#Analysis
May 1st Demonstration of the Communist Party, 2012. Photo by Photobank Moscow-Live / flickr

Main Russian Political Parties: Mode of Operations and Regional Support Base

Part 2: CPRF

Author: Alexander Kynev

Introduction

The nomination of candidates for the 2021 State Duma election has ended. The parties have filed their lists with the Central Electoral Commission. Like in 2016, there will most likely be 14 parties on the ballot. In total, 15 lists have been nominated; however, one of the parties (The Russian All-People Union) has no registration privilege1, which means it needs to collect signatures in order to register for the election, something it is not likely to accomplish.

Parties that will overcome the 5-percent barrier are to get mandates. According to sociologists, these will probably be the same four parties represented in the parliament now: United Russia, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF), the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), and Just Russia (which has incorporated two minor parties, Za Pravdu/For Truth and Patriots of Russia). Theoretically, Novye Lyudi (New People) can become the fifth, based on the outcome of regional elections in September 2020. The number of parliamentary parties in Russia remains the same since 2003 (Just Russia is a legal successor of Rodina/Homeland bloc in the 2003 election).

As Russia is the biggest country in the world by area, its regions are very different from each other politically. Ability to utilise the interests of some geographic areas has largely predetermined the success of parties in federal elections. Famous is the 'red belt' myth of the 1990s, covering primarily agricultural regions of Central Russia's south and southern Siberia, which used to stand out as the stronghold of CPRF. It is also well known that United Russia is the most successful in electorally manageable2 minority regions of Northern Caucasus and Volga Region frequently referred to as 'electoral sultanates.'

How are these four mainstream parties organised? What is their support base in regions?

The Communist Party of the Russian Federation

As a second systemic party after United Russia, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF) possesses the most developed and sustainable party network. In essence, this is the only political party in Russia that can be recognized as a classical party with a hierarchy of grassroots, local and regional branches; a system of party's own media and independent regional party websites; a political career only via gradual internal advancement; functional mechanisms for coordination of decisions with lower branches; and (in most cases) genuine regional inner-party democracy.

However, the situation is different at the federal level. The top leadership is unchangeable, as Gennady Zyuganov is in the lead since the party's establishment in 1993. On a regular basis, internal purges marginalize or exclude potential competitors. As a rule, these purges would affect the biggest regional branches making a difference in the CPRF Central Committee and during the party congresses. In contrast to United Russia, CPRF has no issues with party branches' subordination to the executive authorities: the party network and party hierarchy match the hierarchy of official positions occupied by the party members. Where party members have taken the lead in the executive branches of government via elections (Khakassia, Novosibirsk, and Irkutsk Oblast until 2019), they are also the first secretaries of the party's oblast/republic committees. Oryol Oblast is the only exception, where Potomsky, and later Klychkov, became governors via edicts of the President rather than the party career and relied on the administrative apparatus more than on the party.

Currently, CPRF regional branches are formally present in all 85 regions.

2004 split and the 'rejuvenation' of CPRF

The party went through its worst split in 2004, when a group of MP Semigin, publicly referred to as one of the party's sponsors, tried to grab the power. Semigin was subsequently expelled from CPRF and its parliamentary faction on 18 May 2004. Scheduled for 3 July 2004, an extraordinary CPRF Congress was widely expected to address Zyuganov's leadership. The coordination council of NPSR (the coalition of left and patriotic organizations around CPRF) terminated Zyuganov's powers as the head of NPSR ahead of time, as announced in a statement by Semigin, the chair of the NPSR executive committee. Semigin also stated that the upcoming congress of the communist party would discuss the leadership issue, and 'the majority of the congress delegates would support the progressive course towards major renewal and development of CPRF.' He also claimed that the governor of Ivanovo Oblast Vladimir Tikhonov could come up with a statement of removing Zyuganov from the position of the CPRF Central Committee Chair before the congress, and an 'alternative' plenum of the Central Committee would convene on 1 July. Out of 96 participants of the 'alternative plenum,' 92 voted for the early termination of Zyuganov as the CPRF Central Committee Chair and replacing him with Tikhonov. Convoked by the Presidium of the Central Committee, another plenum of the Central Committee started in the House of Science of the Russian Academy of Agricultural Science simultaneously, which supported the Presidium and the Chair Zyuganov.

The two alternative plenums of the Central Committee resulted in two alternative 10th CPRF congresses on 3 July 2004. Having examined the documents submitted, the Ministry of Justice found pro-Zyuganov congress legitimate. CPRF subsequently expelled the Semigin-Tikhonov group (including Potapov, Ivanchenko, Astrakhankin, etc.). The breakaway members created a new party, the All-Russian Communist Party of the Future (VKPB). Initially registered by the Ministry of Justice, it failed to register regional branches within six months with justice authorities in more than half of the Russian federative units, leading to the loss of registration in July 2005. Consequently, Semigin founded a new party, The Patriots of Russia (the renamed former Russian Labour Party), unifying a range of small entities.

A significant share of the pro-Semigin old Soviet nomenklatura left the party after the secession of the Semigin and Tikhonov group. It facilitated the party's rejuvenation by advancing the younger CPRF generation to the foreground. As a result, the CPRF performance at regional elections improved, and the party reached one of its electoral peaks of the '00s and '10s in the years 2010 and 2011.

Post-2011 deterioration

However, the party's status strongly deteriorated after 2011. The government started its clampdown on systemic opposition (particularly via criminal prosecutions against CPRF MPs Bessonov, Shirshov, and Parshin) and carried out active smear campaigns. The 'Crimean consensus'3 of 2014 played a major role by eliminating the differences between the 'old systemic' parties and the government from the perspective of voters. The appointment of a CPRF MP Potomsky as the governor of Oryol Oblast, and his subsequent replacement with Klychkov, came as an indication of the party's flirting with the government.

