The Victor Extends an Olive Branch
Basking in an election victory that gives him immense influence over parliament, President Vladimir V. Putin on Monday called the results a victory for democracy -- and moved swiftly to reassure defeated reformers that their voices will still be heard.
“For me it is absolutely clear that these results reflect the real sympathies of the people,” Putin said in televised remarks. “To the political parties and public organizations who consider themselves to be winners, I would like to warn against unnecessary euphoria. They are taking a huge responsibility on their shoulders.
“Those who see themselves as losers” should know that their contributions are still welcome, Putin added. Their ideas and personal abilities “will be in demand” if they offer to help accomplish the tasks facing the country, he said.
The president’s remarks appeared aimed largely at two key Western-style democratic parties, the Union of Right Forces and Yabloko, whose leaders played important roles in reforms during the 1990s. The two parties were nearly eliminated from the 450-seat State Duma, or lower house of parliament, in Sunday’s balloting.
It could be in Putin’s interest to make use of the talents of the intellectuals and professionals associated with those parties, and he also may wish to keep them cooperating with his ruling coalition rather than see them become the core of an embittered opposition outside parliament. In the just-concluded State Duma, these two parties often exerted influence on the drafting of reform legislation.
With 98% of the ballots counted, only four parties made it past the 5% threshold required to win seats allocated by party preference. Putin-backed United Russia led with 37% of the vote, followed by the Communists with nearly 13%, the ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party with almost 12%, and the Homeland-National Patriotic Union bloc with 9%. Half the seats will be assigned proportionally to those parties; the rest will go to winners of district races.
Full results were not available Monday evening, but various estimates projected that United Russia would hold about 225 seats, the Communists 54 seats, Liberal Democrats 38 seats and Homeland 37 seats. The People’s Party, which took just 1% of the party preference vote, won about 20 seats in district races.
Yabloko was projected to have won three or four seats, and the Union of Right Forces one to three seats. Those parties each took 4% in the party preference vote. Independents, many of them pro-Kremlin, were projected winners in about 65 districts.
Voter turnout was 56%, compared with 62% in 1999, officials said.
In Washington, the White House expressed concerns about the fairness of the campaign, but Press Secretary Scott McClellan noted that the results “roughly reflected” the electorate’s views as indicated by pre-balloting polls.
But the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe, which monitored the elections, “has expressed concerns about the fairness of the election campaign, especially the media environment and the use of government resources,” McClellan added. “And those are concerns that we share -- a fact which, as I said earlier, underlines the importance of Russian legislators dedicating themselves to pushing through the political and economic reform agenda.”
Critics fear that the new Duma could vote to change the constitution, enabling Putin to stay in office past 2008, when by current law he would have to step down. He is thought to be almost certain to win reelection to a second term in March.
United Russia, the Liberal Democrats, Homeland and the People’s Party, all seen as in the pro-Kremlin camp, combine with independent legislators believed to be Putin supporters for at least 355 seats, far beyond the two-thirds majority needed to change the constitution.
What all this means, said Liliya Shevtsova, an analyst with the Moscow Carnegie Center, is that “once again Russia has fallen into the mercy of one man.”
While critics fear the door is now open to authoritarian rule, Putin and his aides portrayed United Russia’s victory as an important step toward the country becoming more like Western Europe and the United States in its economy and politics.
“We are living in a new Russia now,” Vladislav Surkov, a Putin aide, said in remarks reported by Interfax. “This victory has confirmed the correctness of the presidential course, which is aimed at maintaining the unity of the country and developing democracy and a market economy in Russia.”
Sergei Markov, director of the Institute for Political Studies, a Moscow think tank, said Putin may see himself playing the same role in Russia that President Charles de Gaulle did in France after World War II.
“De Gaulle also created a regime of personal power, but he used it for the benefit of France,” Markov said. “For democracy and liberal reforms, we can now only rely on Vladimir Putin. I firmly believe that he remains a democratic leader strongly inclined to make life better in the country and put an end to screaming social injustice.”
But Stanislav Belkovsky, director of the National Strategy Council, a Moscow think tank, said the appropriate comparison for Putin is the late Spanish dictator Francisco Franco.
“Speaking about charges that the Duma is turning fascist, I can say that in a way it is,” he said. “But we are talking about the Franco-type fascism ... because the only alternative to such fascism is the disintegration of Russia. There is no danger that this kind of fascism may acquire Hitlerian traits. We are in for fascist rule with a human face.”
Times staff writers Sergei L. Loiko in Moscow and Edwin Chen in Washington contributed to this report.