appointed by the president on the proposal of the prime minister.

The Duma has one further sanction, which is that it can vote no confidence in the government as a whole. If it does so twice within three months, the president must either replace the government or call elections. The Duma may also impeach the president, but only in the event of treason or a crime of similar gravity, and only if the full membership of both houses vote in favour by a two‐thirds majority. In practice, the president dominates the law‐making process, although the relationship was a confrontational one up to the 1999 elections at which pro‐Kremlin parties—thanks, among other factors, to the active involvement of the presidential administration and its use of state television—secured a working majority. The president is not, by convention, a member of a political party, and government does not necessarily reflect the party composition of the Duma. Government, indeed, is effectively an agency for the implementation of presidential strategy, and the prime minister surrenders his mandate to a newly elected president rather than to a newly elected Duma.

Elections took place to both chambers of the Federal Assembly in 1993, and to the Duma alone in 1995, 1999, and 2003 (see Table 15.1). There were presidential elections in 1996 (when Yeltsin won a second term in a runoff against Communist challenger Gennadii Zyuganov), in March 2000 (when Vladimir Putin was elected as his successor in the first round), and March 2004, when Putin was re‐elected, again in the first round, with a still larger majority; all of these elections took place at the intervals prescribed by the constitution, and were generally described as free and fair by international observers. Nonetheless, it seemed premature to regard Russia as a democracy of quite the same kind as its Western neighbours. Many of the basic human rights, including freedom of the press and of religious practice, were subject to serious qualification; the electoral process was heavily influenced by the authorities themselves, particularly through their use of public office (‘administrative resource’) and the electronic media; and although there was nominally a rule of law, it appeared to do little to protect ordinary citizens or to limit the actions of the rich and powerful.

Origins of the electoral system

The Soviet electoral system had never precluded the possibility of a choice of candidate, and after the ‘leading role’ of the Communist Party was removed from the constitution in March 1990 there were no remaining obstacles to the formal establishment of multiparty politics. The first competitive party‐based elections, in (p.315)

Table 15.1 Elections to the Russian State Duma, 1993–2003

1993

1995

1999

2003

List %

List seats

SMD seats

Total seats

List %

List seats

SMD seats

Total seats

List %

List seats

SMD seats

Total seats

List %

List seats

SMD seats

Total seats

LDPR

22.9

59

5

64

11.2

50

1

51

6.0

17

0

17

11.5

36

0

36

RC

15.5

40

30

70

3.9

0

9

9

CPRF

12.4

32

16

48

22.3

99

58

157

24.3

67

46

113

12.6

40

11

51

WR

8.1

21

2

23

4.6

0

3

3

2.0

0

0

0

AP

8.0

21

12

33

3.8

0

20

20

3.6

0

2

2

Yabloko

7.9

20

3

23

6.9

31

14

45

5.9

16

4

20

4.3

0

4

4

PRUC

6.8

18

1

19

0.4

0

1

1

DPR

5.5

14

1

15

0.2

0

0

0

OHR

10.1

45

10

55

1.2

0

7

7

Unity

23.3

64

9

73

FAR

13.3

37

31

68

URF

8.5

24

5

29

4.0

0

3

3

UR

37.6

120

103

223

Rodina

9.0

29

8

37

Others

8.7

0

8

8

34.0

0

32

32

12.2

0

18

18

17.2

0

22

26

Indepts

141

141

77

77

105

105

69

69

Agst all

4.2

2.8

3.3

4.7

Source: Central Electoral Commission.

Party abbreviations are: LDPR: Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (competing, in 1999, as the Zhirinovsky Bloc); RC: Russia's Choice (in 1995, Russia's Democratic Choice); CPRF: Communist Party of the Russian Federation; WR: Women of Russia; AP: Agrarian Party; PRUC: Party of Russian Unity and Concord; DPR: Democratic Party of Russia; OHR: Our Home is Russia; FAR: Fatherland–All Russia; UR: United Russia; URF: Union of Right Forces.

(p.316) the event, took place in December 1993, as part of a more general attempt to place the political system on a new and different basis after the end of seventy years of Communist rule. The principles introduced at this time have proved remarkably durable. In particular, elections to the lower house have been based throughout on a 50:50 split between a nationwide competition among party lists and a separate constituency‐level contest among party‐sponsored and independent candidates, although there have been repeated attempts to change this balance to what the various actors have perceived to be their own advantage.

