Funding: £50,000 Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)
Researcher: David White
There are a number of reasons why democracy in Russia remains far from consolidated, not least a lack of executive transparency, accountability, an independent judiciary and free media.
The sustained marginalisation of opposition parties, however, remains a key factor militating against democratic consolidation in Russia. Organised political opposition in Russia is in crisis, incapable of mounting a serious challenge to the hegemonic party of power, United Russia. In the 2003 parliamentary elections, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF) witnessed the mass desertion of nearly half its previously stable electorate. The liberals, unable to unite in any meaningful electoral sense, failed to pass the electoral threshold. Although the Communists were able to arrest their decline in the 2007 parliamentary elections, the liberals saw their share of the vote slump still further. The regional elections of October 2009, which saw the continued consolidation of United Russia, offered no evidence of opposition resurgence. These results reflect the fact that the environment in which opposition parties operate has become increasingly hostile, the Russian regime having created an entirely uneven playing field between government and opposition.
The project has two main objectives. First, it will identify the key factors accounting for the electoral decline of opposition parties since 1999. Second, it will seek to draw conclusions on the future prospects for opposition forces by focusing on their strategies and their responses to electoral outcomes. The research will not only draw conclusions about the state of opposition in Russia today but will also tell us much about the nature of Russian democracy. The research adds to the existing academic debate on democratisation and will be of direct interest to Western policy-makers at a time of worsening relations between the West and Russia and growing Western concern with the nature of Russian democracy.
The research focuses on the following three questions:
What strategies can opposition parties adopt in order to mount an effective challenge to the regime?
What are the key obstacles facing opposition parties in Russia today?
Can the failure of opposition parties be best understood in terms of endogenous factors, such as organisational failings and strategic errors on the part of the parties themselves, or should we focus on exogenous factors over which opposition parties have little or no control (for instance, Russia’s institutional design, the marginalisation of opposition and the huge imbalance in resources).
The research will also seek to test the following hypotheses:
Starved of access to sources of funding and with limited media opportunities, opposition movements in Russia will focus heavily on activist recruitment as a major part of their overall strategy.
Given the strength of the pro-Kremlin forces, opposition parties will choose to offer the electorate distinctive programmes rather than formulate catch-all policies.
Opposition parties in Russia will adopt the strategy of unification in order to mobilise a popular anti-regime vote.
Opposition parties and movements will seek political opportunities (e.g. elections of dubious validity, opportunities to capitalise on social discontent) in order to challenge the regime.