Party development and institutional influences in Russia: electoral systems and the Presidency


Matthew Baird



Archie Brown, Professor of Politics at Oxford University, states that ‘no country-wide democratic polity has ever been sustained without the organizing and mediating role of parties’. (Brown, 2001, p211) In Russia parties are notoriously weak, this paper will seek to examine the implications this has for democracy. The first section will begin with the outline of some definitions, drawing from Dahl and his concept of polyarchy. It will also outline the functions of political parties in order to stress their importance for democracy. However, the main thrust of the examination will concern the impact of the electoral system on party formation and consolidation. It will begin with background information relating to party formation in the final years of the Soviet regime, before addressing how parties developed in the early years of Russian independence. The focus will be on the type of electoral system adopted, how it came into being, and the influence it had in the election of 1993. The development of parties throughout the elections of the 1990’s will be described, maintaining the focus on the electoral system. Finally the role of the Presidency will be addressed in relation to its impact on party formation. I believe I will demonstrate that the role of parties has been developing in Russia throughout the 1990’s, influenced by the electoral system. However, I believe that as long as the Presidency remains the source of power in Russia the development of parties will be constrained.


Definitions and Concepts


Before examining the role of parties in the democratization of Russia it is important to understand the concepts behind these terms. Democratization can be understood as ‘the process of change towards more democratic forms of rule’ (Sorenson, 1998, p160), however, defining democracy is often more problematic. At the most basic level it can be described as ‘a form of government in which the people rule’ (Sorenson, 1998, p3), but beyond this there is little consensus on a more elaborate definition.


For Dahl, one of the leading democratization theorists, there are three necessary conditions for democracy which include the unimpaired opportunities for citizens to formulate their preferences, to signify their preferences, and to have their preferences weighed equally in the conduct of government. (Dahl, 1971, p2) Dahl also describes a number of institutional guarantees which promote these three conditions. These have been modified by Brown to include; freedom to form and join political organizations, freedom of expression and access to alternative sources of information, the right to vote in free and fair elections, the right to compete for public office, political accountability and the rule of law. (Brown, 2001, p546) For Dahl democratization can be measured on a two dimension scale which takes into account public contestation and participation. He argues that because no large real-world system is fully democratized, it is more useful to focus on the term polyarchy. Dahl defines polyarchy as a ‘regime that has been substantially popularized and liberalized, that is, highly inclusive and extensively open to public contestation.’ (Dahl, 1971, p8)


When described in these terms, political parties would appear to be central to democracy, as they can play an important role in the formulation and representation of preferences. In fact, Gunther & Diamond have outlined a number of functions which political parties perform. (Gunther & Diamond, 2001, pp7-8) Primarily they identify the role of parties in elections, carrying out the important tasks of candidate nomination and electoral mobilization. Parties help to structure the issues which are prominent in society, representing different social bases. They engage in interest aggregation which makes the formation of government easier, playing an important role in sustaining the governmental process. Parties can also play an important role in social integration, facilitating citizen participation in the political process. This list is not meant to be exhaustive but it does provide a basis for understanding why parties are important to democracy. However, this list focuses on the role of parties in established democracies and it may not be as applicable to the role of parties in democratization. Fish builds on this argument by noting that if parties are defined in terms of their pursuit of placing representatives in government positions, or as groups that nominate candidates for election to a legislature, then the concept of parties in Russia cannot really be addressed before 1993. Instead he prefers to talk of ‘movement organizations’, which encompass a wider spectrum of institutional forms. (Fish, 1995, pp80-81)


Nevertheless, the role of political parties cannot be denied as Russia seeks to consolidate democracy. Lewis argues that although parties have been particularly weak in East European democratization they have played a role in conflict management. (Lewis, 2001, p53) Many organizations that formed prior to 1993 identified themselves as political parties, or engaged in activities which are associated with political parties. I will now proceed to address these developments.


