September 01, 2003

Russia Goes to the Polls

When Americans go to the polls to elect their congressmen, mayors and city council members, they usually have one thing on their minds: issues. Will the candidate support a tax hike? What’s his stance on abortion? Smoking in public places? The war in Iraq?

In Russia, issues are largely irrelevant. Of the five political parties expected to land seats in the State Duma in December’s nationwide elections, at least two – the leading Unified Russia party and the No. 4 Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) – have no policy agendas to speak of. And yet, according to the latest opinion polls, between them they command between one quarter and one-third of the popular vote.

What, then, makes a Russian party strong or weak? A strong party needs a strong support base. But in Russia, support often comes not from the bottom up (from dedicated voters) but from the top down: from powerful backers in politics or business.

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