Andrei Belyaev, Nikolai Biryukov And Victor Sergeyev

The Making of Parliamentary Parties in Contemporary Russia
The Russian State Duma in 1994-1998


Development of political parties is one of the focal problems of contemporary Russian politics. The political heritage of the one-party Soviet regime was hardly conducive to fast emergence of a viable multiparty system.[1] The first two representative bodies of the perestroika and post-perestroika Russia, viz. the Congress of People’s Deputies of the USSR (1989-1991)[2] and the Congress of People’s Deputies of the RSFSR, later the Russian Federation (1990-1993)[3] did without conventional party politics. The former was elected under the 1977 Soviet Constitution[4] which, though substantially amended in 1988,[5] still secured the Communist Party of the Soviet Union the status of “the leading and guiding force of Soviet society and the nucleus of its political system, of all state organisations and public organisations”.[6] The relevant Article 6 was only abolished in March 1990, right between the two rounds of the election to the republican Congress. No parties could possibly be established and registered quickly enough to join the run. Consequently, the factions formed in the Congress of People’s Deputies of the RSFSR (after the collapse of the USSR in 1991 the Congress, heretofore a regional assembly, became a body of sovereign legislative power) were loose formations, with comparatively small “nuclei” of genuine political confreres, which functioned like “deputy clubs” rather than as real parliamentary parties. The degree of control the faction leadership was usually able to exercise over its rank-and-file members was minimal, as was the leadership’s influence on their voting behaviour. It was customary for members of the same party to belong to different factions, and vice versa.

The constitutional reform that followed the dramatic dissolution of the Congress in 1993 provided for the State Duma, as the Russian legislature’s lower house has been henceforth called, to be elected on the mixed (half-proportional, half-majoritarian) basis.[7] The proponents of the new electoral system argued that proportional representation would prompt formation of stable and influential political parties, generally regarded an essential requisite and an important resource of democracy.



The Structure of Russian Political Space

In order to assess the realities and prospects of Russian partisan politics one has to understand the structure of the Russian public political space.[8] 

Political parties are essentially meant to mobilise political support. Under democracy this is primarily electoral support.

Generally speaking, this can be done in two ways: either by an organisation of activists who engage dependent or adherent social networks (the classical cadre and mass-based political parties) or by controlling the informational space of mass media. The latter allows to bypass intermediaries and appeal directly to the electorate.

In the case of the Russian transition[9] mobilisation through mass media has proved far more effective than the traditional techniques of party recruitment. This was apparent already during the perestroika, when newspapers and journals rebelled against the CPSU political monopoly and prevailed over electronic media that still remained under party/state control. After 1991 the electronic media passed to the new power elite, which, sociologically speaking, was, to a large extent, counterelite consolidated in the course of perestroika. The print media were quickly forced into the background.

The nascent, and as yet weak, political parties had no means of controlling mass media: they could have and had access to the print media, but TV was clearly monopolised. Add to this the fact that the CPSU had practically been banned by the time the USSR collapsed and was only reborn (in a new form) a year and a half later; in fact, it reappeared on the public political scene only after the December 1993 election.

Under the circumstances the political struggle has, in a sense, been reduced to the struggle for mass media, and the principal weapons have been administrative and economic resources. Groups of the political elite that have secured access to electronic media, have got means of shaping public attitudes. In the Russian political discourse this state of affairs has been reflected in such catchphrases as “the party of Berezovsky” and “the party of Gusinsky”, though the groups led or represented by the two media magnates were, by no means, political parties (at least, not in the classical sense); they were at best political cliques.

The preponderance of electronic media in the Russian public politics was attested by the 1996 and the 2000 presidential elections. In both cases the outcome seems to have been predetermined by the media. (Even if the final figures were, as some believe, distorted, the media had provided the necessary background.)

An alternative to this “electronic democracy” is the activity of partisan organisations seeking recruits and support through social networks. The method requires considerable material resources, for unpaid enthusiasts can work miracles under certain circumstances but generally do not last long. In 1990-91 Democratic Russia commanded no, or virtually no, resources but proved able to mobilise sufficient support for its policies even though the electronic media were still in the hands of the CPSU. But as soon as the critical phase was over, the groups of enthusiasts vanished.

In fact, Russian communists have been the only political force in post-1991 Russia capable of mobilising mass support through social networks. The KPRF has simply “inherited” the networks created by its predecessor, the CPSU. These networks, though damaged and weakened by the initial setback, have been resuscitated amid social discontent of the shock reforms.

New political parties, the LDPR, NDR, Yabloko, Fatherland, Unity and the like, have only proved capable of mobilising groups of elite. Their capability to reach and influence ordinary voters through social networks controlled by party activists has been insignificant. The extent of their electoral support has depended directly on the capacity of the mobilised elite groups to control electronic mass media. Typologically, this kind of support is not to be confused with the support mobilised through persisting social networks, as attested by the contrasting experiences of NDR and OVR. While NDR had unrestricted access to electronic media, inquiries seemed favourable and elections were successful, but as soon as Prime Minister Chernomyrdin was dismissed its fortunes changed. Mayor Luzhkov has, on the contrary, retained control of TV-Centre and with it the capacity to withstand administrative pressure: administrative resource alone proved insufficient to undermine his positions in Moscow.

The reanimated communist network and the KPRF electoral record in 1993-2000 (the 1993, 1995 and 1999 parliamentary elections and the 1996 and 2000 presidential elections) attest to the fact that this mobilisation technique is, in principle, competitive with the electronic media. However, it seems highly improbable that any other political force will avail itself of this method in the foreseeable future. They simply lack the financial resources required to develop the necessary network. Communists have been lucky: they did not have to create a new network, only to maintain an existing one.