Political Parties – 1985-1993


Throughout the Soviet period self-organized political associations had been suppressed by the central regime. The only political party was the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), which dominated Soviet political life. In 1985 with the introduction of policies such as glasnost Gorbachev opened the way for the formation of groups which could challenge the old order. Initially reforms did not create overtly political organizations, but in the spring of 1987 the amendments to Articles 70 & 190 of the criminal code did allow for the formation of political associations. (McFaul & Markov, 1993, p2) In Russia these new bodies did not really challenge the one-party state, or the socialist order, they were more concerned about reform within the system. However, as the political climate liberalized further more radical groups began to form. Influenced by dissidents returning from exile the Democratic Union declared itself a political party in May 1988. (McFaul & Markov, 1993, p3) It began to mobilize people through mass demonstrations, promoting the values of democratization and human rights. Coinciding with these developments Russian nationalist and neocommunist groups were forming, also benefiting from the relaxation of central control. Popular Fronts were created in major cities arguing for democratic socialism while remaining committed to perestroika. (McFaul & Markov, 1993, pp4-5)


Elections were held at a national level in 1989 and then at the republican and local level in 1990, however the new political parties were not sufficiently developed to significantly influence either of these ballots. Democratic Russia had been established in January 1990 to act as an umbrella organization for the 1990 election but it was not a formal party, and the Democratic Union boycotted the election, which meant that no parties were represented apart from the CPSU. (McFaul & Markov, 1993, pp6-9)


This CPSU dominance was addressed with the amendment of the Soviet Constitution. The guarantee of CPSU monopoly power was rescinded by the Congress of Peoples Deputies in March 1990. (DeBardeleben, 1997, p101) By October the Soviet Law on Public Associations was passed, giving political parties and trade unions official legal standing. These events lead to party proliferation, with 457 political or politicized organizations operating in Russia by late 1990, with 100 of these recognized as political parties by early 1991. (Sakwa, 1996, pp78-79)


Throughout 1991 Russian society began to polarize with traditional communists at one end of the spectrum and liberal democrats at the other. The election of the office of Russian President in June 1991 was largely non-partisan as the multitude of democratic parties decided that it was best to support the popular candidacy of Yeltsin, rather than risk splitting the reform vote by running their own candidates. (DeBardeleben, 1997, p180)


As the situation in Russia grew more tense, the August coup attempt provided the final push towards the end of the Soviet Union. Yeltsin moved to consolidate the power of the Presidency while also engineering the final dissolution of the Soviet Union in December 1991.


In 1992 political organizations began to register with the Ministry of Justice, with estimates placing the number of parties at around 25 in April 1992. (Sakwa, 1996, p80) Distinctive programs began to emerge in relation to the economy and foreign relations, with political groups dividing into four main blocs: liberals and democrats; centrists; national-patriotic movements; and neo-communist and revolutionary socialist organizations. (Sakwa, 1996, p81)


Although the liberals and democrats appeared to be in the ascendancy they were prone to fragmentation. With the dissolution of Democratic Russia in November 1991 the reformist tendency began to factionalize. It was not until 1993, with the prospects of election on the horizon that parties began to take shape. Gaidar led ‘Russia’s Choice’, which was the ‘party of power’, Shakhrai formed the Party of Russian Unity and Concord and ‘Yabloko’ was lead by Yavlinski and other ‘oppositional democrats’. These three parties represented the main liberal and democratic parties which would contest the 1993 election. (Moser, 2001a, pp13-14; Sakwa, 1996, p81)


In the centrist bracket there were also a number of parties. One of the most prominent was the Democratic Party of Russia, founded by Travkin in the spring of 1990. (McFaul & Markov, 1993, p10) After a brief spell within the broader coalition of the Civic Union, the DPR emerged as the main centrist party contesting the 1993 election. Also within the centrist bloc single issue parties proliferated. They appealed to sectional groups, including women (Women of Russia), young people (Future of Russia – New Names), veterans and the disabled (Dignity and Charity), as well as interest groups who promoted causes such as the environment (Constructive Ecological Movement of Russia). (Moser, 2001a, p14; Sakwa, 1996, p82)



