United Russia at risk of losing Duma majority

By bne IntelliNews November 29, 2011

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United Russia could lose its absolute majority in the State Duma, according to opinion polls, threatening to delay reform and slow the legislative process.

Russia's low key Duma election campaign moves into the last week of campaigning before elections on December 4. Whilst the governing United Russia has been pulling out the stops to try to slow the decline in its popularity - including Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's decision to hop back into the presidential chair - reports suggest increasing worry has crept into the camp that it is set to lose its voting majority in the country's parliament.

United Russia has not only held an absolute majority, but also a constitutional majority of over 66%, for the last four years, basically turning the parliament into a rubber stamp for the government and presidential administration. However, according to latest opinion polls, United Russia will not only definitely lose the constitutional majority, but also quite possibly the absolute majority which would allow it to pass legislation under its own steam.

This latter scenario would leave the ruling party reliant on support from one of the opposition parties - most likely the nationalist LDPR and its grotesquely comic leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky. Although the Liberal Democrats are reliably pro-government, "[u]npopular legislation would then have to at least take into account some of the ambitions of the very nationalist LDPR," points out Chris Weafer at Troika.

That could potentially disrupt the reform agenda that has been indirectly promised for the post-election period and slow the whole legislative process. "The first horse-trading would come with the nomination of the new prime minister, as the Duma must approve the appointment," points out Weafer.

The move of current president and apparent liberal Dmitry Medvedev into the PM's chair is unlikely to sit well alongside Zhirinovsky's heated nationalist rhetoric. It's not difficult, for instance, to imagine what he thinks of Medvedev's push to accelerate Russia's $50bn privatization drive, given that he originally founded the LDPR as an anti-privatization party.

However, the alternative would be for the authorities to apply greater-than-usual administrative pressure at the ballot box to force through a result of over 50%, but this could backfire if electoral fraud is too blatant and United Russia loses legitimacy.

The next Duma session will be the first to sit for five years instead of four, after a constitutional amendment in 2008. The most recent opinion poll - from the Public Opinion Foundation - issued late last week illustrates a loss of United Russia's Duma majority by some margin if replicated in Sunday's vote.

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