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Party-System Reform in Democracy's Grey Zone: A Response to Moraski

  • Kenneth Wilson


This article analyses the party-system reforms introduced in Russia during Vladimir Putin's presidency. It contests Byron Moraski's interpretation, published in an earlier edition of this journal, which claims that the reforms introduced in Putin's second term were a response to the 2003 Duma election and were intended to preserve the unity and discipline of United Russia, the regime's ‘party of power’. This article argues that Moraski's explanation of the second-term reforms is flawed and contends that the first- and second-term reforms were part of a wider reform programme designed to centralize Russia's political system, consolidate its party system and contribute to the construction of a façade democracy. The article also challenges Moraski's argument that these reforms, while introduced to advance the regime's interests, could further democratization in the longer term by adding the crucial caveat that stronger opposition parties that could act as a democratizing influence will only emerge if practices of electoral manipulation lessen or fail.



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2 Moraski, Bryon, ‘Electoral System Reform in Democracy's Grey Zone: Lessons from Putin's Russia’, Government and Opposition, 42: 4 (2007), pp. 536–63. The term ‘party-system reform’ is preferred here to Moraski's ‘electoral system reform’ because many of the reforms do not directly affect the electoral system.

3 Ibid., p. 536.

4 Moraski considers centralization and party-system consolidation as explanations, but only briefly, and rejects them (apparently because he does not see how these goals ‘actually benefit Putin’) in favour of the arguments that will be discussed below. Ibid. p. 550.

5 Previously 225 of the Duma's 450 deputies were elected by PR from national party lists with a 5-per cent threshold; the other 225 were elected from first-past-the-post single-mandate constituencies.

6 Moraski, ‘Electoral System Reform in Democracy's Grey Zone’, p. 550. Moraski's argument is not always consistent: confusingly on p. 541 he states that, ‘The seat maximization motive probably best explains the decision to raise the legal threshold from 5 per cent to 7 per cent.’

7 Regional politicians are defined here as ‘regional officials’ (those who previously held a regional governmental position) and ‘regional residents’ (those who reside in the same region as the SMC). Ibid., pp. 556–7.

8 Ibid., pp. 556–7.

9 On both points see Remington, Thomas F., ‘Presidential Support in the Russian State Duma’, Legislative Studies Quarterly, 31: 1 (2006), pp. 532.

10 Moraski, ‘Electoral System Reform in Democracy's Grey Zone’, p. 554.

11 Ibid.

12 Ibid.

13 Ibid., p. 553.

14 Ibid., p. 555.

15 This is not the only time when Moraski's article rests on a questionable factual basis. Moraski tells us, for instance, that the law ‘On Political Parties’ requires parties to have a minimum membership of 10,000 with at least 100 members in branches in more than half of Russia's regions. An amendment to this law, which passed in 2004, has, as we shall see later, required parties to have 50,000 members with not fewer than 500 members in more than half of the regions since 1 January 2006. Moraski also states that United Russia won three seats in by-elections held on 14 March 2004 (p. 555): in fact United Russia won only one of the three by-elections held on that date. (Data taken from Vestnik Tsentral'noi Isbiratel'noi Kommissii Rossiiskoi Federatsii, 7: 169 (2004), pp. 395–9 and the Duma website, accessed 6 February 2008.)

16 Article 25, ‘O politicheskikh partiiakh’, Federal Law No. 95 from 11 July 2001, at

17 Viktor Khamraev, ‘Polovina edinorossov protiv administrativnogo nezakonnogo davleniia’, Kommersant', 4 November 2004.

18 ‘Chlen fraktsii ER trebuet izbavit' deputatov ot davleniia chinovnikov’, Partinform, 45: 615, 10 November 2004, p. 13.

