Al-Ahram Weekly   Al-Ahram Weekly
23 - 29 December 1999
Issue No. 461
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875 Issues navigation Current Issue Previous Issue Back Issues

Front Page

Jingoism wins the day

By Abdel-Malek Khalil

Only a year ago, it was presumed that Republican Texas Governor George W. Bush and Democratic Vice President Al Gore would be the likely candidates representing their respective parties in the November 2000 elections.

The run-up to Sunday's parliamentary elections in Russia was characterised by mudslinging and vicious character assassination campaigns. Results of the contest showed, once again, that the Communist Party, having won approximately 27 per cent of the vote, is Russia's most popular political organisation. With its relatively concrete plan for resolving the most intractable of the country's many problems, the party reinforced its image as the most far-sighted and organised political force in the country.

Russia's deep-rooted economic and social problems appeared to have offered significant opportunities for the communists to garner electoral support. With a campaign that focused on the dramatic decline of the Russian economy in the Yeltsin era, the Communist Party laid the blame for the country's economic and social ills squarely at the feet of Russian President Boris Yeltsin.

Ironically, the communists' success comes at a time when the popularity of Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is soaring. According to the latest public opinion polls, Putin's public approval ratings have surpassed the 80 per cent mark. His popularity owes much to his no holds barred stance on the breakaway Caucasus republic of Chechnya. Putin has been a strong advocate of the military offensive in Chechnya aimed at bringing Chechen separatists to heel.

Notably, these elections are the first in the post-Soviet Union era in which the pro-government Unity Party has rivalled the Communist Party, having followed right on its heels with 25 per cent of the vote. Furthermore, the Unity Party was actually running neck-and-neck with the communists as first results came in, a situation that might be attributed to the popular support for Russia's campaign in Chechnya.

Cartoom by FathiYeltsin, an extremely unpopular figure, was very happy with the results. For the first time, observers note, Yeltsin is expected to have a relatively co-operative parliament. Even though the Communist Party still constitutes the largest single block in the Russian parliament, the Duma, it is outnumbered by a group of parliamentarians from anti-communist right-wing and centre-right parties who collectively hold the majority in parliament. With control of half of the seats, the anti-communists are in a position to transform the face of the legislative body.

This situation stands in stark contrast to that which prevailed during the last decade. The Duma, dominated by the Communist Party, was continually locked in bitter disputes with Yeltsin that effectively stymied the Russian leader's attempts to pass legislation, especially that pertaining to economic reform. "For the first time in 10 years the Duma will not be controlled by the communists, [the potential impact of] this victory is hard to overestimate," said Sergei Kiriyenko, a former prime minister who now leads the virulently anti-communist Union of Rightist Forces.

Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov said that he was very pleased with his party's performance, adding that the party had made a "very confident and important step on its way, not only into the Duma, but towards the presidential election as well."

Twenty-six parties and 2,318 individual candidates competed in the elections. Half of the elections for the 450 Duma seats were run on the party list system while the others were conducted based on the individual candidacy system.

Coming a distant third behind the Unity and Communist parties, the Union of Rightist Forces won eight per cent of the vote. Not far behind was the Fatherland All-Russia Party with slightly fewer votes. Under the leadership of Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the ultra-nationalist bloc came fifth taking just over six per cent of the vote. Zhirinovsky, despite his vicious verbal attacks on Yeltsin, has a record of supporting the Russian leader on key economic and social issues. Following just behind Zhirinovsky's party, and coming in sixth place, was the social-democratic Yabloko Party.

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