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Arkady Lyubarev: Book on 2012 Party Reform and ‘damned’ questions

On June 8, the platform of Committee of Civil Initiatives (CGI) hosted the presentation of a monograph ‘2012-2014 Party Reform and Counter-reform: background, preliminary outcomes and trends’. Arkady Lyubarev, one of the editors of the monograph, spoke about the book and shared his impressions on the press reaction to the presentation.

Author: Arkady Lyubarev, PhD in Law, PhD in Biology, Expert in Election Law. Expert of Civil Initiatives Committee. Since 2013, the co-chairman of the board of movement ‘Golos’.

Translated by 'Golos', original post

Yesterday, the platform of Committee of Civil Initiatives hosted a presentation of our collective monograph ‘2012-2014 Party Reform and Counter-reform: background, preliminary outcomes and trends’ (Editors - Nikolai Borisov, Yuri Korgunyuk, Galina Mikhaleva and the author of this article). The discussion turned out to be interesting. There were a lot of comments in the press: yesterday ‘Vedomosti’ and ‘Kommersant’ reported on our book, today – MK, ‘Nezavisimaya Gazeta’ and

However, I do not feel pleased somehow. The press reaction to the research outcomes (and not for the first time) reminds the old joke, where Odessian, waiting for the arrival of Einstein, tries to explain the theory of relativity to his neighbor in simple terms to the person sitting near by: ‘Three hairs in the soup – a lot, whereas on a head – few’. He receives an answer: ‘And he goes to Odessa with this old gag?!’

Perhaps Yegor Boratov shared the most detailed and thorough publication on He was right pointing out that one should have not written a book of 200 pages in order to share a trivial conclusion that the party reform was beneficial to ‘United Russia’.

Of course, the book was written not for the sake of this conclusion. It encompasses extensive factual data and the results of statistical analysis that could serve as a basis for further studies of those who are engaged in political science. And, as usual, it was an attempt to answer the ‘damned’ questions.

Perhaps the most important of these ‘damned’ questions, which is discussed in the book: why Russia does not manage to establish a normal party system? The answers are the following and there is a grain of truth in each of it.

  1. The notion of political party, as the attribute of democratic society, transplanted to the ‘incongruent’ environment. In other words, the Russian environment is not suitable for active political parties. The answer is too general and, in any case, requires a more detailed explanation.
  2. The legislation on political parties and elections is constantly changing in favor of short-term needs of the group in power. The title of one book subsection is ‘Legislation on Elections and Political Parties: a quarter-century of scurry’. An attempt to find the logic behind the scurry leads to such a conclusion: the logic behind - an effort to solve the tactical, short-term problems. But the effective party system cannot exist under such constant scurry.
  3. The Rule of Law was not established in the country. This factor implicates direct unequal treatment of parties of ‘different color’ by law enforcement agencies (remember how some parties failed to get over the registration filter, whereas dozens of fake parties, which were easily established made their way through), as well as indirect. I already wrote that the absence of precise, uniform rules for all stimulates businessmen seeking for power by ‘buying’ a whole party or its regional departments.

Respectively the book is written just after the 2012 Party Reform was introduced. This reform gave rise to another (the fourth, according to our estimate) eruption of new political parties. Now this surge can be perceived as over: from May to July 2012, 19 parties were established (went through the full cycle of registration and were entitled to run for election), from August 2012 to June 2013 – 27, from July 2013 to June 2014 – 15, from September 2014 to May 2015 – only 5. In addition, the parties that have been established in the last two years do not give much hope.

The first conclusion to be drawn: officially elections became more competetive, but it had rather negative effect on the election results. A party take away votes from each other and as a result the winner is mainly the ‘United Russia’. The conclusion, as already noted, is quite trivial.

The process that we have been observing over the last three years remains in the brackets: the establisment of dozens of new parties and their attempts to find their electoral niche and the support of voters. However, it is obvious only professional political scientists are interested in this process and the general public is interested only in the result. If the eruption of new parties, according to our estimation, is over, then the development of these parties is yet to come – if it is not interrupted by another legislators’ scurry.

Perhaps it is obvious that 70 or more active parties cannot exist in the country. However the goal of party reform (which was prepared not by the pro-governmental officials, but the experts who have supported this reform) was not facilitate a hundred active parties, but that the party system would be naturally, not artificially settled, crystallized as a result of open political competiton. To do this, first we need several dozens of parties, which later in the process of natural selection compose a small group of major parties – maybe five, maybe ten – it depends, but it should look something like this. And the rest of the parties quietly leave the scene or continue their virtual existence, without disturbing anyone in particular.

However, ‘only’ two conditions should be met: free competition in the elections and stable legislation. Alas, we do have neither one, nor the other.