All this means that the Russian public political space is actually closed to new political forces organised as political parties. We now witness attempts to seal it off legislatively. With the recently promulgated law on political parties, the latter stand a good chance to be rid of even the unassuming role they have hitherto played. Parties as independent political forces may well cease to exist.

Another hindrance to party-building is wide and comparatively more effective use of administrative resource in elections.

The result is the shrinking of public political space and its replacement by bureaucratic political space. In this latter political support is mobilised not through parties, but through social networks merged into power structures. Essentially, they are trust networks. In the bureaucratic field “trust” is far more important than “programs”, “values” and “ideologies”.

Hence the paradoxes of contemporary Russian politics: for all their ideological implacability and revulsion toward the existing regime, yesterday’s and even present-day communists are easily integrated into the system, for perfect consensus seems to reign within the social networks.

This sheds new light on theoretical aspects of party politics. If the above situation is to be understood and accounted for, one must probe into the social networks that tie together interest groups and power institutions. The latter seem more relevant and more revealing than the political sympathies of voters which are assumed to be a standard object of analysis for students of partisan politics.

We must therefore try to evade conventional methodological traps. On the national level political parties should be studied and compared not from the standpoint of their ideological differences, ranging from the left to the right or otherwise, but from the standpoint of their internal homogeneity and organisational potency, which are naturally assessed by the techniques of role calls analysis.



Methods of Analysis

This study is based on the computer analysis of roll calls in the Fifth (1994-1995) and Sixth (1996-1999) State Dumas[10] and pertains to the period between 1994 and 1998. When combined with the similar findings for the Second to Ninth Congresses of People’s Deputies of the Russian Federation (1990-1993),[11] this would provide us with comparable data spanning a substantial period of time, during which, moreover, a radical electoral reform took place.

Political homogeneity and solidarity of factions is an important aspect of parliamentary politics, one that affects the parliament’s entire political set-up.

To look closer into this problem, a computer database was created that compiled information on all roll calls in the Fifth and Sixth State Dumas between 1994 and 1997; this was subsequently supplemented with complete voting data (i.e. encompassing all votes, not just roll calls) for 1998.[12] The database provides easy access to the voting data both on particular issues or groups of issues and for individual deputies or groups of deputies. It has been supplied with special program tools with which to analyse and assess the concurrence of opinions within any arbitrarily chosen group of deputies as manifest in the vote.

Factions’ homogeneity was characterised by voting discordance distribution functions obtained by the following procedure. (1) All role calls data (for 1998, all voting data) were presented as a master matrix filled with four symbols: “pro”, “contra”, “abstained” or “absent”. Matrix lines referred to deputies; matrix columns, to issues put to vote (see Table 1 in the Appendix). (2) By selecting certain lines and/or columns secondary matrices might be obtained showing vote of the selected deputies on the selected issues. (3) In the selected group of deputies (faction, in this case) the degree of voting discordance was established for each pair of deputies (in a group of n deputies the total number of pairs would be equal to ) as the percentage of the non-concurrent positions in their respective voting lines. (We found it more expedient to calculate the number of non-concurrent, rather than the number of concurring positions in order to prevent absenteeism from affecting the results too much). (4) The processed data were then presented in a diagram form with the degree of discordance shown on the category axis (ranging from 0 to 1), and the number of pairs sharing that particular degree of discordance, on the value axis (see Figures 1-64 in the Appendix).

Voting discordance distribution functions may be used to characterise the degree of voting solidarity not only within a chosen group of deputies, but also of any two such groups. In the latter case the voting line of every deputy of one group is compared with the voting line of every deputy of the other group; the compared pairs thus consist of deputies belonging to different factions. Such bi-faction voting discordance distribution function are presented in Figures 65-80.

Diagrams are vivid images of intrafaction political homogeneity. The voting solidarity is shown as diminishing from left to right, that is with higher degrees of solidarity closer to the value axis. If homogeneity were high, the distribution function would have a sharp peak in the segment of low degrees of discordance, i.e. closer to the value axis (as in Figure 3); if it were low, the peak would either shift towards higher degrees of discordance (as in Figure 14) or the function would become altogether “blurred” along the category axis (as in Figure 10). It was theoretically possible (and was, indeed, often the case) for two different groups to exist within the selected group: one, highly correlated; the other, displaying a low level of solidarity (see Figures 8 and 14).

Figures 4-23 and 28-41 show the distribution functions characterising voting solidarity/discordance of the factions and deputy groups in the Fifth and Sixth State Dumas as manifest in roll calls held in 1994, 1995, 1996 and 1997; Figures 50-61 illustrate voting behaviour of the Six State Duma major factions in 1998. Voting behaviour of independent deputies is shown in Figures 24-25 and 42-43; of the two Dumas’ entire deputy corps, in Figures 26-27, 44-45 and 62-64. Figures 65-80 serve to compare voting behaviour of pairs of factions in 1998. To get a comparative perspective, similar computations have been fulfilled for the Sixth Congress of People’s Deputies, 1993 (Figures 1-2) and the German Bundestag, 1983-1987 (Figure 3).



Factions and Deputy Groups in the Fifth and Sixth State Dumas

The Russian Constitution approved by the national plebiscite in December 1993 established a new legislative body, the Federal Assembly, consisting of two chambers, the State Duma and the Council of Federation. Election to both houses was held the same day. The new constitution provided for one half of the 450 seats in the Duma to be distributed proportionally between political parties (electoral blocks) that managed to overcome the barrier of 5 percent of the national vote; the rest 225 seats were to be contested on the majoritarian basis in single-seat constituencies.

