The State Duma elected September 18, 2016 differs from the previous convocations in that it has many important peculiarities
Interview with Alexey Zudin, Member of the ISEPR Foundation Expert Board
Rethinking Russia: Are the role and implications of the 7th State Duma for the political system different from those of the previous convocations?
Alexey Zudin: The State Duma elected September 18, 2016 differs from the previous convocations in that it has many important peculiarities. Firstly, the latest parliamentary elections were held in accordance with the major principles of the political reform initiated by president Putin: competitiveness, openness, legitimacy. The results of the elections have provoked significant neither allegations from the participants, particularly parties and candidates, nor rejection of the public opinion. This eliminated the risk of 2011 repetition.
Secondly, the new Duma was elected by a mixed system. A half of the new deputies were single-mandate candidates, elected by the citizens of particular territories. Some deputies elected by party lists also got through the elections in single-mandate constituencies and during the electoral campaign were working hard “on the ground”. The localized agenda was in the center of the electoral campaign that was formed by the demands of the citizens in particular constituencies. The personal composition of the new Duma also to a large extent satisfies the public demand for the renewal of the deputy corps: a half of the State Duma and two thirds of the most numerous faction, United Russia (qualified majority), were renewed. All this invested the State Duma with new political characteristics (enhanced capability of aggregating public preferences), strengthened its representation functions and increased its political weight.
The political physiognomy of the new Duma is determined by the qualified majority of United Russia and presidential supermajority consisting of three party factions, which finally took shape on the basis of the “Crimean consensus” (United Russia, LDPR, A Just Russia).
Thirdly, the participants and the institution of elections itself obtained new political characteristics. The transition to a mixed system did not mean the return to the political practices of 1990s-early 2000s. The “normalization” of parliamentary elections has begun. The campaign of 2016 was conducted with “real” (or localized) agenda close to the particular voters’ demands. Show elements are disappearing from Russian politics; “scandalous potential” has decreased significantly. The turnout was not increased deliberately. Elections are no longer shocking. Single-mandate candidates participated in elections 2016 not as “free radicals”, but as representatives of the parties that strengthened their positions at the previous stages of political system development. Parties’ responsibility before the voters has already increased. First of all, this is the case of United Russia: primaries allowed to push candidates and the electoral program closer to voters’ preferences. The increased political responsibility before voters encourages United Russia to build up more binding relations with the government.
RR: Vyacheslav Volodin has become the chairman of the 7th State Duma. In which way his personality and management style will influence the work of the State Duma of the 7th convocation?
AZ: New political characteristics generated demand for a new style of leadership in the State Duma. In his professional competences and personal qualities Vyacheslav Volodin, recommended by Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev as the chairman of the lower parliament, satisfies all the requirements. Volodin is known for a rare combination of political and managerial competences. As a professional politician he developed, first of all, as a public politician understanding the importance of competitiveness, real politics, citizens’ electoral demands and key role of a dialogue in a political process.
Vyacheslav Volodin assumed nationwide authority as a leading manager of a big political reform initiated by Vladimir Putin in 2012-2015. At the opening session of the State Duma he suggested to organize the work of the lower parliament in accordance with the rule: “Duma is a place for discussion”. October 5, 2016 Volodin was elected as the chairman of the State Duma with 404 votes: pro-presidential supermajority made its first political statement in the new Duma. As a chairman Vyacheslav Volodin will add his own political weight and authority to the increased political weight of the newly elected parliament. The mandate given by the pro-presidential supermajority makes Volodin a conductor of Putin’s policy in the State Duma.
RR: Allocation of leading positions the State Duma was held in accordance with the agreement of factions, which said that United Russia would get the position of the chairman, five positions of vice chairmen, including first vice chairman, and CPRF, LDPR and A Just Russia got one position each (CPRF also got the position of first vice chairman). Can this agreement facilitate the work of the State Duma or make it more effective? If there had been no such an agreement would the allocation have been the same?
AZ: Taking into account the results of the elections, United Russia that has got a qualified majority could apply “winner-take-all” principle and keep everything to itself, but it did not followed this suit. Leading positions were allocated in the same proportion as at the 6th State Duma, when United Russia had fewer seats.
“The party of a qualified majority” gave ear to the wish of Vladimir Putin articulated at the meeting with the leaders of the parties participating in the parliamentary elections: respect the interests of the minority. But this is not about altruism, it is a strategic consideration: only exercising wise restraint the party can preserve its leading role. As during the electoral campaign, they opted for the quality of the conclusive result: the quality of law-making is provided by the consent of the participants and this presupposes cooperation with opposition.
United Russia’s wise restraint exercised during leading positions allocation allows to preserve traditions of interfactional cooperation set up by the 6th Duma.
RR: Taking into account the presence of single-mandate deputies in the State Duma, should we expect the extension of its cooperation with labor unions, grassroots movements and other structures of civil society?
AZ: Coming of single-mandate deputies to the State Duma strengthens ties with voters at the local level. And this, obviously, increases the opportunities of the parliament’s lower chamber to interact with civil society. At the same time, it would be a simplification to link the necessity of Duma’s interaction with civil society only to the coming of single-mandate deputies. Rather, the matter is that there is a new sphere of Duma’s duties.
Making his speech to the deputies October 5 president Putin described these duties in a following way: “During this electoral campaign people formulated the demand for substantial changes in economic and social spheres… In order to place the economy in a new growth trajectory we need to overcome legislative barriers to economic competitiveness, inflow of investments, adoption of modern technologies and to provide balanced development of Russian regions, northern and Far East territories… Of course special attention should be given to the tasks in the spheres of education, health service, housing policy, ecology, in other words, in the spheres that directly affect citizens’ well-being, social and demographic development.” He also noticed that priority projects would represent an overriding concern.
The decisions of the lower parliament concerning these issues should be based on a wide civil consent. These very reasons create the need for an active political dialogue with the involvement of all actors having right of legislative initiative including regional parliaments and civil society structures. The new Duma has necessary political potential and institutional arrangements (zero readings, public hearings) to become a permanent platform for an extensive political and social dialogue.
RR: In the context of a difficult for Russia foreign policy situation how do you see the work of the 7th State Duma in the sphere of interparliamentary cooperation?
AZ: One more activity area that makes the new Duma special is “parliamentary diplomacy”. In the context of a difficult for Russia foreign policy situation, pressure of sanctions and cyber war triggered by the West against Russia the significance of interparliamentary cooperation is growing. Vladimir Putin mentioned this performing before the deputies at the State Duma opening session October 5.
The recent experience demonstrates that national and local parliaments of the European states, being closely connected to citizens’ real interest and sentiments, are much closer to the political realities than national governments or, let alone, EU supranational bodies, controlled by “euroatlantists” and performing as a conductor of American foreign policy. This is evident by the resolutions of the French Senate and National Assembly, decisions of several Italian regional parliaments, European parliamentary delegations’ visits to Crimea.
State Duma and parliamentary parties can play an important role in building up a permanent dialogue with a wide variety of political forces, opposing to nation states resigning to the interests of euroatlantist circles and American foreign policy priorities.
Photo by Igor Golovinov