Within the nationalist-patriotic grouping the main influence was Zhirinovsky’s misnamed Liberal Democratic Party of Russia. Like the DPR it had been created before the break-up of the Soviet Union, with its founding Congress on March 31st 1990. Zhirinovsky had contested the 1991 Russian Presidential election receiving 7.8% of the vote and he managed to sustain a significant level of support through his focus on populist policies. (Sakwa, 1996, p84)


The final electoral bloc which influenced the political system in the early years of the Russian Federation was the neo-communists. The Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF) acted as the successor of the CPSU, benefiting a great deal from their extensive local organizations. They had a strong social base in rural communities and amongst the elderly. Similarly the Agrarian Party of Russia also appealed to those in the countryside, however unlike the other electoral blocs the APR and CPRF worked together, coordinating their efforts in order to achieve the best overall result for their ideological position. (Moser, 2001a, pp14-15; Sakwa, 1996, pp84-85)



However, throughout this period none of these parties exacted any great influence on the Russian system. They did not impact on the presidency or the formation of government, and without elections to contest they were largely redundant. The legacy of the Soviet period lead to general distrust for any group which gave itself the name ‘party’ and social conditions in Russia did not facilitate party formation. The cleavages which are associated with creation of parties in established democracies were lacking, in particular class divisions were underdeveloped as the influence of capitalist market economics had not been firmly institutionalized. (McFaul, 2001, pp1169-1170)


The impact of the 1993 election on party formation


In this context the election of 1993 was extremely significant as it provided the first opportunity for parties to play a role in the development of democracy in Russia. However, before examining the results of these elections and the implications for the emerging political parties it is important to address the electoral system which was employed.


For Giovanni Sartori the electoral system is ‘the most specific manipulative instrument in politics’. (Sartori, in Moser, 2001b, p195) There is a wide body of literature which describes the effects different electoral systems can have but for the most part it is guided by some underlying principles developed by Duverger. (Duverger, 1954; Lijphart, 1994; Rae, 1971; Sartori 1994; Taagepera & Shugart 1989) Despite some flaws in the initial theory, (Sartori, 1994) it is generally assumed that proportional representation (PR) systems will promote the development of multiparty systems, while plurality elections will constrain party development, particularly at the district level. (Moser, 2001a, p2)


In Russia there was a great debate over which system should be adopted. The first draft of the electoral law was developed by Balala and the Committee on Local Self-Government and the Work of the Soviets. It was published in Spring 1992 advocating a system of plurality single member districts, with no form of PR. A year later this was followed by a second draft developed by Sheinis and the Supreme Soviet’s Constitutional Commission. It advocated a mixed system of 50% PR and 50% plurality. As the elections drew closer Yeltsins aides also became involved and in the summer of 1993 they began investigating with the help of Sheinis. (McFaul, 1999, pp39-40)


At this time there was increasing tension between the legislature and the executive as both organs vied for dominance in government. As a result Yeltsin and his advisors were preoccupied and could not devote their full attention to the design of the electoral system for the Duma. (McFaul, 1999, p41) In any case, as I will outline below, the elections to the lower house of the state legislature, known as the Duma, were of secondary importance to Yeltsin as he envisaged a strong Presidential system, with the Duma a subordinate body.


Sheinis took this opportunity to promote a mixed system as he believed that PR would promote the development of national parties, while Single Member Districts (SMDs) elected in plurality elections would foster the creation of local party organizations. He also convinced Yeltsin that this mixed system would be beneficial to reform parties supportive of his agenda, in particular the ‘party of power’, Russia’s Choice. (McFaul, 1999, p41)


McFaul argues that this outcome must be seen in the context of the uncertainty which characterized Russian politics at the time. (McFaul, 1999, pp30-31)The pressure on the elite to create a whole range of institutions, combined with the nascent party system and a lack of any democratic tradition made it difficult to predict the effect that multiparty elections would have. Given more time Yeltsin and his advisors may have adopted a different position, but in the midst of a constitutional crisis they needed to provide quick answers to difficult problems.


