Monday, December 5, 2011

Game Changer?

In a word, no. While the media has emphasized United Russia's losses (here and here, for example), the "setback" is only in relative terms. Most political parties would be satisfied with a loss that gave them a majority in the legislative body (after seats are distributed, UR will have more than 50%, even if it does not quite pass the 50% mark in votes). UR will be able to gain legislative support from at least two of the other parties for policy initiatives. Yes, "deliberations" are likely to occur as part of the legislative process, but Just Russia and the LDPR are likely to fall in line when it matters. Just Russia is technically an independent party, but it was Kremlin-spawned and will be supportive. The LDPR's first electoral success was as the repository for protest votes and its leader is known for appearing to be a populist who challenges authorities (see especially Zhirinovskiy's clashes with the CEC back in 1999). The LDPR will also comply when needed.

The only "real" opposition is the Communist Party and its gains are likely due to its status as the new repository for protest votes. Its gains are unlikely to presage a Communist resurgence, however. Having an opposition party that favors state solutions (rather than a rightist opposition) also plays to the Kremlin's advantage .

The response to electoral loss is likely to take several forms:
1) Lobnoye Mesto will be in business as Prime Minister Putin can use the results as justification to make heads roll in the party. The job will fall to Medvedev, assuming that he does not take the blame.
2) Populist policies are likely to be pushed through parliament in the coming months, providing some short-term economic relief through enhancements to pensions, social welfare, housing, or other needs. Putin will spearhead some measures to shore up support in advance of the presidential election.
3) Evidence that the "people's dissatisfaction" is being heard at the top may also come through additional attention to corruption (and another opportunity to clean house like 1) above).

In short, while UR's seat total dropped, and this outcome is likely a direct reflection of public dissatisfaction, political elites still have many opportunities to make policy with limited compromise. Indeed, the loss provides cover for changes to elite cadres that could benefit former and future President Putin.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Troubling Signs

Although it has been clear for some time that tomorrow's parliamentary elections in Russia are a managed affair, pressure on the well-regarded local observation organization Golos suggests that the quality of management may be of concern to United Russia. Prime Minister Putin was subjected to boos at a recent public event, and his reception by MMA fans was inexpertly spun by the administration. Reports also indicate that support for the party of power is sagging.

When elections are manufactured well ahead of election day, activities in polling stations are generally orderly and may not provide evidence of egregious fraud. But, officials have incentives to use different techniques on election day if uncertainty is higher. Pressure on Golos is worth noting as it may suggest heightened potential for shenanigans on the ground tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Dissent in Electoral Authoritarian Societies

In a forthcoming article (Comparative Political Studies, 2012 [Update: the article has been moved up to the November 2011 issue]), I use data from Azerbaijan's 2008 presidential election and 2009 referendum to evaluate dissenting votes. Votes that do not support the regime's preferred outcome could be residuals of a process of vote manufacturing directed by central or regional authorities, they could be generated by citizens, or they could be produced by some combination of citizen action and elite interference. I develop three measures of dissent using data from election returns, and assess several hypotheses to adjudicate among the competing explanations. While Azerbaijan's politics are opaque, the results suggest that interference from officials and citizen actions account for the dissent in the two votes under analysis. The paper further indicates how dissenting votes may be analyzed and interpreted in other electoral authoritarian regimes.

The paper will be published sometime next year. The promised online appendix and replication data are available here.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Yanukovych's Year

The anniversary of Viktor Yanukovych's presidential election win is drawing near. The February 2011 edition of East European Politics & Societies is dedicated to this topic and includes my article assessing Yanukovych's victory. The article evaluates two of the dominant narratives in the election: that they were largely free of fraud, and that they reflect the traditional spatial divides. I find evidence supporting both narratives.

The paper was originally presented at the conference "Ukraine's 2010 Presidential Election: What We Learned" held at George Washington University in March 2010. I streamlined the paper for publication, cutting several maps and tables. They are available here as supplements to the published article.

In the article, I also note a third narrative: Yanukovych's victory signaled a defeat of the Orange Revolution. At the time I composed the article, it was too early to assess that narrative. The intervening months have demonstrated strong efforts by the new administration to consolidate power and restrict competition. Most notably, local elections in some areas of the country showed evidence of significant abuses of power. I participated in election observation in Odesa as a representative of the Committee for Open Democracy and witnessed strong evidence of fraud that I discussed in a press conference. The local elections were followed by challenges to opposition leaders, including prominent politicians like Yuliya Tymoshenko and Yuriy Lutsenko, including recent jailing of the latter. These events, and others in the last year, bode ill for democratic processes in Ukraine.