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Not Pretty, But Pretty Accurate

posted by zaina19 on April, 2007 as ANALYSIS / OPINION

From: MSN NicknameEagle_wng  (Original Message)    Sent: 3/31/2007 4:39 AM

Friday, March 30, 2007

Not Pretty, But Pretty Accurate
By Leonid Sedov

With elections to 14 regional legislatures on March 11 in the past, the focus now turns to the big parliamentary prize, the State Duma election in December.

Most analysts saw March 11 as a dress rehearsal, a kind of first attempt at putting the voting pen to paper, if you will.

If you take into account that the word "pen" is also prison slang for a switchblade, however, it appears the metaphor was carried too far in some instances. In St. Petersburg, which has earned a post-Soviet reputation for xenophobia and crime, Legislative Assembly candidate and A Just Russia election committee head Viktor Bykov received three stab wounds. There were also violent incidents in the southern Stavropol region and Dagestan and Karachayevo-Cherkessia in the North Caucasus. There were no other knifings, but there were altercations at polling places, attacks on party election workers and the throwing of eggs and bags of dirt by the unruly supporters of some parties. Hopefully this isn't a sign of things to come in December, when the stakes will be even higher.

There were other negative harbingers of what might lay ahead. The authorities wielded their own pen to cross parties off the list of those allowed to run. As many as one-third of the parties looking to take part were eliminated. One was stricken from the ballot after already being registered and others were scared away by the prohibitively high registration fees.

There were reports of votes being bought and independent observers being denied access to polling places. Records from district election committees and polling stations indicate that the numbers were juggled as well. A complete list of incidents and irregularities would fill this whole page.

But polling data from the Levada Center indicate that the final results of the vote more or less accurately reflect the general level of support for the different parties. There may have been votes added in some places, but the results reflect what poll respondents said.

Conducted one week after the elections, the Levada poll surveyed 1,596 people of voting age in 46 regions and had a 3 percent margin of error. The data provides a more accurate look ahead than back, perhaps, because only 40 percent of the respondents lived in districts where elections were held on March 11. Of those respondents, only one-quarter bothered to vote, and 35 percent said they were unaware that elections had been held at all. Extrapolating from this data suggests that the regional turnout was about 32 percent, which is significantly lower than the official figure of 39 percent.

Asked which party they had voted for, 49 percent of respondents answered United Russia, 15.6 percent A Just Russia, 15 percent the Communist Party and 8.6 percent the Liberal Democratic Party, or LDPR.

Only the Union of Right Forces, or SPS, which enjoyed relative success on March 11 and won seats in five regional legslatures, garnered significantly less support from survey respondents, with a figure of 1.6 percent. Part of this is due to the fact that about half of those who said they voted for SPS in the regional elections said they didn't plan to do so again in elections for the State Duma. There might also have been reticence on the part of some respondents to voice support for the party to interviewers.

The prospects for liberal parties in general remain bleak, as the support for SPS in this month's poll was less than half of the 4 percent it had registered in a similar poll conducted in January. It seems unlikely that the party will be able to mobilize at the national level the kind of resources that helped it in the regional votes. Support for Yabloko remains at about 3 percent. Yabloko faired worse than SPS in the regional votes, a fact that wasn't helped by its disqualification in St. Petersburg.

Judging by the responses from decided voters, predictions that the next State Duma will be made up of four parties appear accurate. United Russia got the nod from 57 percent of decided respondents -- an even better result than in the regional votes. The Communists were the choice of 15 percent of respondents, and LDPR and A Just Russia are running neck and neck at about 11 percent. No other party was even close to hitting the 7 percent mark needed to win seats.

So it looks as though the Kremlin will get the four-party system it has managed to synthesize out of previously existing parties. United Russia will be complemented by two parties on the left, A Just Russia and the Communists, and a simulated hawkish opposition in the form of Vladimir Zhirinovsky's LDPR.

The most important result may be that an overwhelming 82 percent of those surveyed said they did not believe the State Duma election would be conducted honestly or that votes would be counted fairly. That so many potential voters are convinced that the authorities have already put pen to ballot paper for them doesn't bode well for turnout or confidence in the results.

Leonid Sedov is senior analyst at the Levada Center.

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