According to the Duma Rules, statuses of factions and deputy groups are different. A faction may only be established by a political party or movement whose electoral list got more than 5 percent of the national vote. Deputies elected in majoritarian constituencies may choose between joining some of the factions, organising into deputy groups, or remaining independent. For a deputy group to be officially registered, it must have at least 35 members. The Rules do not specify a faction’s minimal membership, though, considering the need to overcome the 5 percent barrier, it cannot be less than 12 deputies on the Duma’s opening day. A faction is to function throughout the Duma’s term of power, regardless of changes in membership. A deputy group, however, is to be dissolved if its membership falls below the minimum.

Eight factions and initially one deputy group were formed in the Fifth State Duma. The factions were, in alphabetical order, those of the Agrarian Party of Russia (the APR), the Choice of Russia movement (VR), the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (the KPRF), the Democratic Party of Russia (the DPR), the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (the LDPR), the Party of Russian Unity and Consensus (the PRES), the Women of Russia movement (ZhR), the Yabloko (“the Apple”) movement. There was but one duly registered deputy group at first, New Regional Policies (NRP). Two other deputy groups organised in 1994, The Russian Way and The Union of the 12th December failed to meet the 35 membership requirement and remained unregistered. In 1995 two more deputy groups were registered, Russia and Stability. These were basically formed of the deputies that deserted Choice of Russia, the Liberal Democratic Party and New Regional Policies (for their membership and composition see Table 2 and Figure 83 in the Appendix).

Of more than 40 electoral blocks that competed in the December 1995 parliamentary election, only four succeeded in beating the 5 percent barrier. These were the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, Our Home Russia (NDR) and Yabloko. Beside these four factions, three deputy groups were registered: the Agrarian Deputy Group (the ADG), Popular Power and Russian Regions (RR). The former two owed their official status to the Communists: the KPRF, the incontestable victor of the 1995 election, “delegated” the necessary number of their deputies to help their allies meet the minimal membership requirement (see Table 3 and Figure 84).

The faction system of the Sixth State Duma was less complex than that of the Fifth Duma: it had less factions (four instead of eight), with the largest faction, the KPRF, holding almost twice as many seats as the largest faction of the Fifth Duma: 139 as compared with 70 of Choice of Russia[13] (cf. Figures 83 and 84). The number of deputy groups remained as its was, but two of the three were not truly independent, owing their very existence to the Communist support. The Communists thus commanded the total of 216 votes, almost half the deputy corps. It should be noted, moreover, that the factions and deputy groups of the Sixth Duma escaped major splits that had occasioned considerable re-organisation of the Fifth Duma’s political scene. The result was in all probability due to more careful selection of nominees, both for party lists and majoritarian districts. Unlike 1993, the 1995 was a regular election and the contestants, at least the successful contestants, had plenty of time to prepare. Whatever the reasons, the Sixth State Duma factional set-up was both more definite and more stable than ever before.



Dynamics of Intrafaction Solidarity (1994-1997)

Analysis of roll calls at the Congresses of People’s Deputies (1990-1993) revealed that none of their factions could properly be called homogeneous. The voting discordance distribution function would typically reach its maximum for discordance degrees ranging between 30 to 60 percent (see Figure 1[14]). This meant that most group members voted in accord only on 4 to 7 issues out of 10. The low intrafaction solidarity was best attested by the fact that no substantial difference was to be observed between the voting discordance distribution functions of a typical Congress faction, on the one hand, and of a group of deputies selected at random, on the other hand (cf. Figures 1 and 2). On the contrary, the difference with the German parliament was striking. German Social Democrats appear to have voted in accord on practically every occasion (see Figure 3). The voting solidarity in the other four factions of the Bundestag was even greater.[15] It were these observations that were behind our assertion (in the introductory section of this paper) that factions of the Congress united people who could be called political confreres only in the most vague sense of the word. They might hold similar views on general issues and might, moreover, sympathise with each other, but they were ill-prepared for a consolidated political effort.

The situation reflected the dim character of the Russian political spectre of the time: absence of strong political parties outside the parliament and virtual independence of faction members from those parties that existed. Elected under majoritarian law, the Congress deputies, regardless of what political forces nominated and supported them before and during the election, were bound neither by effective party discipline nor by loyalty to loose and transient political movements. Factions themselves were highly unstable: their memberships were constantly in shift, both in terms of individual composition and in terms of numbers. A considerable number of deputies joined no faction at all.

When various constitutional proposals were debated in 1993, advocates of proportional (or semi-proportional) representation argued that party lists would stimulate consolidation of political parties and help structure the national political spectrum. The more immediate outcome would be increased homogeneity of parliamentary factions. Let us see whether these expectations were justified.

As our analysis of roll calls reveals, factions of the Fifth State Duma (1994-1995, Figures 4-23) hardly differed in that respect from those of the Congresses of People’s Deputies (1990-1993, Figures 1-2), but substantial changes took place in the Sixth Duma (1996-1997, Figures 28-41).

In 1994 the largest factions of the Fifth State Duma, viz. the Choice of Russia and Liberal Democrats, demonstrated precisely the same level of intrafaction solidarity as a “typical” faction of the earlier Russian legislature. The peaks of their distribution functions were to be found within the discordance range of 0.4 to 0.6, for the former (Figure 6); and of 0.3 to 0.5, for the latter (Figure 12). In other words, most members of the leading pro-government faction voted in accord as seldom as on 4 to 6 occasions out of 10, while most members of the leading opposition faction, as seldom as on 5 to 7 occasions.

