Party Politics in the Russian Regions: Competition of Interest Groups Under the Guise of Parties
In spite of the fact that a multiparty system was formally introduced in Russia as far back as 1990, and the formal regulatory strengthening of parties in the wake of mandatory introduction of mixed or fully proportional electoral systems in regional legislative elections (from 2003), the development of Russian political parties do not come close to party politics in many parts of the world, and party competition in Russia greatly differs from that which occurs in consolidated democracies. The main feature of party politics in the Russian regions is that competition primarily takes place between informal interest groups (clans, clienteles, business groups), rather than between parties. The organisations that are called ‘parties’ in Russia, in many ways serve as a mechanism of state control over the political activities of citizens. The mechanism works through the actual bureaucratic centralised control over the organisations to which the state grants the right to be an exclusive intermediary which citizens have to address in order to exercise their right to be elected. As a result, political parties in Russia are mainly state-controlled agencies providing a specific type of service – appointing candidates for legislative elections. The status of a political party and the degree of its proximity to the bureaucracy defines the cost of its services and its appeal to potential candidates who often change their party affiliations willy-nilly depending on the changing environment. However, the number of suppliers on the market is constantly decreasing. As a result, clients (i.e. candidates) change their suppliers (i.e. political parties) at each electoral cycle: candidates in regional elections easily shift from formal liberals to formal Communists and nationalists or vice versa. If possible, they will leave any political party to enter the ‘party of power’, United Russia. Why did such a system form and how does it actually work in the regions?