On October 1st 1993, the electoral law was passed by decree. It instituted a system whereby 225 members of the Duma would be elected from SMDs with plurality elections and 225 members from a party-list PR ballot covering a single nationwide electoral district. Voters were given two ballots, one for a party or bloc on the PR list and one for a candidate in a SMD. The two halves of the electoral system were not linked and a 5% legal threshold was imposed in the PR tier.


The elections were held on December 12th and produced some surprising results. Most notably the success of the LDPR in winning 59 PR seats was unexpected. Of the 8 parties who overcame the 5% legal threshold they were the most successful. In the SMDs a further four parties gained representation, however, independents gained the majority with victory in 141 seats. Overall the most successful party was Russia’s Choice which gained 40 list seats and 30 SMDs. (Sakwa, 1996, p391)


A number of factors influenced the failure of the electoral system to produce the expected outcomes. In particular reformist parties were hurt by their inability to coordinate. In 92 SMDs there was more than one reform party candidate, and in 22 of these seats the sum of the democratic vote was greater than the share of the opposition or centrist winner. Conversely there were only 39 SMDs with more than one opposition party candidate, and in only 9 of these did the sum of the opposition vote exceed the share of the democratic or centrist winner. If the democratic reform elite had consolidated they may have achieved greater electoral success, instead of dividing their electoral base. (Smith & Remington, 2001, p105)


Another unexpected outcome was the failure of the SMD tier to constrain the number of parties. Even at the district level there were often as many as a dozen candidates, contradicting the traditional consensus of the electoral systems literature, which states that even if plurality voting does not constrain the number of parties at a national level, it should at least have an impact within each individual district. (Moser, 2001a, p42)


Moser explains this anomaly through reference to the weakly institutionalized party system. He argues that plurality systems can only have a constraining effect when conditions allow for rational action. He believes that the lack of accurate polling information, and the general inability of parties to provide a coherent platform, prevented voters and elites from making strategic choices. The weakness of national parties to develop local organizations allowed for more influential local elites to capitalize on local celebrity and personality factors. Due to the high number of candidates the winner of an SMD may only have needed 15-20% of the vote, creating great opportunities for popular local personalities to achieve electoral success. (Moser, 2001a, p42


Moser also points out that the PR tier did not live up to expectations. He describes how it was less proportional than the plurality tier, with 9% of the votes wasted on electoral blocs which did not overcome the 5% threshold. It also did not encourage the development of national party organizations to the extent that was hoped, as often personality was used as a substitute for a well-defined social constituency. (Moser, 2001a, pp38-40)


When these election results were translated into the Duma, many of the independent candidates aligned with party factions. Three factions were established within the first week, with 439 out of the 450 deputies affiliated with some group by April 1994. (Smith & Remington, 2001, pp99-101) Despite these movements no party or group held an overall majority. The largest of these factions, the centrist group known as New Regional Policy, sided with reformers, but other centrists groups took up conservative alignments and divided the Duma. (Smith & Remington, 2001, p106)


Possible reform of the electoral system


In the aftermath of these results pressure began to mount for alterations to the electoral system. In particular Yeltsin and the reformist camp favored a shift away from PR, in order to undermine the successes of the opposition. The reformist camp lacked the electoral resources of a strong social base, and well identified popular leaders, which are necessary for PR success. (Moser, 2001a, pp120-124) The opposition was strong in these areas with the CPRF drawing great support from the elderly and rural voters, while the LDPR gained success through the popularity of Zhirinovsky. It was hoped that by increasing the number of SMDs it would undermine the influence of these two parties who had gained only 21 plurality deputies, compared to 91 from the PR tier.