The Agrarian Party (Figure 4), Yabloko (Figure 18) and New Regional Policies (Figure 20) displayed similar results. Slightly higher, 5 to 8 votes out of 10, was the level of Women of Russia (Figure 16); slightly lower, 3 to 6 votes, those of the Democratic Party (Figure 10) and independent deputies (Figure 24). The close resemblance between distribution functions computed for the entire deputy corps of eight factions and three deputy groups (Figure 26) and for most individual factions, including the two major ones, leads to the conclusion that the character and type of party politics was little affected by the December 1993 parliamentary election.

The highest and lowest levels of intrafaction solidarity were demonstrated by, respectively, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation and the Party of Russian Unity and Consensus. The Communists’ function peaked at the discordance level of 0.2; in other words, most faction members voted in accord on 8 occasions out of 10 (Figure 8). The relatively high level of Communist solidarity is easily explained by the fact that Communists were at the time Russia’s only political party with mass followership, traditions and organisational experience. But even they were not without dissenters, as manifest from a sharp peak at the discordance level of 0.9 (same figure). This means that there was a group of faction members who voted in accord with the rest only on one issue out of ten.

As to the minor PRES faction, role calls reveal that this was, ironically, a party of neither unity nor consensus. It was, moreover, an imaginary rather than a real party: peaks within discordance range of 0.3 to 0.5 (solidarity vote on 5 to 7 issues out of 10, typical, indeed, of a randomly selected group) appear insignificant when contrasted to the pinnacle, almost twice as high, at the discordance level of 1.0 (Figure 14). This was a record hard to beat: about half faction members never (!) voted in accord. A party of such “confreres” was doomed to disappear soon and without issue.

A year later the situation was somewhat different. Four factions out of eight improved their solidarity level in 1995 as against 1994. On the KPRF diagram (Figure 9) the discordance peak shifted from 0.2 to 0.15, but, more important, the peak at the 0.9 level disappeared: the “dissenters” were back to the ranks. Liberal Democrats were decimated by desertions, but the remaining deputies demonstrated higher solidarity than before: 7 to 8 votes out of 10 (Figure 13) as compared to 5 to 7 in 1994. Yabloko and Women of Russia also improved: the former, to 65-85 percent (Figure 19); the latter, to 70-85 percent (Figure 17). It is worth mentioning that it would be these parties, capable of further consolidation, that would (with the sole exception of Women of Russia) be reelected to the next Duma.

The parties that failed to consolidate their parliamentary factions in the two years of the Fifth Duma’s term of power would lose the next election. In 1995 the Agrarian Party of Russia, the Choice of Russia, the Democratic Party of Russia and the Party of Russian Unity and Consensus displayed a level of solidarity that was not higher or was only slightly higher than in 1994 (Figures 5, 7, 11, 15). The PRES, it was true, got rid of its notorious peak at the 1.0 level (most probably, at the expense of desertions), but on the whole its intrafaction solidarity remained low. New Regional Policies did not improve, either: as in 1994, the faction’s voting behaviour was characterised by the normal distribution curve (Figure 21). The same stands true of the newly registered Russia and Stability (Figures 22-23) and, more naturally, of the independents (Figure 25) and the deputy corps as a whole (Figure 27).

The level of intrafaction solidarity increased noticeably in the Sixth State Duma. Like in the preceding Fifth Duma, the highest level was demonstrated by the Communist Party: in 1996 the distribution function characterising its members’ voting behaviour reached maximum at the discordance level of 0.1, i.e. most faction members voted in accord on 9 occasions out of 10 (Figure 28). The peak shifted somewhat right (towards higher degrees of discord) in 1997, but on the whole the faction’s solidarity did not fall below the level attained in the Fifth Duma, viz. 8 solidarity votes out of 10 (Figure 29).

Liberal Democrats improved significantly. The increase in their voting solidarity started already in the Fifth Duma, though in all likelihood at the expense of a considerable membership loss. In the Sixth Duma Liberal Democrats, though still behind Communists, were concerted enough: 8 votes out of 10, in 1996 (Figure 30); 7 to 8 out of 10, in 1997 (Figure 31). Like the KPRF, the LDPR performance proved slightly worse in the Duma’s second year, but was still better than in the previous legislature. Nevertheless, the LDPR 1996 distribution function differed conspicuously from that of the KPRF in having noticeable ups within the ranges of relatively high (0.4 to 0.5) and very high (0.9 to 1.0) discordance. Though the area below the curve’s respective portions was but a minor share of the total area under the function’s curve, it was not negligently small. It indicated that a certain, though relatively small, part of the faction’s members voted differently from the rest. In 1997 the rightmost peak, the one indicating the highest level of discord, disappeared.

The dynamics of intrafaction solidarity of the two remaining factions of the Sixth State Duma, Our Home Russia and Yabloko, differed from those of the Communists and Liberal Democrats. Whereas the KPRF and the LDPR solidarity decreased somewhat in 1997 as compared with 1996, but remained on the whole relatively high, solidarity of NDR and Yabloko increased, but still did not reach the level of the “patriotic” factions. In 1996 the pro-government Our Home Russia was characterised by a modest level of 6 to 7 solidarity votes out of 10, moreover with a low, but pronounced peak near the 100 percent discordance point (Figure 32). In 1997 the graph’s major peak remained largely where it had been, i.e. within the range of 0.3 to 0.4 discordance (6 to 7 solidarity votes out of 10), but the secondary peak of very high discord was replaced by a low, though protracted, “tail” in the range of 0.5 to 0.8 discordance (Figure 33).

