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Vote of Approval for Putin's Party in Russian Primaries

United Russia’s primary elections that recently took place in Russia set a new benchmark which no political force aspiring to engage in state-building can disregard. The voting results will be taken into account when the party compiles candidates’ lists for single-mandate constituencies and regional lists including the most popular candidates, who will receive the party’s support and run in the parliamentary elections.

It should be noted that though these were first-ever primaries, preselection had been employed by the ruling party earlier. This time the party opted for openness as apart from party members independent politicians were also entitled to run. It pays off as the main party can be more responsive and adaptive, and it will better understand people’s aspirations in times of modern challenges. It can be achieved through staff renewal.

Analysts note that conflicting ambitions, clashes of interests of different influential groups, splits within the establishment come to the fore at primaries and can be managed before general elections. The preliminary stage allows us to find the Achilles’ heels and to remedy the situation through prevention.

A main advantage is that it gives candidates a boost “to stay in good shape before the election,” to gain valuable experience, and to hone their skills. Experts also believe that the upcoming September vote will proceed more smoothly in their case.

Today’s primaries followed compulsory self-nomination. 2781 independent candidates had registered to stand for the primaries. The procedure resembled the regular vote. People went to a polling station, had their registration permit checked to prove their residence, the daily Rossiyskaya Gazeta reports. Then they went to the electoral commission to have their data registered and to receive two ballots. One contained the names of the nominees for single-mandate constituencies and the other had candidates from the party list for a particular region. The candidates from the latter seek to be included in the party list for the general parliamentary elections.

Sergey Neverov, Secretary of the United Russia General Council’s Presidium, has already announced the preliminary results. The victors include Irina Yarovaya, Alexander Karelin, Iosif Kobzon, Nikolai Gerasimenko, Raisa Karmazin, and Nikolay Govorin. Sergey Neverov also noted that the primaries had injected new blood into the party. They had brought new faces, people who had not had any political experience, but showed their true mettle at preliminary elections and gained public support. And support was quite strong.

The record 10 million Russians went to polling stations at the primaries. “At the 2011 Duma 32 million people cast their ballot for United Russia. That implies that quarter of our electorate went to the polls last weekend. It is a very high turnout,” said Sergei Neverov. In some areas at the Far East the commission ran out of ballots though the turnout even at general elections tends to be small there”. Complaints about foul play and electoral fraud arose predictably. The meticulous investigation into the allegations will be duly conducted. “The candidates who used administrative resource will be banished from politics forever”, said Sergei Neverov. At the Monday press conference, the Secretary reminded the audience that in the run-up to the primaries several candidates were removed from the ballot for their attempt to use their official position to gain advantage over the rivals.

“As for their work in the executive branch, if they do not quit, we will bring up the termination matter,” Neverov said when he was asked about the party’s steps “to kick the rascals out”.

The party will inquire into the allegations of resort to administrative resources at the primaries; they will also scrutinize the facts provided the media.

On the other hand, we must understand that party primaries are not equivalent to proper elections regulated by federal law, judiciary and the electoral commission. “That is an intraparty event and it is up for the party to make decisions,” said Alexey Martynov, Director of the International Institute of the Newly Established States. “We cannot claim that there was electoral malpractice. There were broken party rules or norms. The party will deliver its verdict. However, the aim was different. We needed to more or less accurately determine electoral trends for the upcoming campaign and to visualize a perfect candidate: be it a person on the party list, an MP, a new face, a pediatrician, or an activist from the All-Russia People’s Front.”

Konstantin Kolachev, Head of the Political Expert Group, also calls on everybody to refrain from dramatizing the issue of electoral fraud. As he puts it, “the absence of any electoral malpractice would have caused some suspicion. One could have thought that the voting procedure had been eviscerated. However, given all complaints and breaches, it is possible to put a premium on the viable and real character of the primaries”.

Alexey Martynov, in his turn, is confident that another electoral cycle will be marked by the mainstream parties’ use of primary elections. Yet they will pay heed to those flaws which they will be able to identify today. He believes that “it is always difficult to act as pioneers” and then states explicitly that “a new page has been opened up in the history of Russia’s party system”.

From Martynov’s perspective, the political reform, which Russia has been undergoing over the recent four years, is acknowledged to have been effective. He stresses that “we are witnessing the satisfaction of the public’s demand for direct democracy; therefore, we can congratulate President Vladimir Putin as a reform initiator and Vyacheslav Volodin as a reform manager on their internal policy achievement”.

Many politicians and pundits are sure that sooner or later all major parties will be holding preliminary elections on a regular basis, as primaries ensure transparent government and make way for fresh blood in politics. “By organizing the early voting, United Russia benefits the party itself and builds legitimacy and trust in Russia’s political make-up and elections as a whole”, maintains Dmitry Badovsky, Chairman of the Institute of Socio-Economic and Political Research (ISEPR Foundation), while characterizing the key advantage of the procedure.

As the political analyst highlights, the primaries performed their functions well. United Russia noticed prevailing trends and responded. Actually, the voting enabled the electorate to select new politicians who can act on their behalf. Moreover, it provided candidates with an opportunity to incorporate fresh ideas in the political agenda.

“In all countries direct democracy procedures, implying that political parties and nominees constantly interact with their constituents, are relevant to the current situation. In this context, United Russia has entered into the spirit of times, and preliminary elections, which turned out to be quite a large-scale campaign, as I see it, may help the party to do much better at the major elections”, Badovsky points out. From his viewpoint, the primaries’ outcomes indicate the positive response from Russia’s voters to innovative ideas and new political figures with their social, civil or professional background, which then can be applied to politics.

Primary elections allow broader scope for transparency and fairness within the country’s political system, as Alexey Zudin, Member of the Advisory Board of the Institute of Socio-Economic and Political Research (ISEPR Foundation), states. “The prevalence of behind-closed-door politics appears to be drawing to its end in Russia’s contemporary history. As of now, we can observe the gradual establishment of another principle, that is, the idea of publicity. This means that authority and respect are gained in the broad public arena, both open and competitive one, rather than behind the scenes”.

In the expert’s opinion, United Russia’s primaries marked the beginning of a new political era, when it comes to the electoral campaign and the country as a whole. Having set down new standards, the primaries and their outcomes will encourage other parties as well as United Russia to comply with these requirements.

United Russia’s preliminary elections constitute a new stage of the party system’s advancement, as Sergey Naryshkin puts it. He holds that “this period is associated with openness, transparent party procedures and party activities”. The Speaker of the State Duma underlines that the results of this voting will be thrashed out for a long time and the list of participants also will be subject to close scrutiny.

“I think that somebody will endlessly discuss particular cases of electoral malfunctioning. It is obvious that after a while political scientists and other experts will compare the final results of the primaries with the list of potential candidates for Russia’s parliament approved by the party’ caucus. In my opinion, this has some positive implications. For instance, experts will have their food for thought”, Naryshkin emphasized.

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