State Duma Parties on the Eve of Elections

16 m.   |  2020-03-18

On September 19, 2021, Parliamentary elections are planned in Russia: the 8th convocation of the State Duma will be formed. The ruling political party United Russia will try to maintain the majority of the seats, that is, at least 301 seats out of the 450, while the opposition parties will try to get as many seats as possible against the backdrop of Putin’s Party’s rating’s decline. Currently, United Russia, Just Russia, Liberal Democratic and Communist Parties are in the State Duma.

Before addressing the activity of the parties, let’s briefly introduce the background of the formation of political parties in Russia. 

The first political parties in Russia were created in the late 19th century, 50 years later than in the West. The Social Democratic Workers’ Party is the most well-known, which after the creation was split into two groups: the Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks. Later they became separate political parties and in October 1917, the Bolsheviks proclaimed the Communist Party’s rule in the country, by starting a one-party system. Already in 1923, the remnants of the multi-party system completely dissolved. This regime maintained for about 70 years.

In the late 1980s, political movements emerged as a result of the weakening of the Communists, which opened a new page in Russia’s political life. This stage went through complicated legal and political processes, as a result of which more than hundred parties were created and dissolved.

The multi-political system in Russia can be divided into 3 stages:

1) Development of non-formal public organizations, pre-party structures (1986-1990),

2) Formation of parties (1990–1993),

3) The activity and development of political parties since December 1993

The parties and movements appeared in the 1980s were officially registered in 1990, when the Law of the USSR on the Public Associations  was adopted . Democratic, Social Democratic and Liberal Democratic parties were among the firsts. Based on the law, in order to be registered, the parties should have 5000 members, as a result of which 196 parties and movements participated in the first elections of the State Duma. Although, under the Law on Parties adopted in 2001, all these parties had to register again and the participation of the movements in the elections was banned. The Law required at least 10,000 members, leaving only 46 parties.

Generally, this law is often amended for different reasons, affecting the parties. The number of party members was changed three more times. In 2004, the bar raised to 50,000 members, as a result of which 15 parties participated in the 2017elections, and the number of the members reached 40,000 in 2010, with only 7 parties participating in the 2011elections. This led to large-scale protests throughout Russia, known as the “Swamp Revolution”.  

On the backdrop of the protests, the European Parliament adopted a resolution, which was calling for holding “new free and fair elections” after all the opposition parties had registered. The resolution emphasized, that the current procedure for registering the new parties in Russia doesn’t allow a number of opposition movements to participate in the elections, which is a serious violation of political competition and pluralism.

The issue of not registering political parties in Russia also reached ECHR. Because of the tightened laws the Ministry of Justice refused to register the Republican Party in 2017, which filed a lawsuit in ECHR. According to the lawsuit, in April 2011, the European Court twice accused the Russian authorities of violating the Article 11 of the European Convention on “the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms”, calling the dissolution of the Republican Party illegal. The accusations of the international organizations led the President Dmitry Medvedev to “make amendments in the political system” as he noted. As a result of these changes, the number of party members were reduced from 40 to 80 times, becoming 500 members. Currently 50 political parties are registered in Russia, of which only 4 appeared in the State Duma as a result of the elections in 2016.

Parliamentary Opposition

Currently opposition parties in the State Duma include the “Just Russia”, which is the youngest party, Liberal Democratic and Communist parties, which always had seats in the lower house of the Federal Assembly. Now these parties have 104 seats out of the 450 in the State Duma.

Just Russia

“Just Russia” party was created in 2006, by a union of three Russian parties: “Homeland”, “Russian Party of Life” and “Russian Pensioners’ Party”. It has adopted a social-democratic ideology, being a left-wing centrist party. The Just Party is headed by Sergey Mironov, who participating in the 2004 presidential elections, stated, that he would vote for Putin as well.

He was accused of being a “technical candidate”. He confirmed these words in 2011, noting that he played such a role for the democracy, so as to prevent the elections from failing. His party is also often accused, being called as Putin’s “project”, which was planned by the authorities.

Some people believe that the party was created as a “second ruling party”. According to same sources before creating the party , Mironov met with Putin’s assistant Vladislav Surkov, after which Surkov announced at the representatives of the “Russian Party of Life”, that the new party will be the “second leg” of the authorities, on which it will remain if something happens to the “United Russia”.

The party was a success just in the first elections of the State Duma by getting 38 seats. During this time, the party was obviously pro-governmental. In 2010, Mironov signed an agreement with the United Russia, according to which he will support Dmitry Medvedev’s candidacy during presidential elections.