Yabloko increased its intrafaction solidarity insignificantly: from 6 to 7 solidarity votes out of 10 in 1996 (Figure 34) to 7 in 1997 (Figure 35). The change is more conspicuous when the 1997 graph is compared to that of 1995 (Figure 19) and greater still, when compared to 1994 (Figure 18), but still not too impressive.

Of all the three deputy groups of the Sixth State Duma only Agrarians displayed something that might be properly called “solidarity” (though even they were well behind their Communist “patrons” in that respect); the word appears largely irrelevant when applied to Popular Power and Russian Regions. The Agrarian Deputy Group voted in accord on 6 to 9 issues out of 10 in 1996 (Figure 36) and on 7 to 8 issues out of 10 in 1997 (Figure 37). The Popular Power diagrams (Figures 38-39) reflect the group’s heterogeneous membership. By 1997 this heterogeneity transcended the bounds of political propriety, with the distribution function showing a significant rise within the range of 0.7 to 0.9 discordance (1 to 3 solidarity votes out of 10) and a striking peak close to the 1.0 point (no solidarity votes). This indicates that Popular Power was in fact a coalition of two essentially different groups which practically separated by 1997. As to Russian Regions, in 1996 the group demonstrated a level of solidarity characteristic of New Regional Policies, its predecessor in the Fifth State Duma (Figures 40 and 20-21). However, even that low level of intragroup solidarity decreased in 1997, with appreciable peaks emerging within the range of maximal discordance of 0.75 to 1.0 (Figure 41).



A Major Change in the State Duma Voting Behaviour:
Consolidation of Parliamentary Parties or Consolidation of Parliamentary Elite?

1998 saw a major change in the State Duma voting behaviour. Graphs of intrafaction voting discordance distribution functions for this year present a sharp contrast to those of the preceding years. In 1998 members of the four principal factions of the Russian State Duma, viz. the Communist Party of the Russian federation (the KPRF), the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (the LDPR), Our Home Russia (NDR) and Yabloko, voted in accord on between 95 to 99 occasions out of 100 (Figures 50-61), whereas in 1997 the 90 percent solidarity level was the exclusive achievement of the Communist Party faction (followed by the Liberal Democrats with 70 to 80 percent; Yabloko, with 70 percent; and Our Home Russia, with 60 to 70 percent).

To judge from these data, the transition period is over and Russia has eventually got a system of potent parliamentary parties, ideologically and politically homogeneous in themselves and sufficiently different between them to jointly represent a modern diversified pluralistic society.

Further analysis suggests less categorical conclusions, however. To begin with, this intrafaction homogeneity turns out to have been achieved by simple and effective, but hardly in themselves lasting means, viz. by the appointment of persons responsible for the factions’ voting who would collect the members’ voting cards to vote for them and in their names. Consolidation thus attained is, of course, no guarantee of enduring solidarity and no safeguard against possible splits. Still, deep-going or mechanical, it proves effective enough for the time being.

Another reservation may be even more significant. For it were not only individual factions, but the entire deputy corps that tended to vote in accord in 1998 as Figures 62-64 indicate. In January the deputy corps demonstrated the level of voting solidarity that matched the solidarity of the hitherto most consolidated faction, the Communists, with the peak of the distribution function to be found left of the discordance point of 0.1 which corresponded to the solidarity level of slightly more than 90 percent (Figure 62). The peak shifted further left and grew in height in May, indicating that an even greater number of deputies, regardless of factions and deputy groups, voted in accord on an even greater number of occasions (Figure 63).

This conclusion is substantiated by the comparison of voting behaviour of factions: distribution functions obtained for pairs of factions (Figures 65-76) show that the “political distances” between the factions diminished considerably as compared to the previous period of 1994-1997 (Figures 77-80). For the first time in recent Russian history two opposition factions, viz. Communists and Yabloko, appeared to be more remote politically (Figure 67) than any one of them and the presumably pro-cabinet Our Home Russia (Figures 66 and 70), whose nominal leader, Victor Chernomyrdin still held the office of Prime Minister.

Further increase in voting solidarity, one might say, would amount to virtual disappearance of factions as independent political forces, a situation that – in Russia, at least – is more convincingly seen as restoration of traditional sobornost than emergence of a modern multiparty system.

The trend was slowed down, though hardly reversed, in September in the aftermath of a major economic and political crisis (Figures 64 and 71-76). For the first time since 1993 President Yeltsin yielded to the parliament and agreed to appoint a deputies’ nominee, Evgeny Primakov, Prime Minister. Primakov attempted to form what, in Russian circumstances, would amount to a coalition government that sought and enjoyed majority support throughout his incumbency. This pro-cabinet majority was not, however, the result of the August shock, as was generally assumed. Our findings indicate that consolidation of the deputy corps preceded, not followed, the August crisis. It preceded even the sudden dismissal of Chernomyrdin in March 1998, a move that appeared utterly meaningless at the moment but proved, in retrospect, to mark the beginning of Yeltsin coterie’s campaign to secure transition of the presidency to a loyal successor.




