Electoral Politics

Erik S. Herron 
Associate Professor of Political Science

Ph.D., Michigan State University, 2000 
Interests: Comparative Politics, Elections and Political Parties, Politics of Post-Communist States 
email: eherron@ku.edu  

Electoral Politics in Siberia 

Dr. Herron just returned from work as an election observer in Odessa, Ukraine, will leave next week for Moldova. He has in the past been an observer during an election in northern Siberia. 

Why do democratic states hold elections? 

  • Elections are supposed to represent the people’s will (political scientists think this is actually impossible to measure)
  • To ensure some kind of alternation in who holds power 
  • Accountability mechanism—you can get rid of people who aren’t performing the way you hope, get rid of corruption, vehicle to hold officials accountable 
  • Legitimacy—representatives that are chosen are those that ought to be in power (in principle) 
  • Recruit leadership 

Why do authoritarian states hold elections? 

  • Most authoritarian states do hold elections 
  • Legitimacy—the audience is the external, outside world 
    • Kazakhstan, for example, has recently become chair of the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe), which is controversial because it is the first non-democracy to hold that position. Kazakhstan claims legitimacy for its government because of elections. 
    • Requires a great deal of resources to hold elections (millions of people were involved in Soviet elections)—so why do it? One reason is that it allows you to locate and identify dissent. Clearest way to identify dissent in USSR; the way you cast your vote is to cross off the name of candidates you don’t support (only one name on the ballot during most of the Soviet period). You voted against regime.  
  • Teach citizens proper mobilization—dry run to mobilize people to do things that the state wants. 
  • Soviets selected people for elections because they represented certain categories (peasants, workers, etc.) but could also identify people who could become leaders, so it did serve a useful purpose. 

Purpose of political parties? 

  • Label or signal—information short cut, have sense of what party stands for, vote for members of party without having to spend a lot of time to find out what candidates specifically think 
  • Serves as a conduit of information to communicate between citizens and states (both ways) 
  • Parties have a platform/ideology 
  • Parties govern 
  • Mobilize 
  • Parties nominate candidates and participate in elections, interest groups don’t nominate candidates. Parties are distinguished from interest groups and all other organizations because they are directly engaged in nominating the candidates for election.

Electoral politics in Russia 

In late 1980’s some contested elections emerged in what was still the USSR, and multiple names were placed on the ballot. Then the Soviet Union collapsed. We can identify critical points in 1980’s with regard to parties and elections and look at how things have played out. 

Context of Siberia in Russia; it is important to remember that Siberia is not monolithic  

www.vybory.ru map of Russia regions that supported Putin in 2000—regions were strongly oriented to pro-market reform parties in 1990’s compared to those that supported communist party, which were less progressive overall. But after the election, Putin’s assent to the presidency changed many things—policies that he enacted changed the nature of the Russian political game. 

Critical Moments 

During the Yeltsin era (1990’s) there was an increase in regional authority. Yeltsin tried to marshal support in Russia. Regions were encouraged to take as much sovereignty as they could. But this backfired in several ways—control of politics as you move eastward became problem. 

Constitutional crisis 1992-1993; there wasn’t a discussion of how to rewrite the constitution, and this has turned out to be a critical issue. Yeltsin and team were faced with several difficult choices during collapse; they had to create borders, deal with economic transition, political landscape changed, they had to create foreign policy to the newly formed states. Essentially, they ignored politics in order to pursue economic reform, and the consequence of not changing the constitution and not having elections to change the Duma were significant. Yeltsin tried to govern using the political structure that was formed under the old Soviet system. This led to his having to dissolve the legislature when it became unmanageable (the legislature was filled with holdovers, dominated by communists, nationalists). This dissolution, according to communists, was illegal (technically they were right). The legislature occupied the White House (the building used by the Duma), and attempted to take the main television tower in Moscow. Yeltsin orders troops in, they fired on the building. 

Yeltsin established by decree a new election law—one of the outcomes was the creation of the lower house of parliament (new). The presidency was made stronger, a federal system was established. Yeltsin permitted some regions to make bilateral treaties with Moscow, some regions were allowed to negotiate separately, some regions especially in east could had more resources and negotiated stronger deals. 