However, the party’s behavior changed dramatically before the 2011 elections, when Mironov stated, that the talks as if the party was supporting Vladimir Putin, are already boring and old. The party also voted against the budget plan proposed by Putin. In 2011, the Just Russia Party got 13% or 68 seats, which was the best result. This party actively participated in large-scale protests against fraudulent elections in 2011. It was the only one in the Parliament, which supported the protestants.

As a result of the “Just Russia” party’s position, the “Homeland” party separated from it, as well as many famous figures left it. Since 2012, however, the party weakened the criticism of the authorities and didn’t participate in any big protests.

Liberal Democratic Party of Russia

L iberal Democratic Party of the Soviet Union was the first opposition party in Russia. It was created in 1989. Since creation it is led by Vladimir Zhirinovsky. The party was against the collapse of the USSR, because of which some political experts and politicians call the party as the KGB or Central Committee of the Communist Party’s project to save the Soviet Union. Zhirinovsky denies this version, explaining this misunderstanding with the former Mayor of Saint Petersburg Anatoly Sobchak. According to Zhirinovski during the meeting of the bureau, he asked the Head of the KGB Vladimir Kryuchkov whether there were new parties, in response to which he noted that yes there were, such as Liberal Democratic Party led by Zhirinovsky, and Sobchak understood that yes, the KGB designed the Liberal Democratic Party.

The party participated in 6 elections of the State Duma, always had its place in the Duma, but won only in the elections to the State Duma of the first Convocation in 1993, by getting 22% of the votes. This success can be linked to being the first alternative. This party was a new breath for the public. The name of the Liberal Democrats was just a good “bait” for the society, who really lacked democracy and freedom for a long time. The party highlights 5 main ideas: liberalism, democracy, patriotism, justice and regime, by completely rejecting Communist and Marxist ideology. However, the party can be considered more nationalistic based on its statements and policies. Liberal Democrats are accused of making statements containing nationalist elements during their campaigns: In 2011, the CEC even warned to refrain from “xenophobia and nationalism”.

Zhirinovsky, the head of the party often makes nationalistic statements. One of the well-known cases was his proposal to prohibit having more than two children in the North Caucasus to prevent terrorism. This statement caused a lot of noise and the head of the country called on Zhirinovsky to be more correct.

By studying the party’s famous “Powerful Jerk Forward” project consisting of 100 points, we can notice that it also contains elements of nationalism. It suggests replacing the line “We, the multinational people of Russia…” in the Constitution with the line “We, Russians and other peoples of Russia”, to remove all the signs of foreign languages and to return all lost territories belonging to Russia.

The party also put forward the “Russian question”, which speaks of the multiple annihilation of the Russian nation and is proposed to give the Russian nation a state-creating status. It proposes to close the border from labor migrants for 5 years for the solution of the “Russian question”.

Referring to the economic field, the Liberal Democrats are in favor of mixed economic system, and highlight the development of small business in the country, for which the party often criticizes the authorities.

Communist Party of the Russian Federation

T he Communists call themselves as the successor of the ICRC and like the Liberal Democrats, have participated in all the elections of the State Duma and appeared in the legislative body.

The end of the 1980s was a decline period for the party, and in August 1991, its activity was ceased by the order of Boris Yeltsin. It was restored only in 1993 and began to operate as the Communist Party of the Russian Federation. Genadi Zyuganov has been the leader of the party since the day of its foundation.

In 1994, the party’s new slogan was “From Crisis to Sustainable Development, Democracy and Socialism”. The party formed twice the majority in the State Duma in 1995 and in 1999 and was the most serious opposition party of Boris Yeltsin.

The main idea of the party is the renewed socialism and it fights against capitalism. The party proposes 3 stages to achieve its goals. First is to establish the power of the labor under the leadership of the communists. Second, after reaching political and economic stability to take steps to maximize employee participation in the Government. Third step is to form social relationships by ensuring sustainable development of the socialist system on its own basis. 

The Ruling Party “United Russia”

T he United Russia Party has won every State Duma elections since its creation. It is the largest party in Russia and supports the policy of the Russian President and the authorities. The opponents of the party often call it as subject to the Kremlin and President Putin, which has no political power as a party.