The electoral system in its present form emerged from a contentious debate that began almost as soon as the new Duma met for its first session (Razmustov 1995; Postnikov 1996; Remington and Smith 1996; Moser and Thames 2001: 266–74; Birch et al. 2002: 137–40). In the end, countervailing pressures from the presidency, the Federation Council, and the Duma resulted in a new law that was not very different from the regulations that had governed the December 1993 contest. In particular, the 50:50 balance between single‐member and national party‐list seats remained intact. The national lists, however, were to consist of a central section containing no more than twelve names, together with a much longer regional list; members of the central list could not stand elsewhere, while members of the regional list could also put themselves forward in the single‐member seats. The president had argued for a 50 per cent minimum turnout requirement, or else a second round between the two leading candidates in single‐member constituencies; here too the law retained the Duma's preference for a 25 per cent turnout requirement and a single round of voting. The new law was signed by the president on 21 June (for the text of the law as adopted, see ‘O vyborakh’ 1995a).

The election that was fought on this basis in December 1995 generated further controversy, in that forty‐three groupings took part in the national party‐list contest but only four reached the 5 per cent threshold. This meant that almost half the party‐list vote was ‘wasted’, and that the parties that did reach the threshold secured almost twice as many seats as their share of the popular vote would otherwise have warranted: a degree of disproportionality that made the 1995 Russian election ‘the most disproportional election result of any free and fair proportional election’ (White et al. 1997: 227). Standing in the party‐list contest was arguably ‘irrational’ in these circumstances (ibid.: 198–204), in that the more parties that competed, the fewer could hope to secure representation. But there could be payoffs of other kinds, in that all the party‐list contenders were provided with public funds and free publicity; and the media exposure of their leading candidates could be expected to assist their chances in a presidential election that would be held shortly afterwards (these indirect advantages lost some of their attraction from 1999 onwards, when the electoral law began to provide that public funds and the costs of free advertising would have to be repaid if support fell below a specified level).

The results of the 1995 election were challenged in court on the grounds that such a degree of disproportionality could not be reconciled with the constitutional provision that the ‘multinational people’ were the only legitimate source of authority. The challenge was unsuccessful; but for the 1999 election a floating threshold (p.317) was introduced that sought to ensure a more representative result (additional parties would be allocated seats if those that cleared the 5 per cent threshold did not among them account for at least 50 per cent of the party‐list vote). The 1999 election also saw the introduction of a deposit system for the nomination of party lists and individual candidates, as an alternative to the collection of signatures; and candidates were required to make a full statement of their income and property, and of any undischarged court sentence—this, it was hoped, would help to keep out criminal elements (White and McAllister 1999; for the text of the law as adopted, see ‘O vyborakh’ 1999).

In the event, six parties cleared the 5 per cent threshold in December 1999, representing 81 per cent of the party‐list vote among them, and so there was no need to resort to the complicated procedure of a floating threshold to correct gross disproportionalities. The principle, however, was retained in the law that was adopted in December 2002 and which governed the Duma election of December 2003. The new law retained another feature that had been introduced in 1999, the facility to nominate candidates or parties by means of a deposit, which would not be returned if a candidate in a single‐member constituency secured less than 5 per cent of the vote or if a national party list secured less than 3 per cent and if neither the candidates or parties concerned had been awarded any seats. The new law raised the permitted level of campaign spending, and made further efforts to tighten the restrictions on the sources from which campaign funds could be obtained and the use that could be made of them. Perhaps the most significant change was to provide that the 5 per cent threshold would be raised to 7 per cent for future elections from 2007 (see pp. 326–7), in a further demonstration of the Kremlin's determination to use its control of the legislative process to fashion a more coherent and manageable party system (see ‘O vyborakh’ 2002).

A corresponding series of laws dealt with presidential elections, although there were fewer changes and less controversy. Boris Yeltsin had been elected President of Russia in June 1991, but of a Russia that was still a part of the USSR. The first post‐Communist law on the election of a president was adopted in 1995, with further laws adopted in December 1999 and January 2003. Yeltsin, in April 1995, had initially proposed that the number of signatures required to make a valid nomination should be increased from 100,000 to two million; the Duma reduced this to a million, but left unchanged the requirement that no more than 7 per cent of signatures could come from a single republic or region (‘O vyborakh’ 1995b). The 1999 law maintained the requirement that at least a million signatures should be collected in support of nominations, but this time specified that at least 70,000 should come from each of the country's republics and regions (‘O vyborakh’ 2000). In January 2003 the number of signatures was raised to two million, with at least 50,000 from each of the republics and regions; the limits on campaign spending were increased again, and this time were index‐linked (‘O vyborakh’ 2003). In another change that advantaged the larger parties, those that had secured seats in the preceding Duma election were to be allowed to nominate presidential candidates without collecting the signatures that would otherwise have been necessary.