Mixed electoral system—225 constitutency seats, 225 party list seats. The latter encouraged the development of parties (didn’t exist under the Soviets) and they wanted to develop parties that could contest the communists (the only party that was organized). 

The 225 consitutency seats were powerful prizes for regions. 

Financial-industrial groups 

Large corporate entitites (banks, extractive industries) Urals and Siberia have many of these (data comes from a World Bank study). FIG’s employed 30% of workforce, 10% of Russia’s GDP. For example, Lukoil sets itself up as a political party. 

PFIGs (politicized financial-industrial groups) in Krasnoyarsk Krai. Aleksandr Lebed was the governor until 2002. He was a general who commanded forces in Moldova, and he supported the anti-coup forces. When Yeltsin faced off against Zuganov, Lebed was third, so he was seen as the king maker. In Russian elections, the first round was open to anyone who was nominated, but the second round was only open to the top 2. 

After the election, Lebed was fired by Yeltsin so went out to Krasnoyarsk Krai. He was eventually killed.

More recently, the local oligarch in aluminum, Aleksandr Uss vs. man of nickel Aleksandr Khloponin; contested election between two industrial entities. 

(Yorke 2003, Hale 2006. Why Russia has not been fertile grounds for parties.) 

FIGs find fertile ground in Siberia; lots of resources, lots of reasons for people who run those industries to want to control the functioning and economics of those industries. 

Regional Political Machines 

May or may not be directly related to FIGs 

Governors who took as much sovereignty as they could—made treaties with Moscow, maximized their independent power base. Over time power bases have been undercut. 

Rise of unity/Vladimir Putin 

Throughout 1990’s there was an effort by the people in power to form political parties, but there were many failures. In 1999 Unity was formed, roughly the same time that Putin was appointed prime minister. Unity does well, 2nd highest number of seats. Not long after there were efforts to take back power from regions, from FIG's. Some of this is statutory—law on political parties (initial threshold low, but had to register). Most important criteria was that you had to have offices in 50 regions, membership was set at least 100, and the widespread nature undermines regional power bases. 

Arrest of Khodorkovskiy—signal to FIG's. He was officially arrested for corruption, and there is evidence that there may be truth to the charges. But his arrest was in part in response to his support of opposition politicians. In 2003 FIG's were still involved in politics but more limited. 

Changes to federalism- dismantling regional political machines. Elimination of bilateral treaties. 

Post-Beslan massacre election rule changes (introduction of PR, elimination of gubernatorial elections). Eliminated the 225 district seats (the prizes that regional leaders could control). All 450 seats now national, must be part of party. 

Beslan = “Russia’s 9/11” horrible event that was taken advantage of by national government to institute massive changes. 

Extension of United Russia, it became the vehicle to gain political power 

Unity merges with party of the former mayor of Moscow (Yury Luzhkov) to form United Russia. This has become the party of power. 

Eliminated the diversity of electoral politics that you saw in 1990’s. FIG's and regional political machines have in many ways been dismantled. 

In 1990’s Siberia were notable for their support of pro-reform politics. 

Because of natural resource wealth of Siberia PFIG's were especially active in Siberia. 

In the 2000s politics became more homogenized across Russia with centralization of authority and the rise of United Russia. There has been a re-establishment of the vertical control of government. Local and national politics now look more similar. 

There are groups within United Russia that fight for resources, so it is not a completely homogenized party, however. 

2012 may have interesting elections with the possibility of challenge to Putin by Lukhkov (former Moscow mayor) 

Siberia—officials aren’t really held accountable because there are not good challenges right now. 

There is opposition in Russia, but not really well functioning. Communists are main opposition party, others not well organized. Mostly token opposition, this could lead to stagnation and that is recognized in discussions in the Russian government. Oppositions do something important in terms of advancing society and economy. 

There was a time when Russia was divided into regions, presidential reps, etc. but that was probably a step in the reorganization of the country that is no longer needed. Regions have now been consolidated, Putin now appoints the governors. 

Pro-reform elements have been ineffective in uniting on important issues to build power. Also may have been engineered out of running. Were seen as being part of economic pain of 1990’s. As a result, they have been unable to build effective parties and mount an opposition that is meaningful.

The Ethnic Republics have constitutions, regions that are not ethnic have charters. With changes to more vertical power, federal law is dominate and they are being brought back in line with changes to regional constitutions.