However, when discussing the Yeltsin proposal for 300 SMD seats and 150 PR seats the Duma did not divide on the economic reform dimension that was common in other issues. In this instance party leaders and individual deputies became less concerned with the policy that would be of greatest benefit to their ideological base, but rather they focused on the policy that would provide them the best opportunity to influence power or at least gain reelection. (Smith & Remington, 2001, pp107-108) For example, Yabloko deputies who fell into the reformist camp had benefited far more from the PR section of the vote gaining 20 list seats, compared to only 3 SMDs, while the opposition Agrarian party had stronger local organizations in the rural areas which made them more inclined to favor the introduction of a higher number of SMDs. Both these parties favored electoral systems which were contrary to the wishes of their ideological bloc. There were also those such as Sheinis who remained normatively committed to the mixed system because they believed it offered the best prospects for party development and consolidation at a national level. (Current Digest Vol. XLVII, NO.46 (1995) pp6-8)


After a long period of debate it became clear that Yeltsin did not have the majority to effect change and as a result the final vote reflected a consensus which would maintain the status quo. This was perceived as a better outcome than the instability of a protracted standoff, with Yeltsin deciding that on this occasion it was not important enough to overrule by the power of decree. Going into the 1995 election the electoral system remained predominantly unchanged, except for minor alterations such as the increase in the number of signatures required for entry onto the party list. (McFaul, 1999, p43; McFaul 2001, pp1180-1182; Smith & Remington, 2001, pp108-110)


This failure on the part of Yeltsin to alter the electoral system has been accounted for by McFaul who argues that it is difficult to alter institutions once they have been created. Although he does not adhere to the sociological perspective, whereby human actions are totally shaped by institutions, he also rejects a blinkered focus on rational choice. He does not believe actors are completely unconstrained in their institutional design, stressing that once decisions have been made they become very hard to alter. This approach is described as ‘path dependency’ and McFaul believes that without a stronger impetus for change the status quo will gradually become entrenched. (McFaul, 1999, pp28, 30-31)


The 1995 election


In the period leading up to the 1995 election there was great fluctuation in the party system. Parties were formed and disbanded, with the overall effect being greater fragmentation. 43 parties or blocs were registered on the PR ballot, all benefiting from government subsidy and free television airtime. (Moser, 2001a, p38) An attempt had been made to impose a two-party system from above but this had been unsuccessful. A new ‘party of power’ was created called ‘Our Home is Russia’, it favored a more moderate economic and social program. (Moser, 2001a, p13)  There were also a number of personalized parties created which were named after their leaders and acted solely as vehicles for their own political ambitions.


Once more the results of the election contradicted the established beliefs about electoral systems. 23 parties gained at least one seat in the plurality tier, while in the PR tier only 4 parties gained representation. These included 3 parties from 1993; Yabloko, the LDPR, the CPRF and one new party, Our Home is Russia. The previous party of power Russia’s Choice had been renamed Russia’s Democratic Choice but it fell into obscurity with only 9 seats from the plurality tier. There were also 77 independents elected, which despite being a decrease from 1993, still represented a sizeable figure. (Sakwa, 1996, p392)


The reasons for these unusual results remained largely the same as in 1993 with the continued weakness of the party system preventing rational action amongst voters. When parties are weak public opinion cannot be channeled effectively. Transitory parties prevent voters from developing party identification, with voting preferences influenced by personality, rather than rational evaluations of party performance. (Moser, 2001a, p36)

In the 1995 election the 5% legal threshold continued to have little psychological effect as a deterrence to small parties, however its mechanical effect was significant. 49% of the votes cast were received by parties which failed to overcome the 5% legal threshold, with many parties or blocs receiving miniscule vote shares. Four parties did come within 1% of gaining representation, but for the most part the vote was extremely fragmented amongst the diverse range of parties. (Moser, 2001a, pp38-40)


The largest electoral bloc to emerge was the CPRF who gained 22.3% of the PR vote, and 99 PR seats. When added to their 58 SMD seats it gave them the status of the largest party in the Duma, with over three times the representation they had enjoyed 2 years previously. The LDPR continued their strong PR showing, with 50 seats, while only picking up one additional SMD. Our Home is Russia did slightly better than this overall, with 45 PR and 10 SMD, while Yabloko gained 14 SMDs and a further 31 PR seats with only 6.89% of the vote. The only other party with more than 10 representatives was the Agrarian Party which gained 20 SMDs due to its continued strength in the rural areas. (Sakwa. 1996, p392)