Simultaneously, a whole range of 'spoiler'4 parties was created to take away votes from CPRF, primarily the Communists of Russia and the Communist Party of Social Justice (CPSS). This led to poorer performance of CPRF at almost all regional elections between 2012 and 2017. It was only after the pension reform announcement in June 2018 that the party started its comeback.

Having suffered bad electoral losses at the State Duma election on 18 September 2016, CPRF stopped short of losing its second position nationwide. In the regional chapter, CPRF finished second only in 35 regions out of 85. In the absence of new bright leaders, quite sluggish campaigns with commonplace slogans and ideas (some obviously copy-pasted from previous races) seem to be the main reason. The Communists of Russia's participation in the election might also have contributed to the CPRF's modest outcome. Yet, the sum of votes for both communist parties was worse than the CPRF result in 2011 (by 3.6% across Russia). With the CPRF share of votes decreasing in 72 regions, the aggregate share won by CPRF and t Communists of Russia ended up below the CPRF 2011 share in 61 regions.

Only in the Mari El Republic has CPRF enjoyed significant growth in support in 2016 (by 6.5%). The rest of the regions displaying an increase for CPRF are those in the 2011 area of electoral anomalies, and the increase was not considerable. The party's worst losses in the share of votes won were in  Nizhny Novgorod (by 15.9%) and Oryol (14.1%) oblasts. Bryansk, Kaliningrad, Moscow, Murmansk, and Novosibirsk oblasts also reported two-digit losses. These regional failures can be attributed to the leadership crisis, either through the exit of previous charismatic leaders or the fatigue with the current rulers; other possible reasons are the administrative pressure, the problematic oppositionist identity, and the quality of campaigns.

The 2011 CPRF top-5 regions were Oryol, Novosibirsk, Kostroma, Nizhny Novgorod, and Irkutsk oblasts. Three regions changed in the top-5 by 2016, with the Mari El Republic coming first, followed by Omsk and Irkutsk oblasts, North Ossetia, and Kostroma Oblast. The dropout of Oryol and Novosibirsk oblasts from the leading group of pro-CPRF regions is symptomatic in the light of the accession of CPRF member Potomsky to the position of Oryol Oblast governor and the election of communist Lokot as the mayor of Novosibirsk City. Where CPRF comes to power locally, obviously in collusion with the 'power party,' it might win access to some elements of administrative resources; however, it clearly undermines popularity and hinders the usual exploitation of protest rhetoric during the campaigns. Disappointed with local CPRF-delegated bosses, some voters project their negative feelings upon the party. On the other hand, Irkutsk Oblast remained in the leading group after electing a communist Levchenko as a governor in a bitter fight in 2015; yet, the party's performance somewhat deteriorated there in 2016, too (by 3%).

Post-2016 renewal of party branches

The renewal of the membership in CPRF regional branches accelerated after 2016. This was a de facto second wave of renewals after the first surge in 2004 and 2005. Where the renewal was the most pronounced, the most successful electoral campaigns were recorded: Khakassia, Primorsky Krai, Vladimir, Ivanovo, Ulyanovsk oblasts, and other regions.

A number of factors stand behind the membership rejuvenation in CPRF branches:

  • Old party establishment objectively ‘losing shape’ due to age and health reasons;
  • ‘Old’ members’ lack of effective campaigning skills in the changing context. As a rule, campaigns of new candidates are better, empowering them to outperform the ‘old’ faces (notably, the new candidates were more successful at the 2020 city council election in Novosibirsk, while the old ones failed, e.g., the second secretary of the oblast committee Suleimanov);
  • The growing influence of younger leaders in the CPRF central leadership (in particular, the deputy chairs of the CPRF Central Committee Afonin, born in 1977, and Novikov, 1969) facilitating the promotion of their supporters in regions.

By the beginning of 2021, the first secretaries were born in 1970 or later in 33 regions (38.8%). Most of them came to these positions after 2015 or 2016. Twelve first secretaries are remaining in their positions since the 1990s. The leaders have been keeping their roles in nine more regions since the renewal wave between 2003 and 2005. In total, the long-timers (by age and by the time spent in the position) are in charge of 21 regions (24.7%). The 'intermediary' group leads 31 regions, usually including those who came between 2005 and 2015 or those elected later but still belonging to the old-timers due to their age.

It means that, despite the significant rejuvenation, several important regions are badly in need of renewal and modernization of their organizations and campaigns. Presumably, the fears of the federal CPRF leadership of losing their control over the organization come as a constraint for further party regeneration.

 

References:

1 To nominate their candidates for the State Duma elections without collecting signatures, a party needs to take part in the distribution of mandates following the results of previous parliamentary elections or have a representative in the legislative assembly of at least one of the regions - REM

2 Several minority regions of the Northern Caucasus and Volga Region, characterized by highly authoritarian regional political regimes, tend to massively vote in favor of the ruling party – although independent electoral experts and the opposition claim rampant election fraud.

3 The formation of the Russian intra-elite consensus about the illegal annexation of the Crimea and Sevastopol - REM

4 Candidates or parties with similar ideologies whose appearance would lead to the splitting of votes of the electoral base - REM

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PART 4: JUST RUSSIA-PATRIOTS-FOR TRUTH

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PART 3: LDPR

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#Analysis

PART 2: CPRF

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#Analysis

PART 1: United Russia

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