Putin Consolidates Power as Young Loyalists Enter Duma

When the final results of the September 18th Russian Duma elections were announced on Friday, the outcomes were entirely as expected. President Vladimir Putin’s ruling United Russia party was victorious, though reports of electoral fraud indicate that, particularly in cities, those results had to be manipulated. Turnout was down to only 48 percent, helping United Russia push its share of Duma seats even higher than it had been before. When the new Duma is seated, 76 percent of its deputies will be from United Russia and will hold 105 more seats than it had previously. The remaining seats went to the systemic opposition parties that Putin trusts to not rock the political boat: the Communist Party, A Just Russia, and the Liberal Democratic Party. Each of these saw their share of Duma seats shrink markedly.

No one from a non-systemic opposition party was elected to parliament; the last remaining of those deputies, Dmitriy Gudkov, was defeated in his quest to retain his seat. There were, however, 3 independent deputies elected. They are expected to follow Putin’s lead.

The makeup of this new Duma has rather a different feel than did the last. Recently, Vladimir Putin has begun to replace many of his old, trusted, but aging and somewhat sclerotic colleagues with younger apparatchiks who owe their positions entirely to him. After 17 years of the same men—and they are mostly men—rotating through the top positions, the younger generation of Russians is beginning to make their way to the top of modern Russia’s political structures.

This trend was well reflected in the kinds of candidates that Putin’s party United Russia chose to run in the election. Rather younger than the previous convocation, many of them have been brought up through the local structures that United Russia has built in the regions. A revised system of choosing parliamentary deputies has been credited for these changes. Now, half of the deputies are chosen on a national party list and half are chosen in individual, local mandates. It is in the latter that the new faces have been elected. As opposed to wealthy businessmen who Putin and his party had to co-opt in order to control, this new generation owes their success and move to Moscow entirely to Mr. Putin.

The 61-year old Sergei Naryshkin, who served five years as speaker of the Duma has been moved to head the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR). In his place has been put a man ten years his junior, Vyacheslav Volodin, the former deputy head of Putin’s presidential administration.

Younger politicians who have found some success on the regional level have also made it into the Duma. Here, the region of Bashkortostan is instructive. Four of the new deputies from the region include the head of United Russia’s Executive Committee in the region, the assistant to the head of Bashkortostan, the local head of the Federal Bailiff Service, and the mayor of a local town, Sterlitamaka.

The number of women in the Duma also jumped, to about one-sixth of the total deputies. One of them, thirty-six year old Natalia Poklonskaya, who shot to fame as the pro-annexation Prosecutor of Crimea, has been rewarded for her loyalty with a move to Moscow. It has already been announced that she will head a Duma commission on the earnings of MPs.

Putin and his Kremlin seem to have successfully renewed their cadres. With a strong and trusted figure like Volodin at their head, it seems unlikely that anything—at least in this arena—will go awry for Putin’s continued control.

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