Post-Soviet Russia's route to one-party domination

28th November 2011, Comments 0 comments

The ruling United Russia party is expected to maintain its grip on the Russian parliament in Sunday's polls but the authorities have not always been able to enjoy loyalty from the legislature.

Russia's lower house, the State Duma, provided a rough ride for late president Boris Yeltsin in the 1990s and it is only in the last years under Vladimir Putin that United Russia has been able to enjoy a domination comparable to the Soviet-era Communist Party.


The State Duma traces its history back to its first sitting in 1906 under tsar Nicholas II, who allowed the creation of a parliament as a concession to liberals led by then prime minister Sergei Witte.

However millions of people were deprived of the right to vote and it was dissolved after the February revolution that deposed the tsar.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union the State Duma was reactivated by Yeltsin in 1993 after an armed confrontation with the leaders of the Supreme Soviet. The first elections took place in December that year.


The chaotic world of Russia's politics in the 1990s resulted in a Duma that is a complete contrast to the domination of United Russia today. To the horror of the reform-inclined authorities, the most votes were won by the ultra-nationalist party of firebrand populist Vladimir Zhirinovsky. The pro-Yeltsin Russia's Choice struggled to impose itself and lost support amid growing economic difficulties.


Amid growing dissatisfaction with Yeltsin's economic reforms, the Communist Party emerged as by far the largest party followed by Zhirinovsky's nationalists. The pro-government Our House is Russia (nicknamed Our House is Gazprom for its links to the energy giant) came third with the liberal Yabloko (Apple) squeezing into fourth.


These were the last parliamentary elections of the Yeltsin presidency which was shortly to end with the shock handover of power to his little-known prime minister Vladimir Putin. The Communists were again the largest party but this time they were challenged by the pro-government Yedinstvo (Unity) and Fatherland - All Russia parties who would later merge to create United Russia. Liberal forces again polled weakly.


The first elections contested by United Russia with Putin as president saw the party smash the grip of opposition parties on parliament. It polled over 37.5 percent of the vote compared to 11.5 percent for Zhirinovsky and 12.6 percent for the Communists.


With Putin's popularity soaring and the economy performing well, United Russia won a massive 64.3 percent of the vote, followed by the Communists with 11.5 percent. Its landslide victory saw it win it 315 out of the 450 seats in the Duma. The Yabloko party was wiped out of parliament.


With United Russia controlling three-quarters of the seats in the Duma, the parliament has turned into a rubber-stamp for government legislation. Even the three opposition parties represented -- the Communist Party, Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democrats and the newly created A Just Russia -- have rarely strayed away from the Kremlin line.


The State Duma elected on Sunday will sit for five years instead of the previous four in line with constitutional changes pushed by President Dmitry Medvedev. He has also lowered the minimum threshold for winning seats in the Duma to five percent from the current seven percent but this will not come into force in these elections. Medvedev has raised concern about United Russia's domination but is nonetheless heading its list for the polls.

© 2011 AFP

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