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Russia's Rigged Election

Putin's rules.

11:00 PM, Dec 4, 2007 • By MICHAEL WEISS
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THE ONLY MAJOR surprise of Russia's parliamentary "election," which could not have been choreographed better by Diaghilev, is that it had even the Communists lamenting the death of democracy. Gennady Zyuganov, chairman of the party, said on Sunday, "We do not trust these figures unveiled by the Central Election Commission and we will conduct a parallel count. It is already clear that in Siberia and other regions the results have been adjusted according to pre-arranged plans I would like to say this to the authorities: stop, you are abusing the whole country."

And the heirs of Lenin walked away with 11.6 percent of the vote, placing them well above the Kremlin-designated 7 percent threshold for having that result translate into actual seats in the Duma. The Communists are thus the only real opposition to United Russia, which claimed, or seized, 64.1 percent of the electorate, guaranteeing it 315 out of the 450 seats in a national legislature where 300 make a constitutional majority. Only two other parties cleared the threshold: The ultra-nationalist Liberal Democratic Party won 8.2 percent, and Fair Russia won 7.8 percent, and neither poses the least threat to United Russia.

LDP leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky is a staunchly anti-Western demagogue who sponsored Andrei Lugovoy, the suspected but unextradicted killer of Alexander Litvinenko, for a spot on the ballot. Zhirinovsky gloried in the "deserved punishment" of Litvinenko, thinks the Jews have ruined Russia, and once praised the "democratic process" of Saddam Hussein's Iraq. Now comes news that he plans to appoint Lugovoy the head of--what else?--the Defense Committee!

Fair Russia, meanwhile, was baptized by the Kremlin and has long served as a reliable second on most of its policies. Nevertheless, party spokesman Dmitry Gudkov had a rotten weekend: "We cannot call these elections honest," he said, probably alluding to how his candidates were threatened with arrests and their offices searched by the authorities. Only the best for friends of Vladimir.

In fact, Putin gave every indication of being dead-set against compromise or--here's a Western idiom he'd find hysterical--"bridge-building." A few weeks ago, he reneged on his promise to smaller parties to give them some minor representation in the Duma in exchange for keeping quiet about his corruption--not that this was much of a concession to begin with. But for years, he has been razing every remaining obstacle to his autocracy and its continuance. In addition to increasing the electoral dividend threshold from 5 to 7 percent, in 2005 the Kremlin abolished the minimum turnout rule, which had been previously 25 percent for parliamentary elections. Turnout was a major propaganda point this year, as Putin needed 60 percent and got 63 percent. Also struck from the latest pantomime of self-determination was the right to register a protest vote against all candidates, and the very existence of single-mandate districts, which previously decided half of the Duma's makeup.

This last abrogation merits special attention. Like Britain's House of Commons, the lower house in post-Soviet Russia used to consist of an even division between proportional and equal representation. Now it's all proportional, which means it's easier to ring more lawmakers, or "deputies," out of large, regime-friendly areas, despite the fact that the 100 or so elected though single-district mandates in 2003 hailed from independent or miniscule parties, almost all of which have since melted into the Putinist monolith.