(p.318) How the electoral system works

Under the Russian constitution and election legislation, all citizens who have attained the age of eighteen on the day of election are entitled to vote in parliamentary and presidential elections, including citizens resident outside the national territory, but excluding those pronounced incompetent by a court or who are under preventive detention on the basis of a court decision. Voting takes place between 0800 and 2000 local time (Art. 77 of the current Duma legislation), which means that results are available—although they are not declared—in the Far East before voting has been completed in the heavily populated parts of European Russia. Early voting is permitted during a period of fifteen days before polling day (Art. 78), and there is provision for the casting of ballots in people's homes where health or other circumstances make it difficult for them to visit a polling station (Art. 79). It is also possible to obtain an absentee certificate if electors are obliged to be elsewhere on the day of the election (Art. 76).

Voters, accordingly, receive two ballot papers in Duma elections, one for their own constituency and the other for the national party‐list contest, and a single ballot paper in the case of a presidential election. The 225 constituencies are formed on the basis of equal numbers of registered electors, with several qualifications: variations in the numbers of electors per constituency within each of the country's republics or regions should not exceed 10 per cent, or in remote locations 15 per cent; the constituency should normally consist of a territorial whole and lie within a single subject of the federation; and there should otherwise be the most equal representation possible of each of the subjects of the federation. The Central Electoral Commission, formed on an equal basis by each of the houses of parliament and the presidency, is responsible for these arrangements and for making corresponding proposals to the Duma (Art. 12 of the current Duma legislation).

The form of the ballot paper is closely regulated in election legislation. In single‐member constituencies it lists the candidates in alphabetical order, including their year of birth, residence, place of work, and the basis of their nomination. There is a facility to vote ‘against all candidates’ and where relevant, the ballot paper should also note any undischarged criminal sentence or foreign citizenship. In the national party‐list contest the ballot paper records the parties standing, in an order determined by the drawing of lots, and shows their names and official emblems (see Figure 15.1). In the case of electoral blocs or alliances, their constituent parties must be identified. The drawing of lots is carried out by the Central Electoral Commission at least thirty‐five days before polling; the party or bloc that is first to be drawn receives the number 1, and the others follow it in descending alphabetical sequence. The party name must include the first three members of its national and, where relevant, regional list of candidates. In addition, there is an entry for ‘against all federal lists of candidates’.

Under the terms of the law on elections to the State Duma that was adopted in December 2002, candidates in single‐member constituencies may be nominated by (p.319)

Russia: The Authoritarian Adaptation of an Electoral System

Figure 15.1#Russian ballot paper, list election, 2003

(p.320) citizens themselves or by parties and electoral blocs, which may not nominate more than a single candidate in each constituency (Arts. 38, 39; electoral blocs are ad hoc associations of two or three registered parties). Lists of candidates for the national party‐list contest are put forward by parties or electoral blocs, and need not be limited to citizens who are members of those parties or blocs. The party itself establishes the order of the candidates included in its federal list; the list may consist entirely of candidates put forward in particular regions, or may consist of a national list and associated regional lists. The maximum number of candidates that may be included on a party list is 270, although list candidates may also stand under the same auspices in single member constituencies (Art. 40).

Candidates in both the single‐member and party‐list contests are nominated on the basis of the signatures of electors, or by the payment of a deposit amounting to 15 per cent of the maximum permitted election expenditure. Independents standing in single member seats must obtain the signatures of at least 1 per cent of the registered electors in the constituency; if there are fewer than 100,000 registered electors, at least a thousand signatures are required (Art. 42). The same procedures apply if a political party or bloc wishes to nominate a candidate in a single‐member constituency (Art. 43:1). A party or bloc wishing to put forward a federal list of candidates must collect at least 200,000 signatures, of which no more than 14,000 may be drawn from any single republic or region (Art. 43: 2). Other regulations apply to campaign expenditure, which must not exceed 6 million roubles (about $200,000/€170,000) in the case of a candidate in a single‐member constituency, or 250 million roubles (about $8.3/€7.1 million) in the case of a party or bloc, adjusted for inflation in both cases on an annual basis from January 2004 onwards (Art. 66).