These results lead to huge disproportionality in the PR tier, (Moser, 2001b, p200) with the share of seats almost double the share of votes for the four successful parties. The only party which appeared to be consolidating its position in society was the CPRF. It combined success in both tiers due to its strong social base and its well developed grass-roots organizations. However, the overall picture was one of fragmentation, with party development still not taking on any coherent shape. The benefit of the PR system and its focus on parties continued to be undermined by independents who could gain representation through the SMDs. National campaigning and national party labels meant little at the local level. Independents continued to gain success based on their standing in the local community and their promises to fight for local interests.


The 1999 election


In the period between the 1995 and 1999 election there was further debate on reform of the electoral system, (Current Digest Vol. 50, NO.4 (1998) pp5-7) but once more nothing changed. As the campaign began for the 1999 election the outlook for the party system remained bleak, however, there were some factors which appeared to point towards a stabilization in the role of parties. Feelings of partisanship appeared to be increasing, with the negative connotations of the word ‘party’ becoming a more distant memory. Voters began to structure their ideological preferences more, leading to stronger links with parties. (Whitefield, 2001)


There also appeared to be a consolidation of parties, with the Union of Right Forces bringing together previously divided reformist groups. Changes were also made in the electoral law which prevented leaders of list parties from using free airtime to promote their candidacy in the plurality tier. These factors combined helped to reduce the number of parties on the PR ballot to only 26. (Moser, 2001a, p151)


Another development was the emergence of parties dominated by regional governors. (Slider, 2001) For the most part they were formed by regional elites who sought to block the growth of federal institutions. The three most prominent were Voice of Russia, All Russia, and Unity. Voice of Russia had minimal impact, eventually being subsumed in the Union of Rightist Forces, while All Russia was slightly more influential, but it too joined a larger coalition as it allied with Fatherland.


Unity, however, emerged as a strong electoral force. Formed through the cooperation of 39 regional leaders it became the new ‘party of power’. It aligned itself with the government but avoided any firm ideology, structure or organization. (Slider, 2001, p232)


Elections were held in December and an interesting picture emerged. Once more Yabloko, the LDPR and the CPRF gained representation from the PR ballot, demonstrating that some form of continuity was emerging. Unity gained 23% of the vote, the second largest share, translating into 64 PR seats. The Union of Right Forces was also successful, showing that the elite consolidation had paid off, while Fatherland-All Russia performed well in both tiers, operating as a rival ‘party of power’. (Moser, 2001a, pp152-153)


The electorate also appeared to be learning as smaller parties, with no chance of success, received a smaller vote share. Less than 20% went to parties who failed the 5% threshold, making the PR tier more proportional than in 1995. (Moser, 2001a, p154) However, more negatively the number of independents rose to 113, with the number of candidates in many districts remaining around 10. The CPRF still appeared to be the only truly national party, with grassroots organization, as it ran candidates in two thirds of the SMDs. (Rose, 2001, pp217-218)


Around 60% of the vote went to parties which had not contested the 1995 election, however it can be argued that if the Union of Right Forces is seen as a consolidation of the reformist bloc, and Unity is just classed as a ‘party of power’ then it would appear that of the six major parties emerging in 1999, five had a basis in the previous election. (Moser, 2001a, pp151-152; Rose, 2001, p217)


For many people the Russian party system would appear to be taking on a 3+1 characteristic. With Yabloko, the LDPR and the CPRF emerging as stable parties, joined by a different ‘party of power’ in each election. (Stoner-Weiss, 2001, p390) The CPRF is undoubtedly the strongest electoral force, with 114 seats in the Duma, while support for Zhirinovsky appears to be waning as the LDPR has been reduced to only 17 PR seats.


