#Analysis
Participants of Just Russia rally take off their uniforms 5 minutes after the start of the Yekaterinburg rally on May 1, 2019. Image by Wikimedia Commons

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

Part 4: Just Russia

Author: Alexander Kynev

Merger with For Truth and Patriots of Russia and the 2021 electoral prospects

Against the electoral background, which gives no guarantees to Just Russia (JR) in terms of making it into the State Duma at the 19 September 2021 election, a new merger came into the picture, as Just Russia joined forces with two nationalist parties: Za Pravdu/For Truth1 and the Patriots of Russia2.

The leader of Just Russia Sergey Mironov announced the unification with the Patriots of Russia and For Truth on 20 January 2021. The decision was approved by the 9th congress of the party on 22 February 2021, changing the party's name into the Socialist Party Just Russia – Patriots – For Truth (brief name Party JUST RUSSIA – FOR TRUTH). On the same day, the Patriots of Russia and For Truth held liquidation congresses, while Zakhar Prilepin Movement and Zakhar Prilepin Guard continued independent existence. The three parties assembled separately in three different rooms of the World Trade Centre Moscow. In addition, writer Nikolay Starikov, a leader of another previously liquidated nationalist party Velikoye Otechestvo / Great Fatherland3, joined the leadership of the party.

Therefore, the parties the Patriots of Russia and For Truth were de facto dissolved and their active members incorporated by Just Russia in a personal capacity, with the latter formally making small adjustments in its brand. Despite the fact that the former leaders of the Patriots of Russia and For Truth, Semigin and Prilepin, became co-chairs of the 'upgraded' Just Russia, these parties acquired insignificant roles in the leadership and regional branches of the party in general.

Elected by the congress, the presidium of the party's central committee by two-thirds consists of the JR members. Gennady Semigin was given the position of co-chairperson – chairperson of the central council, while Zakhar (the name in passport Yevgeny) Prilepin was given a position of co-chairperson – chairperson of the chamber of deputies.

Political technologist Dmitry Gusev became the executive secretary of the Presidium of the Central Council and the head of the party's Central Apparatus. Gusev is known as a partner of Oleg Matveychev in Bakster Group and an ex-deputy head of the Department of Territorial Bodies of the Government of Moscow under Sobyanin.

After the merger, the analysis of the regional network of the Just Russia – Patriots – For Truth (SRPZP) shows that the composition of regional leaders has hardly changed. It indicates that For Truth had close to no competitive regional network and was not particularly interested in regional and local elections, having nominated zero candidates at the local election on 13 September 2020 and only put in an appearance at the election of legislatures. In essence, the party was all about a pool of federal leaders who were given seats in the new party's leadership and on its party list.

For Truth member, a political technologist Sergey Borisov took the lead of the SRPZP branch in Voronezh Oblast. In Saratov Oblast, the regional branch was also presided by the For Truth member, a former boxer and the deputy of Saratov City Duma, Artyom Chebotarev. Subsequently, a representative of For Truth also took over the leadership of JR in Ryazan Oblast.

Having a longer electoral history and a more developed geographical network than For Truth, the Patriots of Russia de facto had strong regional branches only in North Ossetia4, Kaliningrad Oblast5, and Krasnoyarskiy Krai6 by 2021. Only in North Ossetia did they manage to be incorporated into the upgraded JR, giving the party a real chance of growth at the upcoming election. In addition to North Ossetia, a member of the Patriots of Russia has taken the lead of JR in Zabaykalskiy Krai and de facto in Kursk Oblast, something that is unlikely to reinforce positions of the united party in these regions.

In some cases, old members of regional branches in JR, the Patriots of Russia, and For Truth have left SRPZP publicly. Some branches are in the process of replacing opposition-leaning leadership with more pro-government loyalist figures.