The Russian president is elected every four years. He or she is the head of state, and under the constitution ‘defines the basic directions of the internal and foreign policy of the state’. Candidates must be Russian citizens of at least thirty‐five years of age, who have lived in the Russian Federation for at least the previous ten years. No Russian president may serve for more than two consecutive terms. Under the terms of the legislation adopted in January 2003, candidates for the Russian presidency are put forward by ‘initiative groups’ consisting of at least 500 citizens (Art. 34:2 of the current law), and also by parties or electoral blocs (Art. 35); the candidate need not necessarily be a member of any of the parties involved. Campaign spending, in all cases, is limited to 250 million roubles (about $8.3/€7.1 million), adjusted from January 2005 onwards on an annual basis to take account of inflation (Art. 58).

Under the terms of the Duma election law of December 2002, the winner in a single‐member constituency is the one who receives the largest vote total (in the event of a tie, the winner is the candidate who is first to register). The election is declared void and has to be repeated, however, if the vote ‘against all’ is greater than the vote for the most successful candidate, or if the turnout is less than 25 per cent of the registered electorate (Art. 83). For those who were responsible for drafting the first election laws, the option of voting ‘against all’ had seemed desirable not only in itself but also as a means of raising the level of turnout. It has certainly been a (p.321) popular innovation, and more so than its modest share of the vote might suggest. In the December 2003 Duma election, for instance, those who voted ‘against all’ the lists of candidates were nearly three million in number, which put it ahead of all but four of the twenty‐three parties on the ballot paper, and three single‐member seats were actually ‘won’ on the same basis. ‘Against all’ is indeed a ‘real competitor during State Duma elections’, even though it is a criminal offence to campaign in its favour unless one is a candidate oneself (Oversloot et al. 2002: 36–7).

In the national party‐list contest seats are allocated to all the parties or electoral blocs that secure at least 5 per cent of the vote, provided at least three of them reach the threshold and that they receive at least 50 per cent of the party‐list vote among them. Failing this, additional parties are included in the allocation of seats in descending vote order until the parties allocated seats on this basis reach at least 50 per cent of the total party‐list vote and at least three such parties are included. If fewer than three parties receive 50 per cent or more, other parties are included in declining vote order until at least three are included in the allocation of seats (Art. 84). From 2007 onwards a 7 per cent threshold will apply, and at least four parties will have to share the allocation of party‐list seats (Art. 99). The entire party‐list contest is declared void if turnout is less than 25 per cent, if none of the parties secures 5 per cent of the vote, or if all parties together do not win more than 50 per cent of the list vote (which is theoretically possible given that invalid votes and votes ‘against all’ are included in the list vote total). The procedure for converting votes into seats is also set out in the election law; it follows the LR–Hare method (see Appendix A).

In the presidential contest, a candidate is elected on the first round if the vote in favour of that candidate exceeds half of the total number of votes cast. In order for the election to be valid at least half of all registered electors must take part, and the vote for the successful candidate must exceed the vote against all of the candidates (Art. 76 of the current law). If no candidate is elected on the first round a second round takes place within twenty‐one days between the two candidates with the largest vote totals. On this occasion the successful candidate is the one with the larger vote total, provided this exceeds the votes cast against both candidates (Art. 77). The minimum turnout requirement for the first round of presidential elections is rather higher than in the single‐member and party‐list contests for the Duma, and must reach at least 50 per cent of the registered electorate (Art. 76); no minimum is prescribed for the second round.

Political consequences of the electoral system

Impact on the party system

According to one of the oldest generalizations in comparative politics, single‐member plurality systems tend to produce two‐party systems and single‐party government. Conversely, proportional systems in which lists of candidates compete in multimember constituencies tend to generate multiparty systems and coalition governments. Duverger (1954) argued that this would occur mechanically, because (p.322) smaller parties would find it more difficult to gain representation in less proportional systems, and also psychologically, as voters would be likely to regard a vote for a smaller party in such an electoral system as a wasted vote. The operation of the Russian electoral system has not, on the whole, borne out Duverger's predictions (Colton and Hough 1998: 41–2; Moser 2001), and the system itself is not adequately understood without reference to a wider context within which government itself is formed on a non‐party basis and is accountable to the president rather than to parliament.