19 Ibid.

20 Ibid.

21 Khamraev, ‘Polovina edinorossov protiv administrativnogo nezakonnogo davleniia’.

22 A. Ermolin iskliuchen iz fraktsii “Edinaia Rossiia”’, Partinform, 46: 616, 17 November 2004, p. 8.

23 The way the Kremlin has used the media and the criminal justice system to punish others who have been deemed disloyal, such as Mikhail Khodorkovskii, Mikhail Kasianov (a former prime minister), and Sergei Glaz'ev provides additional evidence of the regime's ruthlessness.

24 Moraski, ‘Electoral System Reform in Democracy's Grey Zone’, p. 561. In this case ‘regional politicians’, confusingly, appear to be all those elected from SMCs, i.e. not, as earlier, those who were ‘regional officials’ and ‘regional residents’.

25 Ibid.

26 A particular problem for Moraski here is that one of the reforms he considers – the higher PR threshold – was passed in 2002 and obviously had nothing whatsoever to do with the 2003 election results.

27 McFaul, Michael, ‘Explaining Party Formation and Nonformation in Russia’, Comparative Political Studies, 34: 10 (2001), pp. 1162–70.

28 Rose, Richard, ‘How Floating Parties Frustrate Democratic Accountability: A Supply-Side View of Russia's Elections’, East European Constitutional Review, 9: 1–2 (2000), pp. 53–9;

29 Vladimir Putin, ‘Poslanie Federal'nomu Sobraniiu Rossiiskoi Federatsii’, 8 July 2000, at

30 Vladimir Putin, ‘Stenograficheskii otchet o press-konferentsii dlia rossiiskikh i inostrannykh zhurnalistov’, 18 July 2001, at

31 For a fuller discussion of this see Wilson, Kenneth, ‘Party-System Development Under Putin’, Post-Soviet Affairs, 22: 4 (2006), pp. 314–48.

32 Article 36.1, ‘O politicheskikh partiiakh’.

33 Article 34, ‘O vyborakh deputatov Gosudarstvennoi Dumy Federal'nogo Sobraniia Rossiiskoi Federatsii’, Federal Law No. 175 from 20 December 2002, at

34 Article 2, ‘O vnesenii izmeneniia v stat'iu 36 Federal'nogo zakona “O politicheskikh partiiakh” i vnesenii izmenenii i dopolnenii v Federal'nyi zakon “O vyborakh deputatov Gosudartvennoi Dumy Federalnogo Sobraniia Rossiiskoi Federatsii” ’, Federal Law No. 85 from 23 June 2003, at

35 Article 3.2, ‘O politicheskikh partiiakh’.

36 In the period 1993–8 over 80 per cent of winning candidates in regional legislative elections were independents with no affiliation to either national or regional parties. Stoner-Weiss, Kathryn, ‘The Limited Reach of Russia's Party System: Underinstitutionalization in Dual Transitions’, Politics and Society, 29: 3 (2001), p. 396.

37 Article 99, ‘O vyborakh deputatov Gosudarstvennoi Dumy Federal'nogo Sobraniia Rossiiskoi Federatsii’.

38 The latter only applied in 2003, as the SMCs were abolished in 2005. Article 33, ‘O politicheskikh partiiakh’. Parties are also required to submit annual financial accounts to the authorities; the accounts are also made public. For more on the financial elements of the law see, Wilson, Kenneth, ‘Party Finance in Russia: Has the 2001 Law “On Political Parties” Made a Difference?’, Europe-Asia Studies, 59: 7 (2007), pp. 1089–13.

39 Article 38.16, ‘Ob osnovnykh garantiiakh izbiratel'nykh prav i prava na uchastie v referendume grazhdan Rossiiskoi Federatsii’, Federal Law No. 67 from 12 June 2002, at

40 As noted early in the Putin presidency by Brown, Archie, ‘Vladimir Putin and the Reaffirmation of Central State Power’, Post-Soviet Affairs, 17: 1 (2001), pp. 4555.

41 Gosudarstvennaia Duma Stenogramma zasedanii, Biulleten', 74: 522, 7 February 2001, p. 24; Zakon o partiiakh priniat v pervom chtenii’, Partinform, 7: 421 14 February 2001, p. 2.

