Russia’s March 4th elections will be remembered for several things: vocal demonstrations after December’s parliamentary vote, Moscow throngs denouncing Putin, and the now-household name of protest leader Aleksei Navalny, alternately pictured with megaphone and in handcuffs.
But the most interesting outcome is one hardly mentioned. For all of modern Russia’s state capitalism, oligarchic tendencies, and appetite for foreign goods, the Communists finished second.
Not even Mikhail Proxorov, the billionaire late-entry to the race last fall, could dissuade would-be Communist votes. Proxorov was billed as the common-sense oligarch with a reform streak and the management skills to right a corrupt ship of state. Proxorov finished third however, amid accusations that he was simply a vote splitter and playing a supporting role for a Putin victory.
Gennady Ziuganov, the leader of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF), has kept his platform center stage since the 1990s. During that decade, rash privatization of state firms soured most citizens on the quick promise of prosperity, revealing a kleptocratic trend that brought many neo-capitalists back into the socialist fold and caused pensioners to brandish photos of Stalin, reminding onlookers of the stability they once enjoyed under a much stronger state.
The CPRF’s election showing is not so much a resurgence as a reminder of recent history and gauge of popular opinion, a sort of indirect poll. Ziuganov is politically consistent, having also run for president in 1996, 2000, and 2008. Many recall the spectacle of 1996 when Ziuganov finished three percentage points behind Yeltsin and forced a second round.
However this is not your father’s Communist Party. In Moscow — and the provinces of Kostroma, Orlov, Samara, and even Dagestan — students and working parents, alongside pensioners, attended party rallies in the runup to the March election, decrying the distrust of Putin’s United Russia and the privatization of once lauded national industries. Observers in Russia have even mentioned the 35-year-old Sergei Udaltsov, a jailed protester in the December protests and leader of the socialist Left Front, as a successor to Ziuganov.
Yet amid the recent commotion about the CPRF, many pundits believe the Communist votes simply reflect opposition support. The impatience with Yeltsin’s reforms in 1996, and the evident, vocal unhappiness with United Russia now, are simply reactions to uncertainty and disgust with overt corruption. Moscow couples cannot afford to have children, and better job prospects still lie abroad.
The 2012 presidential elections are now past but the CPRF marches on. Nationwide demonstrations are planned for April 7th. According to Vladimir Kashin, vice chair of the Central Committee of the CPRF, the “meetings” (as they are known in Russian), scheduled for all provincial centers and large cities, could attract up to two million participants across the country (Echo Moskvy, March 12).