Russian Parties Mapping Out Campaign Strategies

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In recent weeks the political parties’ activity has been surging unexpectedly. “United Russia”, the Communist Party and the “Party of Growth” are enthusiastically discussing their campaign strategy at caucuses, plenary sessions and forums. “Fair Russia” (or “Just Russia”) has also been actively preparing for the electoral season. The expert community has already commented on recent debates and ponders on the electoral outcome.

At the party caucus Gennady Zyuganov, Communist Party leader, slashed liberals in the government. His foreign policy vision has been entirely different. The second largest group in the State Duma seeks to preserve its position and do away with its image of an “old political force”, by engaging young people to join their ranks. To attain its goal, the Communists should win at least 50 seats and preserve their margin over the main rivals, “Fair Russia” and LDPR. Alexander Konkov, Associate Professor (School of Public Management; Moscow State University) commented on the Communists’ manifesto in the following way:

The Communist Party has definitely adopted its stance. They back the government’s vision of foreign policy, its initiatives, and priorities regarding Ukraine, Europe, Syria, or the East. At the same time the Communist Party fiercely criticizes domestic policy and macroeconomic management and mounts a determined opposition to the government.

On the one hand, criticism of the economic policy protects the Party from being trounced. On the other hand, the question arises whether the Communist Party should revamp its image or stick to its traditional agenda. I do not think they would switch tracks. They would also refrain from looking for a new niche. I do not rule out the possibility that at the operative level, the Communists will try to find projects to refashion their identity. But it may occur in some regions and may be linked to alternative development strategies. But it will have a role to play in gubernatorial elections when they will be considering their candidates.

Now it is too early to talk about the victory in single-member constituencies as we need to study district boundaries and party nominees and to analyze possible competitors. In general, given the existing party lists, “United Russia” is likely to win a resounding victory over its rivals in single-member districts, with the Communist Party challenging its preeminence. In other cases, individual candidates, if any, will be the exception rather than a rule. The outcome will be determined by agreements, coalitions or a happy chance rather than the party manifesto.

Six months before the 2016 parliamentary elections it turns out that Boris Titov’s “Party of Growth” has failed to draw up a comprehensive manifesto so far. The strategy will start taking shape in the upcoming days. Far from presenting a political program, the leader presented an economic agenda at the party conference on Saturday. As Titov put it, both the campaign and the country’s development should predominantly focus on economic reforms, which is approved only by a handful of members. From the viewpoint of Gleb Kuznetsov, Deputy Director of the Moscow National Institute for the Development of Contemporary Ideology, the “Party of Growth” electoral prospects are not bright. Objectively speaking, the party is going to face some difficulties while trying to overcome a five-percent hurdle. Generally, I would state that it is highly unlikely to cross the electoral threshold. The real challenge ahead is to pass the 3% threshold to prolong the party’s public life, gain access to public funding and to stand in regional elections. In this case, the party may be able to have a go at the parliamentary elections in five years. Passing the threshold of 3% is vital in this respect. In theory, it is quite logical. Our country prefers continuity and resists change. Therefore, it is quite difficult to start from scratch and obtain 5% of the votes. Moreover, those who have established the “Party of Growth” point out that the new project has nothing to do with its predecessors, which are deemed “liberal”.

Let us consider, for instance, Boris Titov. He is the owner of Russia’s largest champagne producer. His long career in the champagne industry must have enabled him to gain solid expertise in the field. However, political representation, which implies party leadership and electoral campaigning, also depends on a person’s expertise, and one has to acquire relevant knowledge, skills and competences. The current party bosses apparently lack them. It is clear that Titov, a novice in politics, shuns risks to avoid mistakes, which results in his hesitation over the party program and controversies in the party’s branding.

In politics it is important to get to the crux of the matter. The “Party of Growth” leadership has a head for economics. Consequently, rather than bearing in mind that success in new realms, be it politics, economics, creative work or elections, depends on one’s ability to go beyond earlier competences and experience, actively absorb new information and make difficult and innovative decisions, party leaders try to centre the electoral program solely on economic issues.

But now it is far from clear, what kind of a party they want to set up or what objectives and values it will promote. It is noteworthy that in politics a party is associated, above all, with a set of concrete beliefs or ideas. It should be taken into account in the first place, rather than, let’s say, tax burden. Taxes and economy-related issues are generated by a value system or a vision of society and not the other way around.