Discussion and Conclusions

The above findings indicate two noteworthy changes that pose two questions. In view of the somewhat higher consolidation demonstrated by the Sixth State Duma factions in 1996 and 1997 as compared with the factions of the Fifth Duma in 1994-1995 and the Congresses of People’s Deputies in 1990-1993, it seems logical to ask whether this increase was due to the electoral reform that replaced the purely majoritarian system of the 1990 election with the mixed proportional-majoritarian system with a 5 percent access barrier of the 1993 and 1995 elections. Or, to put it otherwise, whether the transition to the semi-proportional system with its need to choose between party lists had, indeed, stimulated emergence of new political parties and contributed to their strengthening.[16] The far more dramatic increase in the factions’ voting solidarity in 1998 appears, however, unrelated to the electoral rules as it occurred in the midterm of the already elected house.

The data relating to 1994, the Fifth State Duma’s first year of power, indicate that there was no immediate change in the type and character of the deputies’ voting behaviour following the introduction of the new electoral system. The intrafaction solidarity, as manifest in roll calls, remained largely as it had been in 1990-1993 with the deputies elected under majoritarian system. The obvious conclusion is that there is no direct correlation between electoral rules and intrafaction cohesion and that proportional representation as such does not encourage party-building.

On the other hand, increased voting solidarity demonstrated by the factions of the Sixth State Duma suggests that parliamentary parties were gradually maturing and promised to become nuclei of national political parties; in other words, proponents of the proportional representation were eventually justified in their expectations.

The contradiction allows of two solutions. One should either agree that the proportional system does help consolidate parliamentary parties and then undertake to explain away the low solidarity, manifest in the Fifth Duma, or disagree and look for some other explanation for the increased cohesion of the Sixth Duma factions.

There are arguments to support the first alternative. One might recall that the election to the Fifth State Duma was actually held in a situation of crisis, when the country and its political class had not yet recovered from the shock following the dissolution of the Congress of People’s Deputies and the shooting of the White House;[17] that both the voters and the political elite were inexperienced in the new electoral system and lacked the appropriate skills;[18] that many parties and electoral blocks had been established right before the election, including four (out of eight) that got elected;[19] that there was no time for a proper election campaign and that party lists were compiled in great haste and included many incidental, ill-chosen names. In other words, consolidation of parties had not really commenced and, if it had, could have had no visible consequences yet. The explanation seems to fit the facts.

But one might look at the situation from a different angle. Granted that in the two years that passed between elections to the Fifth and the Sixth State Dumas politicians of all ranks learned from experience and accommodated themselves to the new situation; granted that party leaders became more careful about electoral lists and that rank-and-file deputies realised that in order to get on those lists again they should demonstrate loyalty to their leadership. Granted all these, consolidation of parties followed its own course, nevertheless, and depended not so much on the election rules as on the general political situation and, first and foremost, on the natural strengthening of opposition amid worsening crisis and growing popular discontent. For it were precisely the opposition factions, the KPRF, the LDPR and, to a lesser extent, Yabloko, that demonstrated considerable intrafaction consolidation; the principal pro-government factions, the Choice of Russia, the PRES and Our Home Russia (NDR), on the contrary, failed to consolidate. Moreover, as the 1994-1995 distribution functions show, at least, in the former three cases consolidation was also observed to have increased in between the elections. It appears reasonable therefore to relate it not so much to election campaigns, whatever their rules, as to broader political experience acquired in the course of parliamentary work.

Both explanations appear plausible. More research is needed to solve the issue. Additional light might be shed by comparing voting behaviour of deputies from party lists with voting behaviour of those faction members who stood for the Duma in majoritarian districts. This has been done, but the findings have proved inconclusive. Thus, Figures 29, 46 and 47 seem to indicate that, at least as far as Communists were concerned, the level of intrafaction solidarity depended largely on the voting behaviour of the faction’s party-list core, whereas deputies elected in majoritarian constituencies were less disciplined. The latter were evidently responsible for the “tails” that appeared in 1997 within the ranges of relatively high (0.5 to 0.7) and very high (0.9 to 1.0) discordance. But a similar comparison of NDR distribution functions does not support that conclusion: neither the peak near the 1.0 discordance point in 1996 (Figures 32 and 48), nor the “tail” in the range of 0.5-0.7 discordance in 1997 (Figures 33 and 49) disappear upon exclusion of the “majoritarian” deputies. It thus seems hasty to assert that “party-list” deputies (elected under proportional rules) are generally more consolidated than “single-seat” deputies (elected under majoritarian rules). One might object, at this point, that Our Home Russia was a very specific party. Unlike the KPRF, LDPR and Yabloko, who owed their influence to their voters, NDR openly drew on the executive support, both in the capital and in the provinces. It would be natural, the argument might continue, for its deputies to behave differently from those of the mass or would-be mass parties. However it may be, the issue remains undecided.

But, at least, one thing appears obvious. Consolidation of political parties proved to be a longer and far more complicated process than envisaged by the Third Republic[20] “founding fathers”. The 1993 constitutional reform, undertaken at the risk of a major national crisis, was meant to result in prompt crystallisation of a stable system of political parties in which supporters and, presumably, beneficiaries of the reforms promulgated in 1992 would be clearly predominant.

Our analysis of the role calls in the Fifth State Duma, however, attests to the contrary. It was the “reformist” part of the Russian political elite that demonstrated the lack of coordination and solidarity to be rivalled, perhaps, by none, except the factions of the dissolved Congress of People’s Deputies. Consolidation of parliamentary parties ensued in fact only after the next parliamentary election in December 1995 and mainly among the opposition. Pro-government parties appear to be short-lived: the role assumed by the Choice of Russia in 1993 passed to Our Home Russia in 1995 and was contested by the Fatherland-All Russia [Otechestvo-Vsya Rossiya – OVR] block and Unity [Edinstvo] in 1999. The latter outmanoeuvred the former, but was obviously not over-confident as far as its political prospects were concerned and soon sought to join forces with the yesterday’s rival.

