Party time: slogans boom as elections loom

Seven parties are vying for a place in the Russia’s State Duma as the struggle for the seats in the Lower House of Parliament nears its end. With the pre-election agitation commenced, they have their last chances to make their voices heard.

­For the next 30 days all TV sets in Russia will be talking politics, politics …and politics. Not to mention politics.

“Labor, the rule of the people and socialism!” promises Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov.

“Freedom! Solidarity! And justice! Our three sanctuaries!” describes his party’s course leader of Fair Russia Party, Sergey Mironov.

“The most stoic and honest party, which stands for the poor and for [ethnic] Russians!” claims Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the leader of Liberal Democratic Party.

“Our motto is on our banners …The future is with us!” shares Andrey Vorobyov, the head of the United Russia party’s executive committee.

Banners agitating for the top political parties ahead of the December vote have been out for a while, but the most cherished cake – free TV and radio air – has just been sliced.

Seven parties are in the running for Duma seats. And while the country's main political force, the United Russia party, is only concerned with how big a majority they will be getting this time, many others are desperate to just make it into the Parliament.

And the race is on.

The State Duma is the lower house of the Russian Parliament. The 450 deputies are elected for terms of five years following constitutional amendments agreed by parliament late in 2008. However, the original term of four years will apply to the current Duma, as the new rules do not come into effect until after the next election.  Any Russian citizen over the age of 21 is eligible to run. Half the seats used to be filled through proportional representation and the other half through single seat constituencies. Now the system has changed.

The term Duma comes from the Russian “dumat” (“to think”). Compared to some European democracies, the Russian Duma is quite a youngster. Founded in 1906, it didn’t survive the 1917 revolution. But it bounced back in 1993, when Russia’s first President, Boris Yeltsin, introduced a new constitution.

­Staunch communists are appealing to Soviet nostalgia: “Communists haven’t lied a single time in 100 years! We saved the country from fascism in WWII. We twice saved the country from collapsing. We were the first in space!” says Gennady Zyuganov proudly.

Liberal democrats are yet again appealing to nationalism.

“The Russian president should be the sole ruler in the Caucasus. We have to eliminate the clan culture in this region and introduce curfews in some areas. Video surveillance is a must,” says Vladimir Zhirinovsky.

Meanwhile, Fair Russia comes up with a Robin Hood plan to help the poor with the money of the rich.

“Reform number one is fighting poverty and introducing tax on luxury! Business, on contrary, should breathe freely!” Sergey Mironov says.

There had been another runner in this race, lobbying for both small and big businesses – billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov.

Hopes were high he would create a powerful lobby for Western-minded liberals in Parliament. Prokhorov himself was even considering running for President.

But the campaign failed.

“It failed because of Prokhorov’s personality. He thought that to run a party is the same as to run a business. This is a strategic mistake! He considered other party members, who’d been with Right Cause much longer than him, not as teammates, but as his subordinates. And they responded by ousting him!” explains political analyst Sergey Markov.

The Right Cause party will take part in the vote, but it is listed as being among the outsiders.

One month ahead of the elections, polls suggest United Russia will gain at least 43 per cent of the votes. Coming second are Communists with 14 per cent. Next are the Liberal democrats, who will secure at least 9 per cent.

For the other four parties it will be largely about how they perform in TV debates.

And to secure at least one seat in the Duma they will have to overcome a 5 per cent threshold.

Dmitry Medvedev, who heads the United Russia party's list, has even put his political future on the table, saying his possible post as the country's Prime Minister could depend on how well the party performs at the election booths.

Prime Minister Putin is also backing United Russia and has even become somewhat of a trademark of the party over the years.

Victors in December’s Duma elections will each receive a sparkling, new tea set, a “welcome” gift from the Government. The specifics of the order are exacting: the sets must be made from white porcelain with gold trim, and the cups must hold a certain amount of tea. Interestingly, the sets are not all equal in size: 204 are “tea and coffee sets” for 12 persons, while the remaining 450 are just scaled-down six-person sets. Although it is not clear, which deputies will receive which set, some joked the discrepancy meant the United Russia party had concrete plans for a “tea party” of its own after the December vote, by winning at least 204 Duma seats.