Russian parties offer weak challenge to Putin

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Despite performing relatively strongly in elections, the three parties that will sit in parliament in opposition to United Russia have rarely shown a capacity or desire to challenge the Kremlin.

United Russia, led by Vladimir Putin, polled less than half the vote in Sunday's elections. Although it took an absolute majority of the seats, the three opposition parties have all improved their position from 2007.

But while the Communists grumble about rising prices, the Liberal Democrats complain that Russia is too soft on the West and A Fair Russia alleges deep regional corruption, they have never made a concerted attack on Putin's rule.

The three same parties currently sit in nominal opposition to United Russia in the outgoing State Duma but they have shown little inclination to cause a stir in a parliament that turned into a virtual rubber stamp.

Much of the so-called opposition is also run by figures with whom voters are all too familiar and who have been in their posts since the 1990s when Boris Yeltsin was president and Putin a complete unknown.

Here is a rundown of the parties who have won seats the State Duma:


Seats won in 2007: 315

Seats won in 2011: 238

Slogan: "For Life, for People" or "The Future is Ours"

United Russia was formed 2003 in Putin's first presidential mandate after the merger of two pro-government parties. It promptly won parliamentary elections that year and then won a huge majority in 2007. Its overall leader is Putin, although he has strangely never become a card-carrying member. The chairman is Boris Gryzlov, the notoriously wooden speaker of parliament once quoted as saying "the Duma is not a place for discussion".


Seats won in 2007: 57

Seats won in 2011: 92

Slogan: "Time to Change the Authorities"

The successor to the USSR Communist Party, it has been run ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union by the gravel-voiced and uncharismatic Gennady Zyuganov. It was a major force in the first post-Soviet parliaments but its support declined as its elderly voters passed away and United Russia emerged. Unlike other successors to Soviet-era Communist parties elsewhere in Europe, it has made little attempt to reform and remembers Stalin fondly.


Seats won in 2007: 38

Seats won in 2011: 64

Slogan: "Number One in the Elections"

The party was founded in 2006 just before the last elections in what was widely seemed as a Kremlin-inspired attempt to enliven the Duma without causing too much trouble. Led by Sergei Mironov, it has been unusually vocal in alleging violations by the ruling party in these elections. Its third place is a big success after some analysts predicted it might not even win MPs in parliament.


Seats won in 2007: 40

Seats won in 2011: 56

Slogan: "For Russians!"

Despite its name, the LDPR is a nationalist party that generally scorns liberals and mistrusts Western-style democracy. It has been led since even before the collapse of the USSR by Vladimir Zhirinovsky, a multilingual expert on the East who cultivates a public image as a firebrand populist. It won the most votes in Russia's first post-Soviet parliamentary elections in 1993. But for all his fire, Zhirinovsky almost always toes the Kremlin line.


Seats won in 2007: None

Seats won in 2011: None

Slogan: "We Will Return Your Hope"

A veteran of 1990s politics in Russia, Yabloko (Apple) was wiped out of parliament in the last elections and failed to win seats this time. Its campaign, as for the last two decades, was led by Grigory Yavlinsky. The party did however win over three percent of the vote, allowing it state funding.


Any hope that the pro-business Right Cause party could be a serious player ended when its new leader, tycoon Mikhail Prokhorov, was forced out in a dispute with the Kremlin. Meanwhile, the virulently anti-Kremlin Parnas party that includes ex-world chess champion Garry Kasparov could not run after the authorities refused to register it.

© 2011 AFP

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