42 Vladimir Putin, ‘Vystuplenie na rasshirennom zasedanii Pravitel'stva s uchastiem glav sub”ektov Rossiiskoi Federatsii’, 13 September 2004, at

43 If the president's candidate is rejected the president has the right to appoint an acting governor and disband the legislature pending fresh parliamentary elections.

44 In 2007, for example, 65 governors – around three-quarters of the total – featured on United Russia's list. (Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, ‘As Analyst Continues Evaluating Party's List of Candidates’, RFE/RL Newsline, 1 November 2007, at

45 Moraski's argument that the electoral system reforms were introduced to protect United Russia from potential centrifugal forces is relevant here; he does not, though, mention it with regard to this reform.

46 Putin, ‘Vystuplenie na rasshirennom zasedanii Pravitel'stva s uchastiem glav sub”ektov Rossiiskoi Federatsii’.

47 See ‘Veshniakov On New Parliamentary Election Procedure’, RIA Novosti, in Johnson's Russia List, 9026, 21 January 2005.

48 In 2007 United Russia did increase its number of seats to 315 but had to win a huge 64.3 per cent of the vote to do so. Viktor Khamraev, ‘Vybory zanesli v protokol’, Kommersant, 10 December 2007.

49 Vladimir Putin, ‘Press-konferentsiia dlia rossiiskikh i inostrannykh zhurnalistov’, Moscow, 23 December 2004, at

50 Articles 1–2, ‘O vnesenii izmenenii v Federal'nyi zakon “O politicheskikh partiiakh” ’, Federal Law No. 168 from 20 December 2004, at

51 A list of the parties registered with the Federal Registration Service of the Ministry of Justice can be found online at:

52 For details see K. Wilson, ‘Party-System Development Under Putin’, pp. 340–1.

53 This increased the state subsidies paid to parties winning at least 3 per cent of the vote from 50 kopecks to 5 roubles per vote. For further details see Wilson, ‘Party Finance in Russia’, p. 1103.

54 Article 2.1, ‘O vnesenii izmenenii v zakonodatel'nye akty Rossiiskoi Federatsii o vyborakh i referendumakh i inye zakonodatel'nye akty Rossiiskoi Federatsii’, Federal Law No. 93 from 21 July 2005, online at

55 For examples of such declarations see Wilson, ‘Party-System Development Under Putin’, pp. 342–3.

56 Diamond, Larry, ‘Thinking About Hybrid Regimes’, Journal of Democracy, 13: 2 (2002), p. 24.

57 Schedler, Andreas, ‘The Menu of Manipulation’, Journal of Democracy, 13: 2 (2002), pp. 3650.

58 The number of seats won by the parties in 2007 is taken from Vestnik Tsentral'noi Isbiratel'noi Kommissii Rossiiskoi Federatsii, 19: 222 (2007), pp. 7–12.

59 Moraski, ‘Electoral System Reform in Democracy's Grey Zone’, p. 543.

60 Ibid.

61 The president's power of gubernatorial appointment is, as shown above, an exception. This, though, is not one of the reforms to which Moraski is referring.

62 Ibid., p. 542.

63 Ibid., p. 551.

64 This, no doubt, is also one of the reasons why the Kremlin was happy to move to a PR system, even though it made it more difficult to maintain United Russia's parliamentary supremacy: when the regime is able, to a very considerable degree, to determine election results the type of electoral system employed is of secondary importance.

65 On the possible development of United Russia along the lines of the PRI see: Gel'man, V., ‘Perspektivy dominiruiushchei partii v Rossii’, Pro et Contra, 4: 33, (2006), pp. 6271.

1 The author is grateful to Archie Brown and two anonymous reviewers for their comments on this article.

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Party-System Reform in Democracy's Grey Zone: A Response to Moraski

  • Kenneth Wilson


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