“Just Russia” is involved in the most tangled situation. The leaders have decided to revisit the party lists. At the 2016 parliamentary elections a range of deputies will establish a lead over major regional groups of the party lists. In some cases they will overlap with the borders of big regions. Previously, Sergey Mironov, Head of the “Just Russia” party, did not rule out a possibility to divide the party list into small groups. A new strategy will halve them. Rostislav Turovsky, Vice President of the Center for Political Technologies, has clarified the party’s steps.

“Just Russia” does not have any completely innovative tactic, because it has previously considered the division of the party list. They may have already come to an agreement about this step. But something still may change.

The main idea consists in the fact that the party and its leadership, primarily Sergey Mironov, have an interest in helping today’s deputies to get mandates in the 2016 newly elected Duma. At the same time, these people tend to have close relations with the Presidential Administration and thus chances to be backed by the Kremlin. As a result, the question is above all how to compile a party list so that all key deputies serving the interests of the party and the Kremlin may get access to the parliament in September.

And in order to achieve it – of course, with regard to lukewarm support of the party – bigger groups are needed. Moreover, they will be created particularly for mandarins from the current Duma. As far as I am concerned, many “Just Russia” deputies are going to simultaneously push their candidates through a district (but at present the party members are not sure whether this district will help them to secure votes or whether the United Russia party will give up the idea of promoting its own candidate their and so on) and a large party-list which will pave the way for receiving mandates.

But small districts also should be added to this brew. And here the combination of two models is possible – larger areas are given to prominent political figures whereas the rest of the territory can be divided into small pieces given the fact that nobody will be able to obtain votes there.

When party lists are drawn up in the interests of particular people, it is always possible to witness changes due to the fact that the same people can fall from grace or even individuals who need mandates may arrive on a political scene. Therefore these lists can be amended unless the party session, whose aim is to confirm them, takes place.

As regards “United Russia”, it hopes to have a 280-member faction in the State Duma. However, it wants its ranks to swell through the single-member districts system rather than the party-lists system. As some representatives of the party put it, they have failed to set themselves a target to overcome the 50% threshold, because they are ready to face less favorable outcomes in comparison with the previous elections to the lower chamber. In their opinion, it is extremely likely to contribute to the victory of their fellow members in single-member districts. Konstantin Kolachev, Head of the Moscow-based Political Expert Group think tank, believes that United Russia stands a chance of winning both in single-member districts and party lists.

Recently, we have conducted a survey in three specific regions regarded as troubled ones from the electoral perspective. However, the United Russia’s rating was from 49% to 53% there. This coincided with the VCIOM research project which had indicated the support of almost 50% of citizens. Considering those who will come to cast their ballots if mobilized properly may enable us to state that “United Russia” really can gain more than 50% of votes.

But it fully hinges on the internal developments, primarily in the economic domain. Understandably, some parties will intend to capitalize on the crisis issue. I mean the “Just Russia” party which behaves quite aggressively now – it is collecting signatures for a petition seeking the resignation of Dmitry Medvedev, and it is pledging to announce the credit amnesty and the banks’ nationalization, to name just a few. Moreover, the Communist party also wants to take advantage of the current state of affairs, which can explain Zuganov’s negative attitude towards the agreement to divide districts among the parties.

I suppose that three scenarios can be outlined, namely, the optimistic one, the most likely one, and the most negative one. From my perspective, the so called moderate scenario will unfold, when United Russia’s support stands at nearly 50%. Yet under the grimmest situation the party is unlikely to get less than 40% of votes.

In any case the following thing is evident – whether or not the “United Russia” party gets more than 50% of votes, in single-member constituencies it will win hearts and minds of no less than two-thirds of voters. It is the lowest figure. If we begin analyzing the number of individual candidates from the Communist Party, “Just Russia”, the “Party of Growth” and other formations, we will conclude that the majority of districts will inevitably belong to the “United Russia” party. It is a different story that not in all areas it will manage to establish itself as such.

To my mind, the party’s rating may start falling next year, particularly, following the parliamentary elections. 2016 is going to be the banner year and the moderate scenario is the most likely one. If we are to speak about the assessment of the incumbent government performance, it is not ranked lower, and the “United Russia” and Russia’s President still go together like a horse and carriage.

This article first appeared on the website Politanalitika

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