Proportional representation is still a point of controversy. Many parties and electoral blocks ran for parliament under the present electoral law; most faded away, just a few survived. In fact, there have been only three parties to gain representation in all the three Dumas, viz. Communists, Liberal Democrats and Yabloko. To these the Agrarian Party of Russia should be added. It lost the election in 1995, but returned to the Duma in 1999. Since these were, with few exceptions, the only factions with positive solidarity dynamics (the Agrarians, it will be remembered, failed to improve from 1994 to 1995, but did improve, albeit as a deputy group, not a faction, from 1996 to 1997), one might reasonably assert that the ability or inability to consolidate parliamentary parties (factions) was an important factor as far as the party’s re-election chances were concerned. On the contrary, political forces that failed to consolidate their parliamentary factions in the course of routine parliamentary work were forced out of parliament.

All these subtleties appear to pale beside the dramatic changes as revealed by the analysis of the 1998 votes, however. For two years by that time had the Duma been a talkative but impotent witness to President Yeltsin’s whims and absenteeism. Despite their ideological differences, the deputies were prone to unite in their natural concern for the prerogatives of the legislative. In this the situation resembled closely the consolidation of the deputy corps in spring 1993, amid administration’s repeated attempts to assert itself at the expense of the legislative.[21] Almost all factions, regardless of their ideological planks, coalesced then into a mammoth, albeit short-lived, bloc to withstand the executive’s unprecedented pressure. The sole exception were Radical Democrats, other democratic factions more (or, at least equally) remote from them at the moment than from the ideologically alien Communists. The humiliating failure of Radical Democrats’ heir apparent, the Democratic Choice of Russia, in 1995 general election barred this most anti-parliament (for all its self-professed democraticism) of the Russian political parties from the Duma, facilitating emergence of a broad pro-parliament coalition. Resentment at the President’s caprice and presumption as well as his obvious lack of cooperative spirit (Yeltsin assigned important cabinet posts to the defeated Choice of Russia activists and haughtily ignored repeated votes of no confidence for his new Premier nominee Sergei Kirienko) served only to add to the parliamentary solidarism. This solidarity in opposition is not, of course, characteristic of sobornost’ (which invariably implies solidarity with, not against the government). But neither is it to be mistaken for the maturity within the framework of multiparty politics.

Striking as they are, therefore, recent changes in the parliamentary voting behaviour allow of different interpretations and do not warrant definitive conclusions.



List of Abbreviations*

*          For the sake of unification and to avoid confusion that may result from diverse translations all abbreviations in this paper (with the exception of the commonly used USSR, CIS and CPSU) are transliterations of the respective Russian abbreviations derived from the Russian names.

ADG                The Agrarian Deputy Group [Agrarnaya deputatskaya gruppa]

APR                The Agrarian Party of Russia [Agrarnaya partiya Rossii]

CIS                  The Commonwealth of Independent States [Sodruzhestvo nezavisimykh gosudarstv]

CPSU              The Communist Party of the Soviet Union [Kommunisticheskaya partiya Sovetskogo Soyuza]

DPA                The Movement in Support of the Army [Dvizhenie d podderzhku armii]

DPR                The Democratic Party of Russia [Democraticheskaya partiya Rossii]

DR                   The Democratic Russia [Demokraticheskaya Rossiya]

DVR                The Democratic Choice of Russia [Demokraticheskiy vybor Rossii]

KPR                The Peasants’ Party of Russia [Krestyanskaya partiya Rossii]

KPRF              The Communist Party of the Russian Federation [Kommunisticheskaya partiya Rossiyskoy Federatsii]

KRO                The Congress of Russian Communities [Kongress russkikh obshchin]

LDPR              The Liberal Democratic Party of Russia [Liberal’no-demokraticheskaya partiya Rossii]

Medved          Unity Interregional Movement [MEzhregional’noe DVizhenieEDinsto”] (the abbreviation is literally translated as the Bear)

NDR                Our Home Russia [Nash domRossiya]

NRP                The New Regional Policies [Novaya regional’naya politika]

OVR                Fatherland – All Russia [OtechestvoVsya Rossiya]

PRES               The Party of Russian Unity and Consensus [Partiya rossiyskogo edinstva i soglasiya]

ROS                The Russian National Popular Union [Rossiyskiy obshchenarodnyy soyuz]

RR                   Russian Regions [Regiony Rossii]

SPS                 The Union of Rightist Forces [Suyuz pravykh sil]

VR                   The Choice of Russia [Vybor Rossii]

Yabloko          originally the YAvlinsky-Boldyrev-Lukin electoral block (the abbreviation is literally translated as the Apple)

ZhR                 The Women of Russia political movement [politicheskoe dvizhenieZhenshchiny Rossii”]




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[1]      On the Soviet representative institutions operating under conditions of the constitutionally safeguarded single-party rule, see Vanneman 1977, with an introductory review of the preceding literature; of the more relevant works reviewed by P. Vanneman one might mention, in chronological order, Towster 1948, Carson 1955, Shapiro 1957.

[2]      For the analysis of the cultural and political circumstances of this institution and its performance, see Sergeyev and Biryukov 1993; various aspects thereof are also examined in Biryukov and Sergeyev 1993, Biryukov and Sergeyev 1994; German readers may avail themselves of Biryukov and Sergeyev 1992; Russian readers, of Biryukov and Sergeyev 1995, Biryukov and Sergeyev 1997a.