Although the party system remains weak when compared with established democracies Russia appears to be moving in the right direction. However, possibly the biggest factor which undermines the development of parties has not been addressed yet, and it is to this that I now turn my focus.


The Presidency


In Russia by far the strongest political institution is the Presidency. Introduced in 1991 Yeltsin used the Presidency to insulate his power against the increasingly conservative Congress of Peoples Deputies. Yeltsin cultivated his position, gaining the power to rule by decree in November 1991. However, as his economic ‘shock therapy’ appeared to be failing, tension grew between the legislative and executive branches. This culminated in the fall of 1993 with the suspension of the CPD and the armed conflict which centered on the Russian Parliament. (DeBardeleben, 1997, pp140143)


The new Russian Constitution which was approved alongside the elections to the Duma in December 1993 outlined the powers of the Presidency. Yeltsin enjoyed great influence, with extensive powers of patronage in government formation and the ability to dissolve the Duma. He also retained the power to rule by decree, with little effective check on his power. (DeBardeleben, 1997, p152)


In terms of the implications for party formation the Presidency has had a greatly detrimental effect. Yeltsin refused to associate with any one party, as he claimed to represent all the people. The possible influence of the Presidency as a constraint on the fragmentation and proliferation of parties was lost due to the highly personalized nature of Russian politics. In the election of 1996 candidates such as Yavlinski, Zhirnovsky and Zyuganov did have a party base, however, the Presidential campaign did not focus on party programs. (DeBardeleben, 1997, p184)


The election of 2000 can also be seen in the same light. Parties such as Fatherland-All Russia were merely vehicles for Luzhkov and Primakov to promote their Presidential aspirations. Furthermore, although Putin was never a member of Unity, he did endorse it prior to the 1999 Duma election in a way that Yeltsin had never done with the previous parties of power. Due to the timing of Duma elections, 6 months prior to the Presidential elections, they take on the role of a primary. Evidence of this can be seen in the way Fatherland-All Russia disintegrated after Putin’s victory of 2000, despite their strong showing in the Duma election. As long as the main goal in Russian politics remains the office of President the development of parties will be constrained. (Filipov, Ordeshook & Shevtsova, 1999, p11; McFaul, 2001, pp1166-1167)


Indeed the Russian example would appear to fit the model of ‘delegative democracy’ outlined by O’Donnell. (O’Donnell, 1994) He states that ‘delegative democracies rest on the premise that whoever wins election to the presidency is thereby entitled to govern as he or she sees fit, constrained only by the hard facts of existing power relations and by a constitutionally limited term in office.’ (O’Donnell, 1994, p59) This form of democracy is characterized by extremely weak horizontal accountability and although parties may exist they will not exert any great power on the office of President. Delegative democracy offers strong government and swift decision making, however due to the weakness of all institutions except the Presidency implementation is often a problem.


Examining delegative democracy in Russia, Kubicek finds that the actions of Yeltsin in 1993 appear to fit well with the model developed by O’Donnell. He identifies that parties were weak and incapable of constraining the power Yeltsin was creating for himself. (Kubicek, 1994, pp426-430) McFaul agrees, (McFaul, 2001, p1174) also arguing that the office of President can be seen in the same ‘path dependent’ context as the electoral system. Although created in a time of flux, it has consolidated its position and is now difficult to change.




The pattern of Russian party formation throughout the 1990’s has been characterized by instability and fragmentation. The office of President has undermined the creation of parties, and the weakness of Russian parties has meant that the expected effects of electoral engineering have not manifested. However, Russian society does appear to be evolving and some parties have begun to consolidate. The strong focus on personality politics still dominates, but party labels are beginning to become more salient. If the mixed electoral system is allowed to remain in place then it is hoped that parties will continue to seek a national impact, while also cultivating grass roots organizations. Despite initial problems the mixed electoral system offers the best prospect for creating a stable party system in the Duma. However, the real challenge will be to integrate parties into the race for the Presidency, as it remains the most powerful institution in Russia.




























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