The Russian electoral system was certainly intended to bring about political change, and specifically the development of political parties. Until 1990 only the Communist Party had enjoyed a legal existence, and although other parties quickly emerged, they remained a marginal presence in public life. Programmes were indistinct, memberships were low, and turnover was high; for some, indeed, the Communists were Russia's ‘only party’, or at least the only one with a national network of branches and a coherent organizational structure. Parties, in fact, were often difficult to distinguish from their leaders: it was the leader who dispensed patronage (such as paid positions on its staff), and it was the leader with whom the party was popularly identified. The Liberal Democratic Party even incorporated the name of its leader—‘the party of Zhirinovsky’—into its formal title. Another distinctive feature of the Russian system was the existence of a ‘party of power’, which was a vehicle promoted by the Kremlin, led by government ministers, and assured of extensive coverage in the official media (Verheul and Oversloot 2000).

Changes in election legislation since 1993 have generally sought to strengthen the position of political parties as the principal agency through which candidates can be nominated. The 1993 election law identified ‘electoral associations’ as the bodies that had the right to nominate candidates in the national party‐list competition, but made clear that they included political movements and parties. The 1995 law made no reference to parties at all, allocating the right to nominate candidates in the national competition to ‘electoral associations’ and ‘electoral blocs’, which were combinations of electoral associations that had been formed for the purposes of a particular election. In 1993, thirteen parties or movements had appeared on the ballot; in 1995 there were forty‐three, which made it unlikely that more than a few of them—perhaps even none—would reach the 5 per cent threshold. The 1999 legislation, nonetheless, continued to refer to ‘electoral associations’ and ‘blocs’ as the vehicles through which candidates should be nominated in the national contest, with associations defined as including ‘other political organizations’ and ‘movements’ as well as parties.

The law that governed the December 2003 Duma election defined the right of nomination in a different way by restricting participation in the national contest to political parties, or electoral blocs of two or three parties. This tighter formulation followed the adoption of a new law on political parties in July 2001 (‘O politicheskikh partiyakh’ 2001), one of whose purposes was to eliminate the wide range of organizations that had contested elections in the recent past, including trade unions and employers' organizations as well as bodies such as the All‐Russian Society of (p.323) Invalids and the Union of Mothers for Social Justice. The new law required parties to demonstrate a national membership of at least 10,000, with branches of at least a hundred members in at least half of the country's republics and regions. Parties, also, were to be supervised more closely than in the past, including their financial affairs, and could be dissolved if they failed to respect federal legislation, or if they failed to contest elections over a period of five years. It was only parties registered on the basis of this law that had the right to take part in elections, whether they wished to nominate a national list or simply a number of candidates in the single‐member constituencies.

The same provisions were extended to presidential elections. Under the laws that prevailed in 1995 and 1999, candidates could be nominated by ‘initiative groups’ of ordinary citizens, by ‘electoral associations’ including political movements as well as parties, or by ‘blocs’ of two or more parties or movements. Under the 2003 law the nomination of presidential candidates was restricted to registered political parties, or blocs of such parties and other associations whose declared purpose was the nomination of election candidates, as well as groups of at least 500 electors (Arts. 34 and 35). At some point, it has been suggested, the nomination of presidential candidates may become the exclusive prerogative of political parties. In the meantime, parties that exceed the 5 per cent threshold in Duma elections have been given the right to nominate candidates without collecting the signatures that would otherwise be required—a considerable advantage to parties in general, and to the larger parties (which are more likely to reach the threshold) in particular.

Institutional engineering of this kind, so far, has had relatively modest effects. One indication is the very different patterns that arise in the party‐list and single‐member competitions (unlike, for instance, the German system). Party‐list contenders, for a start, might not put forward candidates in all the single‐member constituencies, or even in a large proportion of them (in 1999, for instance, just two of the six parties that won party‐list representation put up candidates in even half of the single‐member constituencies). The results that parties obtain in the national contest and in the single‐member constituencies, moreover, vary enormously. The Liberal Democratic Party, for instance, has always exceeded the threshold in the party‐list contest, but has repeatedly won very small numbers of single‐member constituencies and sometimes none at all. Communist support has been more evenly balanced, and the left‐centrist grouping Fatherland–All Russia enjoyed success in both sections of the contest in 1999. The most successful ‘party’ in the single‐member constituencies, however, has been the independents; in 1999 they won more seats than all the parties combined, and in 2003 more than all but United Russia.