The conclusions are therefore as follows:

  • In 2021, rather than a merger of Just Russia, the Patriots of Russia, and For Truth (as communicated in public), de facto and de jure the parties the Patriots of Russia and For Truth were liquidated in favour of Just Russia;
  • The regional network of SRPZP has hardly changed after merging with the Patriots of Russia and For Truth, except for some regions. While their branches became stronger only in North Ossetia and Saratov Oblast, many regions face the outflow of their old active members. The electoral resources of the parties are not adding up. Arguably, other parties are claiming former supporters of the Patriots of Russia and For Truth in unequal shares and reduce the dispersion of protest votes, the only possible contribution to better SRPZP chances to overstep the barrier;
  • Except for the general reduction of the dispersion of protest votes, the main bonus of the merger went to the former leaders of the Patriots of Russia and For Truth that were personally incorporated in the leadership of the united party; the regional leaders of the abolished parties were sacrificed in most cases;
  • In addition to reducing the protest dispersion, the liquidation of the Patriots of Russia and For Truth gave SRPZP a considerable media effect, which is important to reverse the trend of covering the party as losing in performance and chances;
  • The quality of the SRPZP regional network shows that it has lost its previous regional strongholds. Even in Saint Petersburg, which used to be its base, its positions are much weaker. Few leap-ahead regions are capable of producing results well beyond the country's average; in particular, they include oblasts of Astrakhan, Chelyabinsk and Yaroslavl, Chuvashia, North Ossetia, Yakutia, and, to a lesser degree, the party's traditional base regions in Russia's North-West.
  • After incorporating the Patriots of Russia and For Truth, the party's growing negative rating can constitute a major threat for it because of putting ultra-nationalist politicians on the list that are 'toxic' for moderate and pro-democratic voters. The low negative rating in combination with the resources of local charismatic leaders used to be the party's success recipe in claiming most of its votes. The growing anti-rating can put an end to this formula, the outcome likely to be in sync with the amount of informational presence of new far-right leaders representing the party.

The history of the party's creation

Legally, the emergence of the Just Russia party is closely associated with the establishment of the Rodina/Homeland bloc (People's Patriotic Union) in 2003. The initial plan was to name the bloc 'Tovarishch' (Comrade); it was also the title of a news agency created for the bloc's communication. Three parties: the Party of Russian Regions, the Party of National Revival Narodnaya Volya/People's Will, and the Socialist Single Party of Russia Spiritual Heritage (SEPR), formally established the electoral bloc Rodina (People's Patriotic Union) on 14 September 2003. Obviously ideologically motivated, the attempt to distort these data is common, with even the Russian Wikipedia naming five co-founders, which is at odds with the legal reality. Other parties and organisations that signed the Cooperation Agreement of the People's Patriotic Forces joined the bloc informally.

With its original mission only to take away some votes from the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF), together with the list of the Russian Party of Pensioners, the bloc was extremely successful in its electoral campaign and even ended up in the State Duma. Rodina finished fourth at the 7 December 2003 election by harvesting 9.0% (5,469.6 thousand) votes and received 29 seats in the State Duma. Eight bloc-nominated candidates were elected in single-mandate districts.

In the run-up to the March 2004 presidential election, the three ally parties and the Rodina group in Duma became an arena of a bitter fight between supporters of Glazyev and Rogozin; it led to the elimination of Glazyev from the positions of the co-chair of The Party of Russian Regions in February 2004 and the chair of the parliamentary Rodina group in March 2004. In addition to eliminating Glazyev from the co-chair position, the 3rd Extraordinary Congress of the Party of Russian Regions (established in 1998) on 15 February 2004 also changed the party name to Rodina. Dmitry Rogozin took the helm of the party. Rodina supported Putin in the presidential election. While SEPR split, its two parallel congresses supported Putin and Glazyev; the Ministry of Justice recognised the pro-Putin congress. Glazyev received support from Narodnaya Volya in February 2004 and won 4.1% votes in the presidential election on 4 March, 2004.

