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Transitional "Electoralism"

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  1. Introduction
    1. The promise made by Yeltsin's new super presidential system
    2. Tracing the evolution of electoralism as a feature of the Russian political system
  2. The 1993 Elections
    1. Adding legitimacy to Yeltsin's actions
    2. The decision to participate politicians and political organizations that supported Yeltsin
    3. The start of the 1993 parliamentary elections
  3. The 1995 Parliamentary Elections
    1. Debates about the kind of economic system Russia needed
    2. The difference between the results of the 1993 and the 1995 elections
  4. The 1996 Presidential Election
    1. Yeltsin and Zyuganov capturing significantly more votes
  5. Conclusion

In October 1998, Yeltsin defeated his opponents by military force and thus communicated a clear message about both his power and his resolve to achieve his objectives. After this, he presented a new institutional design for organizing politics in Russia. His enemies as well as the population as a whole had to decide whether to accept or reject the rules. To hasten their decision making, Yeltsin called for new elections and a referendum on the constitution balance of power within Russia. A fear existed that those who rejected the new rules would suffer the consequences. Politicians had to decide if they wanted to express their discontent through a political system created by Yeltsin or if they wanted to go off on their own and not participate. Every choice was a tactical move.
Yeltsin's new super-presidential system promised to fuel polarization. Some predicted civil war and others foresaw fascism. Russia's major political actors decided to participate in parliamentary elections in 1993 and 1995, and most importantly in presidential elections in 1996. But why did they decide to acquiesce to the electoral process? First, the factors that had impeded the emergence of new political institutions in the first two periods were not as salient in a period between 1985-1993. The new second factor was a clarified balance of power between opposing political forces. And the third factor, path dependency, is also brought into analysis. These new political rules stuck because an increasing number of political actors found it in their interests to abide by them. The cost of rejecting the rules was much greater than just abiding by them.

This chapter traces the evolution of electoralism as a feature of the Russian political system by discussing the three elections, 1993, 1995, and 1996, in brief. The aim is not to explain the electoral outcomes but rather to explain why participants agreed to play the electoral game. However, the outcomes of these elections constitute a central component of this explanation about institutional consolidation and therefore are discussed within this context.

[...] Militant communist groups denounced the procedure as unconstitutional and vowed to reinstate the old constitution. Chechen leaders did not allow the referendum to take place at all in Chechnya. Beyond the narrow focus on the legitimacy of the new constitution, the fact that the elections occurred at all helped consolidate new political practices in Russia. After the December elections, a poll was conducted which showed a 20% increase in the number of people who thought that the elections were free and fair. [...]

[...] The decision about how to participate was much more difficult. Ultimately, forging a united front of reformist, pro-Yeltsin forces proved to be an impossible task. The perception that the balance of power had shifted in their favor actually helped to divide Russia's reformist forces. No longer united by the fear of communist restoration, Russia's democratic forces believed that they had the luxury of running as separate parties. At the start of the 1993 parliamentary elections, everyone assumed that Russia's Choice would prevail and that the reformist parties together would capture a majority of seats in both houses. [...]

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