There was, in fact, some reason to believe that Russia's mixed electoral system might not have the effects that had been intended by those who originally devised it (see Hutcheson 2003: 28–30). A mixed system of the Russian kind, in which there is no relationship between the results in individual constituencies and in the national party‐list contest, is in effect two electoral systems running in parallel on the basis of two different sets of incentives. The national party‐list competition encourages (p.324) groups that can hope to draw on support throughout the country to reach the 5 per cent threshold, and encourages those that expect to fall short to combine with others in order to do so. The single‐member constituencies, however, reflect local concentrations of party strength, and encourage small, personality‐based parties that can use their opportunities for free publicity to further the personal ambitions of their leaders, who can stand in both contests. It is a striking feature of the Russian electoral system that the two contests may often be separately organized, with different headquarters and campaign staff even in the case of candidates from the same party. Indeed, the national party‐list competition is often of marginal concern at constituency level as compared with the single‐member contest, and party affiliation counts for relatively little in either case as compared with the varied and changing interests of local elites (ibid.: 107–13).

It may often make sense, in fact, to see Duma elections as ‘presidential primaries’ (Shvetsova 2003), allowing party leaders to form an ephemeral grouping that will help them secure a national profile that can be used as a launching pad for a subsequent presidential contest. The practice of employing the Duma election as a ‘presidential primary’ is encouraged by the sequencing of elections, with the presidential election taking place six months after the parliamentary contest (in 2000, because of Yeltsin's early resignation, the presidential election took place just three months after the Duma election, and the same sequence was followed in 2004). Here again there are different logics (see Moser 2001: 95–112). In the Duma election, parties seek to mobilize their own supporters; but in the presidential contest, candidates are typically nominated on a non‐party basis and seek to appeal to the entire electorate regardless of party sympathy. In the March 2000 presidential election, for instance, only one of the candidates (Vladimir Zhirinovsky) was the candidate of a political party; all the others were nominated by a group of voters and were nominally independents.

Impact on the parties

Those who were responsible for drafting Russia's mixed electoral system believed that the party‐list competition would accelerate the formation of nationally organized political parties. The organization of parties in the Duma, others suggested, would make a further contribution in that the parties would be obliged to introduce a degree of discipline in order to maintain their coherence in parliamentary divisions (Remington and Smith 1995). Developments of this kind have been hindered by several circumstances. In the first place, parties are not obliged to nominate their own members in individual constituencies or in their national list, and may even nominate candidates who are members of other parties (Arts. 39:10 and 40:6 of the 2002 Duma election law).

A further characteristic of the Russian system is the loose relationship between election results and the composition of the Duma over the course of its four‐year term. The Duma is organized on the basis of ‘fractions’ and smaller ‘groups’ of deputies, which are formed when the new parliament assembles. But even fractions (p.325) based directly on political parties do not necessarily correspond to the seats that the same parties appear to have won in the preceding election. After the 1999 election, for instance, almost a third of the seats had changed hands before the new Duma assembled in January 2000; nearly all the independents joined one of the organized groupings, and only two of the six parties that reached the threshold had the same number of deputies as the number of seats they appeared to have won on polling day. There are further movements over the lifetime of each Duma as new groupings are formed and deputies change their allegiances, sometimes more than once (Rose et al. 2001: 425–7).

The electoral system has also had a very limited effect in stimulating mergers of parties with similar philosophies so that together they may be able to reach the threshold with a greater degree of assurance. Nothing substantial, for instance, has emerged from successive rounds of discussion between the two most obvious candidates, Yabloko and the Union of Right Forces, not least because their leaders have found it impossible to reconcile their respective ambitions. Conversely, the merger that took place between Unity and Fatherland–All Russia after the 1999 election had little to do with the electoral system, and everything to do with the ability of the Kremlin to manipulate elected representatives. In this case it was able to engineer a merged party—United Russia—that consisted of the pro‐Kremlin grouping confected some months before the 1999 election (Unity) and one of the largest of the parties that had opposed it (Fatherland–All Russia). Those who supported Fatherland–All Russia in order to express their opposition to Kremlin policies had not been consulted and indeed had effectively been disfranchized.