Rodina's opposition greatly increased in 2005, amidst the benefits monetisation and growing protest moods. A court disqualified the party list from standing for the Moscow City Duma in autumn 2005. The oblast court barred Rodina from an election in Kursk Oblast on 25 February 2006; party lists were also disqualified in Kaliningrad Oblast and Khanty-Mansyisk Autonomous District. The Rodina bloc's group in the State Duma split through a secession of Baburin-led faction Rodina-Narodnaya Volya-SEPR.

Obviously pressurised by the government, Dmitry Rogozin stepped down as the chairperson during the congress of Rodina on 25 March 2006. Alexander Babakov, MP and one of the main sponsors of the bloc and the party, took the lead. In April 2006, Babakov also superseded Rogozin as the chair of the State Duma's Rodina group.

During elections of 2005 and 2006, the monetisation of benefits resulted in significant achievements of numerous centre-left projects (as well as regional blocs, before they had been banned in mid-2005), including the Russian Party of Pensioners (RPP) led by Gartung. Like Rodina, RPP saw many of its lists removed from regional elections; consequently, Gartung was toppled from the position of RPP chair and replaced by a military pensioner Zotov, a deputy of the Tula Oblast Duma.

Discussions on fortunes of non-communist protest votes at the upcoming federal election produced a statement on merger plans from Mironov and Babakov, the leaders of the Russian Party of Life (RPZ) and Rodina, after a meeting with Putin on 25 July 2006. Led by its new chair Zotov, the Russian Party of Pensioners joined them in August. The 7th congress of Rodina completed the factual merger of RPZ, Rodina, and the acceding Russian Party of Pensioners on 28 October 2006 by renaming Rodina into Just Russia: Rodina/Pensioners/Life and electing Mironov as the chairperson. RPZ and RPP dissolved themselves as parties and re-emerged as NGOs, while their former members joined the united party personally. The Party of Russian Regions – Rodina – Just Russia is, therefore, the same organisation in legal terms. However, the decision was to start the enumeration of congresses afresh since 2006.

Just Russia – the opposition or the second ‘party of power’?

After years of the total domination of one party, United Russia, the emergence of a new party alliance clearly approved by the President of Russia came as the most discussed political event of August and even the whole second semester of 2006. It was not uncommon in this period to expect Just Russia to become the ‘second party of power.’ These expectations must have provoked the authorities to ‘electorally suppress’ Just Russia, primarily by wiping the party out in two regions where it in fact, had won regional elections – Tyva and Stavropolskiy Krai. In combination with not very adequate personnel policy and numerous regional conflicts, it resulted in its descent down to the 4th position on 2 December 2007, having lost by votes to CPRF and LDPR. However, it overcame the 7%-threshold at the State Duma election by winning 7.74% votes and 38 seats via lists.

The 4th congress of the party Just Russia: Rodina/Pensioners/Life shortened its name to Just Russia on 25 June 2009. Unable to meet toughened demands of the law on political parties7, many small parties were liquidated between 2007 and 2011. Apart from that, the State Duma election fully switched to a proportionate system in December 2007. It has prompted many former deputies elected in the abolished majoritarian districts and members of small liquidated parties to join predominantly Just Russia due to its political and ideological ambiguity. The party attracted a number of former members of Yabloko8 and members of the liquidated Narodnaya Volya9, SEPR (the Socialist Single Party of Russia)10, the Development of Entrepreneurship party11, the Party of Constitutional Democrats, the Party of Social Justice, and the Russian Ecological Party ‘Greens’.

With the number of parties reduced to seven and amidst the growth of protest sentiments, encouraging the concentration of protests votes around few remaining parties, Just Russia improved its result to 12.27% and 64 seats via lists at the 4 December 2011 election. Its lists brought a number of deputies to the parliament who had been the closest to protests of 2011 and 2012: G. and D. Gudkov, Ponomaryov, Zubov, Petrov, etc.