The party was formed by the unity of the Unity Party, Homeland NGO and the All Russia movement, the basis of which is the successful participation of these political unions in the 1999 State Duma elections. As a result, the Unity led by Sergei Shoigu, Emergency Situations Minister and the Fatherland - All Russia political bloc led by former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov passed to the State Duma in 2000. On April 12, 2001, the Unity and Fatherland – All Russia announced their intention to create a single party and in September, all-Russian “The Unity and Fatherland” NGO was created. On December, during their congress, all-Russian political party “Unity and Fatherland-United Russia” was created, which was renamed just “United Russia” on December 24, 2003. The creation of the party is also linked with the name of a famous Russian oligarch Boris Berezovski, who later called himself as the main opponent of V. Putin.

The structure of United Russia includes regional, local and primary branches. The regionals are in 85 branches of Russia, locals are established in urban areas and primaries are in rural areas. Currently there are 83,000 primary and 3000 local branches. There are more than 2 million people in the party. The governing and central parties of the United Russia Party are the congress, the general and supreme councils, the head of the party, Central Executive Committee (CEC) and the Central Control Committee. 


“United Russia” first talked about the ideology in 2009, by proclaiming itself as the bearer of the “Russian conservatism”, which is explained by the slogan “Preserve and Grow Russia”. The party is against any kind of revolutions. According to the party, conservative values are historical memories, historical responsibility, strong family, and love for the homeland, church and culture. V. Putin explains the party’s ideology this way: conservatism does not impede the movement forward, but it impedes the movement back and down.

What was the purpose to declare the party conservative? The reasons are different. First, the 2008-2009 polls, the result of which showed, that the respondents consider traditional Russian values (33%) a priority. However, it is not realistic to link their victory in the elections to the ideology.

Conservative and centrist position of the party can be explained by the fact, that the Russian society accept the conservative ideology more neutral, and the main characteristic of centrism is just the neutrality. This political direction is at the central of two contradictory poles and is free from any extremes. In 2015, the ideology of the party turned to liberal-conservatism by protecting free market relations.

“Putin’s plan”

T he party ran for the elections under the slogan “United Russia: Party of Professionalism and Responsibility” and noting that it assumes the responsibility to establish order. In 2016, the slogan of the party was “Everyone’s success is Russia’s success”, and the project’s main idea was “to work with everyone for the good of the country”. However, these projects are more abstract and do not have clear directions.  Generally, the main vulnerable point of the party is the lack of a clear party plan, for which it is often criticized. It can be said that the “Putin’s Plan” proposed in the 2007 elections has always been characteristic of him.

Putin stated, that it is the summery of all his speeches by 2007, where he referred to key issues and suggested solutions, all of which the party called the “Putin’s Plan”. The adoption of this political phrase was a propaganda trick to get a lot of votes using Putin’s high rating.

“Strategy 2020”

O ne of the most famous projects of the party is the “Strategy 2020” long-term social-economic development concept, adopted on November 17, 2008, which was changed due to the global crisis in 2012. The 800-page plan envisaged that by 2020, economic growth should reach 6.4%-6.5% annually, however, between 2014-2018 it was 0.5% and between 2019-2020 it was 1.3%-1.7%. According to the plan, by 2020, the disposable income of the individual should have increased by 72%; however, it has increased by 5% from 2012 to 209.

Party ahead of 2021

T he rating of the United Russia achieved the worst result (32.3%) in its history on the eve of the parliamentary elections in January 2019. Such fall in ratings is resulted by the pension reform bill adopted by the party, according to which the retirement age will gradually increase since 2019. Protests began shortly after the adoption the law, which calmed down only in October.

Now the party’s problem is not only to raise the low rating, but also to form a constitutional majority during the 2021 State Duma elections. Secretary of the General Council Andrey Turchak announced that the party was going to fight just for it, considering the party’s possibilities realistic.

The United Russia Party has started the election campaign quite seriously. It was the first to launch its campaign on November 23, 2019, by announcing about it at the party’s year-end congress, the main issue of which was to prepare for the new elections of the State Duma. It was decided to create a human right’s center for strengthening the works to protect the citizens’ rights. Margarita Simonyan, editor-in-chief of RT and MP Mikhail Starshinov were appointed the heads of this center.

Furthermore, a non-profit organization will be established, where political technologists will be distributed by region to work with the electorate. Formerly, the regional administrations were choosing their own technologists, and now it will be concentrated in one center. According to the party, this will be an effective way to fight against the negative sentiment of the public.

To sum up, these parties will try to make best use of the pre-election 2020 in order to win public trust. The Liberal Democrats and Communists, who have their “faithful” electorate, will most likely appear in the State Duma again, whereas the Fair Russia, which currently has difficult financial problems, may not be able to collect the required number of votes for the third time. The problem for the United Russia will not be the passing threshold but forming the majority in the State Duma.