Duma disappointment: Majority of Russians unhappy with parliament

Duma disappointment: Majority of Russians unhappy with parliament
Most Russians know little about parliament’s work and tend to think the country could do without the State Duma and be run solely on presidential orders, a new survey has shown.

As many as 43 percent of respondents think the Lower House is useless and could be abolished, according to an opinion poll conducted by the Levada Center in mid-November. 39 percent of those questioned said the country needed the Duma and 18 percent had no opinion on the subject.

A similar poll conducted in October 2007 showed the opposite result – 48 percent of people thought parliament played an important role in Russian politics and 37 percent favored direct presidential rule.

The new research also showed that many people had no interest in parliamentary work. Only 8 percent confessed that they found it interesting, and 33 percent said that they were more interested in the MPs work than not. Thirty five percent said they were not very interested in the issue and 16 percent replied that they definitely had no interest in parliamentary work whatsoever.

Given that results the answers to the next question hardly come as a surprise. When asked if they were aware of the political preferences and objectives of Lower House MPs, 49 percent of Russians said no, another 45 percent said they had a general understanding, and only 3 percent said that they definitely knew about the political platforms in parliament.

It also turned out that even without a full understanding of the politicians' ways and means Russians disapprove of their work. Twenty percent of respondents said they had a very negative attitude to the recent activities of Russian MPs, and another 36 percent said their attitude was more negative than positive. Only 14 percent hold that the Duma’s work is positive and the share of those who fully approved of it was just two percent.

The results may seem shocking, but it is still possible that the nihilistic attitude of such a large proportion of Russians is caused not by their disappointment in democracy, but rather the particular people who sit in the Lower House. Fifty five percent of respondents in the same poll said they wanted competition in parliament and denounced the current situation when the majority caucus (United Russia) can pass all decisions with the exception of constitutional changes all by itself.

Seventeen percent answered that they saw no problems in the existing situation and wanted no changes.

Russian election legislation does not allow the forming of parliamentary coalitions. The parliament and the presidential administration are currently discussing the possibility of allowing coalitions after elections for the Lower House. A similar political system exists in Germany, Denmark and Luxembourg.

In October Russia’s leading official in charge of internal politics - first deputy chief of the presidential administration Vyacheslav Volodin told a congress of city mayors that the new system would boost political competition and improve the quality of the state bodies.

Duma reaction to rejection:

The parliamentarians’ attitude to the November poll results differed from mild approval to complete rejection and blame shifting.

Communist Party MP Valery Rashkin told the Izvestia daily that the people were simply acknowledging the real situation in which all crucial decisions were made by the president and the Duma had almost no leverage to affect the situation.

MP Mikhail Yemelyanov of the moderate leftist party Fair Russia said that the negative attitude to parliament was a result of the distorted coverage of the issue by the media. “The real discussions and party positions are never described because certain liberal political forces are interested in such silencing. They deliberately discredit the opposition in the State Duma as they thirst revenge for their defeat in early 2000s,” the politician said. Yemelyanov added that in his view Russian reporters were blackening parliament’s reputation in order to help Aleksey Navalny – an anti-corruption blogger who is currently turning people’s protest into political capital – to get as much support as possible. 

A representative of the populist nationalist party LDPR, MP Igor Lebedev said that they never trusted the polls made by the Levada Center and accused the researchers of bias. At the same time, Lebedev noted that in this particular case the poll results can be true as ordinary people never really like the authorities. 

MP Yevgeniy Hinshteyn of the majority United Russia party claimed that one cannot disagree with the poll results as they are a reflection of the real situation. The politician suggested that the reasons behind the growing anti-parliament sentiment could be both the unpopular decisions and the recent scandals in which it had been uncovered that some MPs had illegal business and undeclared property.