Why Putin's party is so successful

Putin's United Russia party won the Duma elections on Sunday with a big lead against three other parties with close ties to the Kremlin. It now has three-quarters of the seats and hence a constitutional majority. Once again there were reports of irregularities, while voter turnout was lower than in 2011. What will Putin and United Russia do with this additional power?

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Eesti Päevaleht (EE) /

Like a grenade in the hand of a monkey

Writing in Eesti Päevaleht the Moscow correspondent of Estonian Radio finds it worrying that the Duma elections have given the United Russia party a constitutional majority:

“This majority is like a grenade in the hand of a monkey. There's no telling which way he'll throw it but we live in fear. Last time [in 2008] the constitutional majority was used to extend the legislative period of parliament and the president's term of office. … What will the party do with its majority this time? Raise the age of retirement, as the government wants? Or increase pensions to convince the people to back the president? Remove all limits on the president's term of office? Incorporate Donetsk and Luhansk into the Russian Federation? It's difficult to ignore the fact that although the United Russia party can do whatever it likes thanks to its majority of seats, it lacks legitimation because of the high number of non-voters.”

El País (ES) /

Putin really playing the strongman now

With the results of the Duma election Putin's sabre-rattling will become a serious problem, El País fears:

“The Russian parliamentary elections not only haven't placed any obstacles in Putin's way but their results are actually allowing him to step up the military and nationalist rhetoric which is gradually becoming one of his hallmarks. This is a particularly significant development at a time when the tiny glimmer of hope in Syria has been nipped in the bud. Without any internal opposition that is able to exert institutional control and with a press that is under pressure from the Kremlin, Putin is reinforcing his strongman profile abroad. He is taking his hostility towards Nato to extremes the world hadn't witnessed since the end of the Cold War.”

Neatkarīgā (LV) /

Russia reverting to Soviet era

After the Duma elections Putin need fear the opposition even less, Neatkarīgā believes:

“All of the members elected from the supposed opposition parties will continue to vote as they are told. A political system dating back to the Brezhnev era is being rebuilt in Russia. ... Putin has learned that he need have no fear of dissidents or the truth, because the return to the Brezhnev era can also have a very pleasant side. The television can tell the people what they want to hear seven days a week, 24 hours a day: all is well and a commanding leader is at the country's helm. And a voice on the radio or individual newspapers that say something different are no more dangerous than the buzz of a fly in one's ear.”

Ilkka (FI) /

Non-voters saved Putin

Putin's party United Russia owes its electoral victory above all to non-voters, Ilkka believes:

“The election outcome was just what President Vladimir Putin wanted. The bringing forward of the election date, the redefining of constituencies where the opposition is strong, and the decision to cancel postal voting undermined support for parties that are critical of Putin. ... In Finland people start worrying about the state of democracy when voter turnout in parliamentary elections is below 70 percent. In Russia, by contrast, less than half of those eligible to vote actually did so, and half of them voted for the president. In truth, the party of non-voters saved Putin. Electoral fraud isn't a concern here in Finland. In Russia people put up with it and are just glad that these elections were more honest than the last ones. The state of democracy in our neighbouring country to the east leaves much to be desired.”

Nowaja Gaseta (RU) /

Voting pointless for Russians

The low voter turnout wasn't a deliberate message from the voters, Novaya Gazeta believes:

“Political engagement has become rare in Russia. Those who post on Facebook may not have realised it, but people don't bother following all the political scandals for the simple reason that they don't believe such things will affect their daily lives. Once every five years they make an effort and remind themselves of what democracy means and why it's necessary. Political activists don't notice the abyss that has opened up between them and the public. That's why observers often make too much of what they see as a deliberate electoral boycott on the part of a politically engaged public when they point to the low voter turnout. The people did not turn their backs on the Duma elections to deligitimate the regime, but because no one has been able to explain to them why they should vote in the first place.”

Lrytas (LT) /

Communists and nationalists just a sideshow

The fact that Zyuganov's communists and Zhirinovsky's ultra-nationalists have won seats in the Duma makes no difference whatsoever in Putin's Russia, Lrytas stresses:

“These two have been leading their parties for over 20 years. They are part of the image of democracy projected in Russia. This is why this democracy is only a democracy if you look at it from the outside. Ever since the second legislative period of former president Boris Yeltsin there has been only one ruling party [called Our Home - Russia at the time] to which the entire political elite belongs. The other minor political forces have only played a peripheral role. But it was during Putin's term in office that the president's word became omnipotent and the parliament was turned into a sham institution subject to the will of the head of state. Politics in Russia continues to be controlled by Putin and his clique.”

Die Presse (AT) /

The king of European populists

Vladimir Putin need have no fear of elections, Die Presse comments:

“His appeal can be explained by the fact that he can do what his fans in the West can't, without being held responsible for his acts. While politicians in Europe are punished by voters, he can tell them lies in their faces with impunity. Whereas as soon as they're in power Europe's populists usually fail to transform their policies of destruction into constructive governance, or to offer solutions they reject in principle, the Russian president is free from the constraints of democratically legitimated politics. He is in the comfortable position of being able to do almost anything without having to fear the consequences. It is this organised irresponsibility that Western populists can (luckily) only dream of.”

De Telegraaf (NL) /

Russia sinks into apathy

The low voter turnout testifies to widespread apathy in Russia, De Telegraaf comments:

“The anarchy in 2012, when the elections [of December 2011] were marked by massive fraud and thousands of people demonstrated in Moscow, seems to have definitively changed into apathy. Pensions have not been raised, people are losing their jobs, holidays in Egypt or Turkey are no longer affordable for the middle class. But apparently no one holds Putin responsible for all that. ... Once again reports of electoral fraud have surfaced right across the country. On the afternoon of the vote the turnout is dramatically low: under 20 percent. In the end Putin's party wins; no one says a word about voter participation. Only the prisons and psychiatric institutions report that turnout has never been this high: 89 and 85 percent, respectively. So the inmates and the insane have brought about an electoral triumph. Welcome to Putin's Russia.”

Corriere del Ticino (CH) /

Putin is unimpeachable

The Russians are rewarding Putin's lack of scruples, Corriere del Ticino comments:

“Outside Russia, Vladimir Putin's 'dictocracy' and his unscrupulousness in foreign policy are condemned, but within Russia the Kremlin chief is rewarded for precisely these things. Moreover Putin has used a number of tricks to secure a majority for the United Russia party. … He has silenced the oligarchs by adopting a laissez faire approach towards their activities. In exchange he demands that they don't contradict him. … Underpinning the president's success is the new national identity he has created. It is based on defending the traditional Russian indigenous values (as an alternative to the West's). This strategy is based above all on territorial defence, the dream of a return to the glory of the Soviet Union and the ability to intervene militarily in international crises.”

Delo (SI) /

Boredom and resignation

The elections to the Russian Duma were the most boring of the last decade, Delo believes:

“The reallocation of seats between the governing party United Russia and the three 'system parties' didn't even particularly interest local media or commentators. ... The reason for this is clear to Kremlin experts: the repressiveness of President Putin's regime is to blame. Those familiar with the intrigues in the court of the 'new Czar' have been saying for the past 15 years that after a brief experiment with democracy Russia has returned to the 'pre-modern' era; to Soviet times, in which votes like yesterday's were only democratic on the surface. ... Perhaps Russian voters really couldn't care less who wins this game of fictional democracy. ... Perhaps, however, the Russians also see that it makes no difference what the parties are called, that all opposition is firmly anchored in the system and that all politicians are only interested in one thing: being in power.”