Impact on parliament

There are clearer and more interesting effects on the composition of parliament, particularly on the representation of women. Conventionally, women are expected to do substantially better under proportional‐list systems than in single member constituencies. Norris, for instance, has found that women account for 11 per cent of deputies in majoritarian systems, 15 per cent in mixed systems, and 20 per cent in proportional systems, making women ‘twice as likely to be elected under proportional representation (PR) [as under] majoritarian electoral systems’ (2000: 349). There is evidence, indeed, that the effects of proportionality on female representation have been increasing over time (Farrell 2001: 165–6).

The fortunes of women candidates in Russia have also been influenced by whether they stand on a party list or in a single‐member constituency. In 1993, thirty‐four of the fifty‐nine successful women were elected on a party‐list basis, and of these twenty‐one represented Women of Russia. In 1995 and 1999, however, Women of Russia failed to reach the threshold, which meant that they secured no party‐list seats at all, and in 2003 Women of Russia made no attempt even to nominate a list of candidates. This had obvious consequences for female representation as a whole, and for the balance between their party‐list and constituency seats in particular. The outcome, at least in 1995 and 1999, was that women won more seats in the (p.326) single‐member constituencies than in the party‐list contest (in 1999, fifteen and nineteen seats respectively), which is the opposite of what might have been expected on the basis of the comparative literature. Still more striking was the fall in the female share of all successful candidates, from 13 per cent in 1993 to 10 per cent in 1995 and then down again to 8 per cent in 1999, with just a slight recovery in 2003.

The electoral system has discernible effects on the conduct of legislators. Deputies returned by single‐member constituencies, when other circumstances have been taken into account, do appear to be influenced in their voting behaviour by the preferences of their constituents—much as single‐member constituency representatives in some other countries, who are also aware of the need to secure their re‐election (Thames 2001, 2002). Similarly, the proportion of deputies that are elected by party list as compared with the number returned by single‐member constituencies has important effects on the cohesiveness of parliamentary factions. There were no major differences within factions, at least in the mid‐1990s, that were attributable to the nature of the mandate of their members; but differences between the factions were related to the overall mix of list and single‐member constituency representatives within them. This suggested, among other things, that ‘both electoral and party forces influenced deputies' voting behaviour in 1994–5’ (Haspel et al. 1998: 435).

Government formation

The electoral system has, at most, indirect effects on the formation of government, not least because government is not formally accountable to the Duma and need not necessarily command a parliamentary majority. Ministers, indeed, were often better conceptualized as senior civil servants than as politicians. The law on the civil service of 1995 placed them within the top category of state officials, and required them to remain non‐party (a number, in fact, had clear de facto associations with political parties, and had to pretend they were ‘on holiday’ during electoral campaigns). When the pro‐Kremlin party Our Home is Russia finished a distant third in the 1995 Duma election with just over 10 per cent of the vote, its leader, prime minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, insisted there would be no change in government policy or personnel (Segodnya, 20 December 1995: 1). Conversely, the successive dismissal of four prime ministers between 1998 and 1999 was quite unconnected with a change in the composition of the Duma, still less a parliamentary election.

The politics of electoral reform

Just as Russia's 1993 electoral system reflected the play of rival interests, the system that has developed since that time has reflected the pressure of a multitude of rival forces. Chief among these has been the presidency, working through the parties it controls and which have provided it with a stable majority in the Dumas that were elected in 1999 and 2003. The move to a 7 per cent threshold from 2007 will obviously benefit the larger parties, which will be able to consolidate their (p.327) dominance of the legislature, and at the same time it will give the Kremlin a more coherent party system that will more easily be able to manage. The larger parties will also benefit disproportionately from the state funding of parties that was introduced in 2004 at a level roughly corresponding to a rouble for every vote they received. Meanwhile, the law on electoral guarantees of 2002—the ‘framework law’ that governs elections and referendums—has extended the privileged position of parties to Russia's regional assemblies. Up to the present, only a small minority of seats in these—in 1998–2000, about 15 per cent—have been held by candidates sponsored by political parties. For the future, half the seats in each regional legislature will be reserved for candidates nominated by the parties—which means registered parties, operating at a national level—in a manner that parallels the Duma itself.

