Political Pathologies of the Russian Duma: Electoral and Organizational Problems of the Legislature
In a presentation at the Kennan Institute, William Clark, Associate Professor of Political Science, Louisiana State University, stated that twelve years after the introduction of a multi-party system, electoral and organizational problems still exist in Russia's legislative branch. Clark noted that the structure of the Russian electoral system, the quantity of political parties, and the weakness of the parties have contributed to the present situation in the Duma.
Clark stated that there is broad consensus that there are too many political parties in Russia. Presently, half of the seats in Russia's legislature are elected by party list ballot, with the other half elected from single member districts. According to current Russian law, a party must receive at least 5% of the party list vote to win seats in the Duma. Clark claimed that this law achieved the desired effect of limiting the number of parties elected by party list, but also resulted in half of the party list votes being wasted on unsuccessful parties in the 1995 election. The other half of the Duma members is elected from single member districts. According to Clark, the sheer number of political parties makes it difficult for a candidate to win an outright majority of the vote. He noted that in 1995 the average district winner in Russia's 225 single-member districts won only 29.3 percent of the district vote and in 1999 that number was only 34.3 percent. This phenomenon is exacerbated by the presence of a "none of the above" option, which consistently pulls in a significant percentage of the vote and detracts from the other candidates.
According to Clark, the weakness of the political parties in Russia creates organizational problems within the state legislature. He pointed out that many parties lack a coherent ideology and are little more than ad hoc organizations set up just prior to the elections. Many of the deputies from single member districts, Clark added, are not affiliated with the leading party blocks in the Duma. These unaffiliated members are hampered in gaining seats on the Duma Council, the agenda setting body of the parliament. Party list winners are automatically represented in the Duma Council, while single member district deputies must form a "deputy group" of at least 35 to gain representation. Parties with large delegations have adopted the practice of "loaning out" deputies to smaller, like-minded deputy groups that would otherwise not qualify for a seat on the Duma Council. Clark added that tactical stratagems take precedence over legislative issues, further removing the parties' ostensible ideologies from the legislative process.
Clark concluded by offering several suggestions that would make the Russian political system more reflective of the voters' will. He proposed an "imperative mandate" clause that would force deputies elected on a party list ballot to remain with their party. Clark recommended setting a minimum threshold, rather than a simple plurality, for electing individual deputies, and eliminating the "none of the above" as a voter option. Clark finally suggested that the elections for legislature be held concurrent with the presidential election.