“Our political alternative has always been lopsided”

Political expert Dmitry Zhuravlev about what kind of Duma Russia can get as a result of the 2021 elections and why

“Our political alternative has always been lopsided”
Photo: duma.gov.ru

The past elections of regional leaders and parliaments of the constituent entities of the Russian Federation provided food for discussion about the prospects of political parties in the State Duma elections to be held next year. When it will be more profitable for United Russia to win — in April or in September, who will be the “second Zhirinovsky”, what kind of dark horse New People party is, and about other realities of future elections — Realnoe Vremya spoke with political expert, director of the Institute of Regional Problems Dmitry Zhuravlev.

“The authority's mistakes will not mean the opposition's success”

Mr Zhuravlev, can we consider the State Duma elections in 2021 to be the most important for the party in power? More and more often we hear that on the eve of a possible transfer of power, the significance of these elections is huge — the alleged victory of the party in power in these elections can guarantee the emergence of undesirable problems in the possible transfer of power from Putin to his successor.

No, they will not be important for society: the Russian society is used to considering the executive power as the main one. Although this does not mean that the Duma does not matter in itself, but it is perceived as a third-party power. On the other hand, of course, Russia is at being another turning point, and much will depend on the composition of the Duma. But we have been living at such points for the last almost 40 years, and, of course, any of them is perceived as the main one, and then it seems less significant.

I don't really believe that any political confrontation in the Duma caused by people's political discontent is possible until 2024. But social discontent is there, and it may affect the actions of the parliament after 2021. I myself am a member of the Public Council under Rosstat and I see that the standard of living of people, to put it mildly, is not growing. By the 2021 election, of course, there will be no growth. Therefore, the Duma is very important to ensure that its walls are not captured by the topic of social pressure.

And finally, if we assume that some significant change should already happen in our economic and political system, this change must be legislated, and thus it should be made by either a professional Duma or the Duma that considers that this should not be done.

I don't really believe that any political confrontation in the Duma caused by people's political discontent is possible until 2024. But social discontent is there, and it may affect the actions of the parliament after 2021

It turns out that the country will get a Duma that “believes” that there should be no changes in the political and economic system. Why will it be like this?

Because there is no serious political alternative among the parties for citizens. Yes, as a citizen who lives in my area, I don't like the fact that I have a pit in my yard, and I believe that this is the fault of the local government, if not the federal one. But I do not conclude from this that if I vote for Navalny, the pit will certainly be filled up. And this gap is present in the minds of many citizens — and this may even be good, because people understand that the government's mistakes will not mean the opposition's success. Yes, people are not ready to forgive mistakes, but this does not mean that they see a political alternative.

But someone will say that the government all these years has been doing everything to make us have difficulties with the alternative.

But the government was not the only one who tried — we always had a lopsided political alternative. Look at, for example, Smart Vote — it was actually turned into a farce, but why? If the right-wing opposition really put forward people who could be elected, this would be the way to an alternative. But it all boils down to “who looked at whom wrongly, them they will support”.

The alternative in politics is very young, adolescent, touchy, nervous, and subjective. On the one hand, this is how it should be: the alternative in Russia is really young in political terms. But on the other hand, this reality creates a choice between an obelisk to yourself from the federal authorities and strange, resentful people. But the “obelisk” is not getting any better, but it will not run away from people, and this factor has worked and will continue to work for the authorities — including in the Duma elections in 2021.

“As locomotives, our chief doctors and school principals are great”

Generally speaking, are the party in power — United Russia, the Kremlin well prepared for these elections, based on the last election campaign in the regions, which can not be counted among their successes?

It's hard to say. From the point of view of political technologies, the main party and the government are well prepared, but the possibilities of political technologies are limited. And at some point, this political “immunity” may not be enough.

Are there many dangers for United Russia?

If we talk about the dangers for the party of the parliamentary majority (United Russia is more correct to call it that, and the party in power is the presidential administration), there are two of them. The first is that United Russia may not respond to people's requests about what candidates on the party lists will bring to people in future elections. The second danger will be in creating some really distinct opposition for United Russia on the eve of the elections. The second danger, I think, is less likely because there are no forces that can obviously win.