[3]      The history of the Congress of People’s Deputies of the Russian Federation is reviewed in detail and analysed in Biryukov and Sergeyev 1997c; a brief summary is to be found in English, in Biryukov and Sergeyev 1998a; in Russian, in Biryukov and Sergeyev 1998b; additional information may be obtained from Gleisner et al. 1996; the deputies’ voting behaviour is the special subject of Sobyanin and Yuriev 1991, Sergeyev et al. 1995 (for the Japanese translation of the latter, see Sergeyev et al. 1999a); other aspects are also considered in Biryukov et al. 1995, Biryukov and Sergeyev 1997b.

[4]      See Constitution USSR 1985.

[5]      See Constitution USSR 1988.

[6]      Constitution USSR 1985 p. 16.

[7]      See Constitution RF 1993.

[8]      The nature and structure of the contemporary Russian politics is discussed in Shmachkova 1996, Gelman 1997, Gelman 2001, Golosov 1998, Golosov and Lichtenstein 2001, Kapustin 2001.

[9]      The Russian democratic transition has, understandably, been the subject of extensive study and debate. Among the more influential theoretical writings one should mention Yanov 1995, Shevtsova 1996, Shevtsova 1997, Melvil 1997, Sogrin 1998; of foreign authors Urban 1990, Breslauer (ed.) 1991.

[10]     There are no generally accepted ways of indicating particular convocations of the State Duma yet. The Duma elected in December 1993 and in session in 1994-1995 was the first legislature of that name in recent Russian history and is, consequently, sometimes referred to as the First State Duma; the Duma elected in December 1995 and in session in 1996-1999 would then be the Second one. However, the State Duma was also the name of the lower house of the prerevolutionary Russian legislature. Between 1906 and 1917 four Dumas were elected, conventionally referred to as, respectively, the First (1906), the Second (1907), the Third (1907-1912) and the Fourth (1912-1917) ones. That would make the 1994-1995 Duma, the Fifth; the 1996-1999 Duma, the Sixth; and the present (elected in December 1999) Duma, the Seventh. This paper uses the latter numeration.

[11]     The findings were first presented at the International Symposium on “Presidential System and Parliamentary System in Crisis” (Tokai University Pacific Center, Honolulu, HI, 3-6 November 1994) and published in Sergeyev et al. 1995 (the Japanese translation, Sergeyev et al. 1999a) and as Chapter 7 of Biryukov and Sergeyev 1997c.

[12]     The total number of votes proved, indeed, so high that the 1998 database had to be subdivided into ten roughly equal parts, lest the data could not be processed.

[13]     That was, moreover, the Choice of Russia’s initial membership. By the end of 1995 the faction was deserted by half of its members who joined the newly established Stability and Russia deputy groups.

[14]     Communists of Russia were selected to exemplify intrafaction homogeneity on the ground of their close affinity to the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, whose faction in the Fifth and Sixth State Dumas appeared to demonstrate the highest voting solidarity of all. We limited our examples to the Sixth Congress of People’s Deputies (April 1992) as the Russian parliament’s “star hour” (for detail, see Biryukov and Sergeyev 1997c pp. 133-155 and 220-238).

[15]     Other Bundestag factions appeared even more consolidated. However, what deviations from the “party line” there were, seem not to exceed the permissible limit of operator mistakes. (Roll calls are rare in the Bundestag, and the computations were fulfilled on data spanning several years; the data had to be entered into the computer manually).

[16]     It is an open secret that the new system, introduced in 1993 at the initiative of the self-professed democrats (who clearly expected to profit from the reform and win an overwhelming majority in the future Fifth State Duma), was sharply criticised by those very “democrats” in 1995, the year of election to the Sixth Duma, for its allegedly antidemocratic character. That criticism increased even more in the subsequent years, gaining fresh support from the regional governors in the Council of Federation, although met with little sympathy by the majority of Duma deputies.

[17]     President Yeltsin’s decree on “On the Step-by-Step Constitutional Reform in the Russian Federation” providing for suspension of the Congress of People’s Deputies and the Supreme Soviet and a major change of electoral rules was made public on 21 September 1993. The crisis reached its climax on 3 October 1993, when a mob of anti-Yeltsinist demonstrators penetrated through lines of riot militia to the White House (then the seat of the Russian parliament), and resolved a day later after troops loyal to the President attacked and recaptured it. The referendum on the new constitution and election to both the State Duma and the Council of Federation were held on 12 December 1993 (for detail, see Biryukov and Sergeyev 1997c pp. 190-209).

[18]     Russia’s last experience of proportional representation dated back to 1917, when election to the Constituent Assembly was held.

[19]     Viz. the Choice of Russia, the Party of Russian Unity and Consensus, Women of Russia and Yabloko.

[20]     By this we mean the political regime established in Russia after the 1993 crisis and constitutional reform. The “First Republic” would then apply to the regime that existed between 16 March 1917, the day following the abdication of Nicholas II, and 7 November 1917, the Bolsheviks’ coming to power (or 19 January 1918, the day the Constituent Assembly was dissolved by the Bolsheviks after only 13 hours in session). The “Second Republic” would refer to post-Soviet Russia of 1991-1993. Neither of these terms is conventional, though.

[21]     For details of the spring 1993 crisis, see Biryukov and Sergeyev 1997c pp. 176-187; the consolidation of the deputy corps is attested by the map of political forces as active at the Eighth Congress of People’s Deputies (see Figure 15 on p. 312 commented on p. 239 and reproduced here as Figure 82).

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