Further changes were under consideration as President Putin's first term came to an end of a kind that were also likely to strengthen the larger parties. One of these was suggested by Putin himself, in his annual address to a joint session of parliament in April 2003: a ‘government of the parliamentary majority’, drawn from the parties that had won most seats in a Duma election (this, it was pointed out, would not require a constitutional amendment, only a change in political practice, but it was likely to take place only if the Duma majority was strongly supportive of the president and his policies). Other changes that were being considered included the introduction of an open list form of PR, as in Lithuania. As the chairman of the Central Electoral Commission pointed out, it was voters, not party officials, who were able to choose their deputies under such a system, and it would make it less easy for places on the party list to be traded, or even sold. There was evidence that, in Lithuania, it had also helped to raise turnout by as much as 15 per cent (Gosudarstvo i pravo, no. 3, 2003: 107).

The reform agenda of the early years of the new century extended across large‐scale constitutional change to more limited alterations in electoral mechanisms. As in some other countries, there has been a discussion of postal voting, at least at regional level. The minimum turnout could be reduced, perhaps to 20 per cent, to help to reduce the number of elections that failed to produce a winner. Or there might be no minimum threshold for a repeat election, and for similar reasons (Zinov'ev and Polyashova 2003: 95, 97, 98). A much more fundamental change, introduced by a presidential address in September 2004 that was nominally a response to a hostage‐taking crisis in the southern town of Beslan, was the abolition of the single‐member constituencies and their replacement, from 2007 onwards, by an entirely party‐based contest—a move that had already been suggested by the Central Electoral Commission. Governors, at the same time, would cease to be directly elected but would be nominated by the president and approved by regional assemblies (Izvestiya, 14 September 2004: 1–2, 4; the text of the new Duma election law was published in Rossiiskaya gazeta, 24 May 2005: 22–32). It was a move of doubtful constitutionality, particularly in this second respect. More obviously, it represented a further strengthening of executive authority and a further reduction in the capacity of the electoral system to communicate the preferences of voters to government rather than the instructions of government to the population at large.

(p.328) Conclusion

Neoinstitutionalists have much to say about the operation of electoral rules, but rather less about who makes them. The politics of electoral design in Russia has been a game in which the Kremlin has held almost all the cards, and in which the interests of ordinary citizens have scarcely been represented. The privileging of political parties, for instance, gave the Kremlin an additional means of imposing its authority upon an otherwise disorderly and unpredictable series of contests. The more the larger parties were advantaged, the more the minor parties would be marginalized or obliged to merge with a larger entity in which their own concerns would be submerged (feminists or environmentalists, for instance, would be unable to secure representation in their own right and would have to pool their identity within larger parties with less distinctive agendas). The more the parties, and particularly the larger parties, were financed by the state, the less they would have to seek the contributions of their members—and the less they would have to seek members at all. And the more the parties as a whole enjoyed a monopoly of representation, the less likely it was that the concerns of the overwhelming mass of citizens would be articulated within the formation of public policy.

For some Russian scholars, changes of this kind are part of a wider ‘authoritarian adaptation’ of the electoral process. Recent Russian elections, they argue, have been characterised by ‘dirty tricks’, political corruption, and the buying of voters and officials. Places on party lists are sold to the highest bidder, and votes in the Duma itself are traded wholesale in a sort of ‘political industry’, allowing oligarchs, officials, and legislators themselves to promote laws that advance their own interests. Improper use is made of the mass media, pressure groups are organized whenever necessary, and ‘electoral technologists’ look after everything else—from the collection of signatures to their hire of professional candidates who are prepared to stand for election for anyone who is prepared to pay them. As a result, write Zinov'ev and Polyashova, not only have recent elections failed to overcome the alienation of government from the population—‘on the contrary, they have only deepened it’ (2003: 8).

According to the survey evidence, Russians are firmly attached to the principle of competitive elections; but they are less persuaded that the elections that actually take place allow them an effective means of influencing the government that speaks in their name (see for instance Pammett 1999). An electoral system that is shaped even more strongly by the presidency and that excludes opinion outside the mainstream is likely to become an electoral system that loses its legitimacy; turnouts are likely to fall further, even more of those who take the trouble to turn out are likely to vote ‘against all’, and increasing numbers are likely to seek to advance their interests by industrial and other forms of action outside the electoral arena entirely. Certainly, institutions matter; but so do the relations of dominance and subordination within which they operate. The more the Russian system is shaped by the self‐interested preferences of those who monopolize its government, the more they run the risk that (p.329) an alienated society will find other ways of asserting its different and sometimes conflicting priorities.

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