Although if there were an alternative, United Russia would benefit from this, because public confidence in the election results would increase, and trust in elections is now the main problem of societies. Yes, no one doubts that United Russia will win these elections, but will the winning results inspire confidence among ordinary people?

From the point of view of political technologies, the main party and the government are well prepared, but the possibilities of political technologies are limited. And at some point, this political “immunity” may not be enough.

Is the government ready to change the situation with the lack of trust in the election results among citizens?

There is trust, but the question is its scale, the question is how many people do not have this trust. Many people find it convenient to believe in the rightness of the authorities. I think the authorities will push these issues deeper — that is, there will be no signs of distrust on the surface, but in fact, it will grow, as it did in the last decade of Soviet power.

How is the party of the parliamentary majority going to avoid the dangers?

Now United Russia is winning largely due to that there are many chief doctors and school principals on their election lists, and voters still trust these people. However, then the party itself will choose people from this list, whom it will make a deputy, but as locomotives, chief doctors and school principals are great.

“Psychologically, a three-day period can hit people's trust in the elections”

Do you think that the three-day voting format will remain for the Duma elections?

They will probably leave it, although United Russia already has doubts about this format.

How did this format help United Russia in general?

I'm not ready to call figures, but it's a fact that it gave a lot. But I think that this is not due to possible falsification, but due to that the lazy part of the voters still crawled to the polling stations and put their ballot for United Russia — the politically passive population will always support the government, and here they even came to the polls.

They will not leave the format if dissatisfaction with the three-day system becomes an axiom for many citizens and the opposition — then, of course, the three-day system will be removed. If the society is passive, it will be abandoned, but believe me — if not now, then in a year the question of such format will still arise. By the way, I don't consider such organization a problem — it's all about organising observation. When a party says that we don't have enough people as observers in the elections, I ask the representatives of this party: “Are there enough people who come to vote for you?"

But psychologically, the three-day format can hit people's trust in the elections — some may believe that at night some masked people come to the precinct election commissions and put the “necessary ballots” in the ballot box.

When is it profitable for United Russia to organise the vote?

United Russia benefits from April, not September. There is a political science law — a party in power needs less time to run an election campaign, and that is why Mrs Thatcher always won early parliamentary elections with her party in the UK. She was not a masochist and did not aim to reduce her term, but she aimed to win elections.

For the ruling party, early elections are beneficial, but for the system, for the Kremlin, it is much more convenient for everything in the system to be calmer and convenient in terms of the law. The Kremlin doesn't want talks that the election was postponed because something was wrong up there. The electoral interests of the party and the government, therefore, are now at odds — the government still needs to maintain trust, get it, but the party needs a victory with a good result, and here April is much more convenient for it.

It is difficult to say which month will be chosen in the end, but it will be easier to win in April.

For the ruling party, early elections are beneficial, but for the system, for the Kremlin, it is much more convenient for everything in the system to be calmer and convenient in terms of the law

“LDPR has one problem — it is an autocratic party, and the leader is already many years old”

Now let's talk about the opponents of United Russia. None of the political scientists noted that the results of the last elections on September 13 somehow shook the position of the LDPR (Liberal Democratic Party of Russia). Did the party survive the troubles with the Khabarovsk story related to Furgal's arrest and the protests?

What was there something to shake? The party could have been shaken if the governor not from the LDPR would have come to Khabarovsk . The LDPR has only one problem — this party is an autocratic party, it exists due to the simplicity of its slogans and the personality of the leader, but the leader is already many years old. This means that Zakhar Prilepin, the leader of For Truth party, can become a “second Zhirinovsky”. But so far the LDPR gives simple slogans, which means that the voter will not part with it.

How strong are the problems experienced by the Communist Party and is it true that the problem is a crisis of Communist ideas?