Mironov stepped down as the chair at the Just Russia congress on 16 April 2011, something that the propagandist government-serving media portrayed as his resignation from Just Russia's leadership and almost as a beginning of the party's closure. However, the reality was somewhat different, as Mironov just changed the title of his position by becoming the chair of the Chamber of Party's Deputies and empowering his closest ally and right-hand man, Levichev, in operational supervision of the party. Just two years later, these changes were de facto disavowed by re-granting the party chair with factual powers and Mironov's return to this post on 27 October 2013.

The legislature in Saint Petersburg voted for the revocation of Sergey Mironov from the Council of Federation, automatically resulting in his loss of the speaker position in the Council of Federation. Reshuffling the leadership of Just Russia and Mironov's resignation from the chair position has obviously not prevented this decision. After recalling Mironov from the Council of Federation, he became a member of the State Duma by the list of Just Russia. 12

After the amendment of legislation on parties in spring 2012 (reducing the minimal membership of parties to 500 persons and the abolition of signature collection for registering party lists and party candidates, a provision to be subsequently repealed in May 2014), the rush of new parties started. As a result, the regional network of Just Russia eroded, losing some active members to new parties, such as the newly created Rodina, the Russian Party of Pensioners for Justice, the Party of Growth etc., and also due to personnel purges against the more oppositionist party activists. Disappointed with the political inconsistency of Just Russia and its shift from a rather oppositionist to a more loyalist stance, some voters turned away, too. With few exceptions, regional and local elections between 2012 and 2020 saw the party's performance deteriorating as compared to previous elections.

Compared to the 2011 results, the party lost more than half votes at the State Duma election on 18 September 2016, winning only 5.67% votes and only 16 seats by lists. Seven majoritarian districts elected the party candidates; the power party had cleaned them all up (i.e., no United Russia candidates ran in these districts).

Rodina and the Russian Party of Pensioners for Justice (RPPS) have taken some votes away from Just Russia. Had these voters stayed, the party could have well won 1.5 times more votes. Still, even all these parties in total won fewer votes than Just Russia in 2011.

In the regions, the party had no major achievements in 2016. Only in five regions did it finish second. Out of them, only in three, the percentage was significant: Astrakhan and Chelyabinsk Oblasts, and the Republic of Yakutia (Sakha). In Chechnya and Ingushetia, the second place is symbolic in nature, given the vast gap from the leading party. The party won less than 5% votes in 36 regions.

Back in 2011, the party's best regions were oblasts of Novgorod, Volgograd, Leningrad and Sverdlovsk, and the Saint Petersburg city. The leading group completely changed in 2016 to include Astrakhan Oblast (17.56%), Chelyabinsk Oblast (17.48%), Yakutia (15.2%), Kurgan Oblast (13.79%), and Altaiskiy Krai (13.78%). The party enjoyed a growing share of votes in Bashkortostan, Dagestan, Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachay-Cherkessia, Chechen Republic, Mordovia13, and oblasts of Astrakhan, Tyumen, and Chelyabinsk.

Among the parliamentary parties, Just Russia exhibited the worst dynamics at regional elections between 2017 and 2020, except in some rare places due to either administrative support or personal networks of remaining local leaders. The party would frequently lose to projects like the Russian Party of Pensioners for Justice or Rodina, similar in image and rhetoric, yet rather new and with a low negative rating. In some places, it has dwindled to the level of competing with the Communists of Russia and even the People's Party For Women of Russia.

References:

1 Established in spring 2020 with author Zakhar Prilepin in the lead.

2 Leader Gennady Semigin; the successor of the Russian Labour Party, founded in January 2002 and renamed into the Patriots of Russia on 20 April 2005 to echo the name of a broad left-patriotic coalition.

3 Previously not even having its candidates registered, this minor party was not allowed to join the alliance as an equal partner. Back on 19 March 2020, the Supreme Court of Russia ruled on a claim of the Ministry of Justice on liquidation of the All-Russian Political Party Velikoye Otechestvo, the reason of liquidation being formal non-compliance with findings of the previous inspection by the Ministry.