In the history of the Communist Party, two processes intersected — strategic and tactical ones. Tactical one is the problem of time. The Communist Party always said: “Vote for us and we will change your life!” — this call went well in 1996, but it has been 24 years since then, and where are the changes? The electorate of the Communist Party is not getting less — yesterday's middle generation is becoming leftwing, although not as sharply as those who lived under the Soviet regime. But it already asks the Communist Party questions: “Guys, we vote for you, and where is our decent pension? Why is nothing changing?" Another problem with the Communists is that they are both a social democratic party and a Bolshevik party, and it is very difficult to find new ideas there. Of course, they will invent something for the Duma elections, but the question is, will this “something” satisfy the Communist voter? The top of the Communist Party needs a social-democratic programme, and the Communist voter needs a Bolshevik programme, but the Communist Party is not ready to go for it, and this is their problem since the very foundation of the Communist Party — since 1993.

But the Communist Party will still try, although I can't even think of what they will do.

Does the Kremlin need Fair Russia?

The center-left party is needed, but you can't always drag by the ears! If the party of the left centre did not develop, it is the fault of Fair Russia itself, and if the party does not have new theses, it will be difficult for it even with the help of the Kremlin. Mironov is a smart and decent person, but the party needs something technologically new.

New People are able to claim a piece of United Russia in the future”

What can you say about New People party? Is this a serious project? The party has already gone through several parliaments.

Whom can this party take votes from now? Only from United Russia. Moreover, after examining the programme of New People, it can be explained as follows: we are United Russia, but only better. This means that the votes will be taken by Nechaev's party only from United Russia. In theory, New People can take away votes from right-wing parties as well, but for this, New People is not enough righty party, by centre-righty: we are for strong state, but without bureaucracy, we are for capitalism, but without state capitalism, and if it does not a spoiler of United Russia, then it is the replacement unit of United Russia.

Is it a serious competitor for United Russia?

There is no danger in the near future — there is too little time for the New People for run-up, but in the future they are able to claim some good piece of United Russia. Although I think that they can enter into a single bloc with United Russia — these parties do not have any big contradictions.

New People are eager to fight, and this is for sure, and their actions show that they are serious. But for now, they are determined to fight only for themselves. Not today, but tomorrow they will take their place in the political system.

The main request of people before politicians is a request for novelty, and Party of Growth does not give this novelty

“One should be outraged after the elections, not before them”

What would you say to those who expect protests before the Duma elections, like in Moscow in 2019?

Political strategists say that such things should be carried out not on the eve of elections, but after them, and in any textbook on political science it is written that one should be indignant after the elections, not before them.

But in 2019, protests before the elections brought the opposition seats in the Moscow City Duma — this cannot be denied.

They were provided with seats in the Moscow City Duma due to well-organised Smart Vote — the non-systemic opposition managed, sorry, to put their ambition in one place and nominate those who can win. Protests are possible, but it would be unwise — it would be wiser for our right-wing to protest a little at the beginning, and more later.

Why later?

If they make a noise “later”, they will keep a political face, and this is vital for a political party, it will be a bid for political life. You see, you have to believe in the party — and if people vote not only for right-wing politics but also see that they are able to fight for their votes, these parties will be useful in the future.

In this case, do you have any suggestions that non-systemic opposition will be smarter than in 2019 and will act this way, what would you suggest them?

So far, unfortunately, I can't think so — after all, the supporters of, for example, Navalny as politicians are very “teenage”, which is proved by their private grievances against their like-minded people and partners on the right flank. The right-wing politicians can only march in a line, because if they form a column, they will not agree on who goes first, and these ambitions ruin them more than the “work” of the authorities.

In fact, in Russian politics, all political forces are quite capable of negotiating, and there is no such thing that we will “fight to the last drop of blood”. The whole question is who is able to fulfill the contract, and who is not

May it happen that non-systemic opposition will all say with one voice — vote first of all for New People just not to allow the party in power?

It would be reasonable to create a right-wing association in support of one passing party, but there is no reason to think that Navalny will act in this way, that is, reasonably.

By Sergey Kochnev
Tatarstan