4 Fadzayev supporters

5 Chesalin and the trade union of dockers

6 Bykov supporters

7 Increasing the minimal membership from 10 to 50 thousand members as of 01/01/2006.

8 Khovanskaya, Yemelyanov, the former State Duma member Popov from Saint Petersburg, etc.

9 Gudkov

10 Shestakov

11 Dmitrieva and Grachev

12 For this, MP Yelena Vtorygina and the entire regional group #34 from Arkhangelsk Oblast and Nenets Autonomous Okrug had to drop their mandates.

13 Still staying very low, like in Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachay-Cherkessia, and Chechnya.

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#Analysis

PART 4: JUST RUSSIA-PATRIOTS-FOR TRUTH

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PART 3: LDPR

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PART 2: CPRF

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#Analysis

PART 1: United Russia

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"I have the right to choose!" Photo - EPDE.
#Analysis

Opportunities for independent citizen election observation and civil society space in general have been shrinking steadily in Russia over the past decade. Recently, further restrictions have been adopted that limit the ability of citizens to independently monitor electoral processes.

May 1st Demonstration of the Communist Party, 2012. Image by _TMY2892/flickr
#Analysis

Over the past 14 years, the authorities have blocked 120,000 candidates from participating in elections of various levels, depriving millions of Russian citizens of the right to choose their representatives.

A demonstration in Moscow. Image - by Andrey, Pxhere.

Russia has finally outlawed Alexey Navalny's political and anti-corruption movement. Here's how the crackdown affects activists, journalists, and ordinary supporters.

Plenary meeting of the State Duma. Image - Wikimedia Commons
#Commentary

The President of Russia approved the law prohibiting those who are "involved" in the activities of an extremist organization from running in elections.

Electoral headquarters of Alexey Navalny. Photo - Wikimedia Commons
#Analysis

On June 9, the Moscow City Court, based on the charges by the Moscow Prosecutor's Office, recognized the Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK), the Foundation for the Protection of Citizens' Rights, and the headquarters of Alexei Navalny as extremist organizations. Now, many citizens are under a threat of pressure and persecution.

Vladimir Putin at the United Russia Congress (2011-11-27). Image - Wikimedia Commons
#Analysis

Between May 24 and 30, United Russia held its preliminary selection of candidates for 2021 State Duma elections. Nearly 12 million citizens participated in the party's primaries. Yet, a more careful examination shows an increasingly controlled and non-transparent process, aimed at having the public formally 'endorse' a carefully vetted list of pre-selected candidates.

Meeting of Central Election Commission Chair Ella Pamfilova with OSCE / ODIHR Director Matteo Mecacci. Photo - CEC
#Report

Between 2003 and 2018, OSCE/ODIHR published 139 recommendations on how to improve the conduct of elections in Russia. In the run-up to the State Duma elections in 2021, Russia has fully implemented just over 10% of them. Some have been tackled more promptly than others.

Man using computers. Photo by: Lisa Fotios from Pexels
#Analysis

Ahead of the State Duma election on September 19, 2021, Russia just tested its remote electronic voting system. While the Central Election Commission of the Russian Federation (CEC) is preparing the report about the results of the test, election monitors say Russia's electronic voting system is a black box.

Alexei Navalny. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
#Analysis

The Russian authorities are expected to orchestrate a result in the upcoming State Duma elections that will give United Russia a clear majority of seats. This does not mean, however, that the manipulation of the electoral process by the authorities is complete. In a limited number of competitive districts, true opposition candidates including candidates who are associated with Aleksei Navalny have a real chance of winning if they are allowed to run. In recent weeks, steps have been taken to block these 'undesirable' candidates from participating.

Central Election Commission (CEC) of Russian Federation during April 21, 2021, meeting. Photo by: CEC.
#Commentary

On March 19, 2021, the new composition of the Central Election Commission (CEC) of the Russian Federation was revealed. Out of 15 members, eight new people joined the CEC. In particular, the new Commission has been 'reinforced' by bureaucrats from the Presidential Administration, the State Duma, and the Civic Chamber (a consultative civil society institution closely linked to the government).