Russia's Party System Following the 2012 Reform

Lyubarev A.E.


The 2012 party reform in Russia aimed to dramatically lower the requirements for the number of parties in the country. In this paper, the author addresses the impact of the reform on Russia's party system. The issues addressed include the change in the number of parties before and after the reform, party activity and success in various election levels between 2012 and 2020 as well as the effective number of parties in various elections. Special attention is given to the issue of party dissolution following a court judgment. The discussion of this issue is followed by a discussion of the role smaller parties play in the party system. The author concludes that the reform failed to bring any qualitative changes to the existing party system because actual development of political and party system of Russia was seemingly the last thing the proponents of the reform had in mind. Theirs was more of a pragmatic task: making sure the power stays where it currently is. That said, Russia's current party system still fails to meet public demand. To meet this public demand, the author proposes a set of improvement measures to the party system, which include changes to political party legislation as well as electoral legislation.

As of the time of this article, eight years have passed since the 2012 political party reform was introduced. The reform aimed to lower the number of party members from 40 thousand to 500 as well as lift the requirement to collect signatures for all levels of elections (except presidential election). Most parties created post-reform went through a seven-year development cycle followed by a statutory inspection of their electoral participation level. As a result, the majority of these parties were dissolved by a court judgement. In light of that, this article summarizes the results of 8-year development of Russia's party system.

Our analysis is based on the idea that political parties actively facilitate the relations between three "worlds": society, state and the world of ideas [12: 9–12]. This idea allows us to identify quite a wide variety of functions that parties serve [41: 3–5; 7: 151–153; 22: 21–27; 36: 26–36]. Yet according to Grigory Golosov, parties serve one main function that includes all other functions, and that is structuring the election process [7: 153]. Overall, our paper will focus on electoral participation of parties and the instances of their members winning elections and occupying government seats.


Following the 2012 reform, the number of political parties in Russia surged to a record high. In fact, it was the fourth time that happened in Russia's recent history. The first surge took place in 1990 after Article 6 of the Constitution of the USSR was repealed. The second surge followed the introduction of a mixed electoral system in legislative election in 1993. The third surge was recorded in 2001–2003 following the adoption of the Federal Law "On Political Parties" [11; 12: 163–196, 320–322, 386–402; 22: 277–297, 390–396, 613–626].

The first and second surges took place in the absence of legislation formalizing the status of political parties. At the time, many public associations were allowed to participate in elections, and the use of the word "party" in the title was no more than a preference. In the middle of the 1990s, there were over 200 public associations allowed to participate in elections. After the 1998 legislative amendments, their number did fall, but only to 139 [23: 8], and even then most of these associations did not take any part in the elections. On this account, these numbers barely tell us anything.

The third surge was induced by the adoption of a law on political parties that established a compelling enough connection between parties and elections. On the one hand, parties became the only form of group participation in federal and regional elections. On the other hand, electoral participation also became an obligation and not just a right. From that moment on, the number of registered political parties (or, rather, the number of parties allowed to participate in elections) may be considered an important (but, naturally, not the only) characteristic of a party system.

This number first peaked in 2004 at 46, and then started to decrease. By the middle of 2006, the number was reduced to 35. Further – and steeper – decrease in the number of parties was triggered by a law adopted in December 2004 that increased the required membership number five-fold – from 10 thousand to 50 thousand. However, parties were only given a year to make their numbers fall in line with the new legislation. In late 2006, Rosregistratsia (the federal agency responsible for the state registration of rights to real estate and the transactions thereof; known as Rosreyestr after 2008) conducted an inspection that revealed that only 19 political parties complied with the legislation as of early 2006. The remaining 16 parties were obligated to either dissolve or reorganize into a non-political public association. Four parties reorganized while 12 were dissolved by the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation in 2007 based on judgements passed on cases filed by Rosregistratsia. However, out of the 19 parties that passed the Rosregistratsia inspection, four voluntarily relinquished their status as parties and reorganized into non-political public associations, effectively merging with A Just Russia. As a result, 15 parties remained before the start of the 2007 legislative election campaign.

In early 2008, the number of parties decreased even further. This was largely prompted by seven parties ending up owing the media substantial amounts of money for the "free" airtime and print advertising – the amounts the parties were unable to pay out. At the time, the regulation prescribing the parties to pay for the free airtime and print advertising unless they gained more than 3% of votes in the legislative election was still in place. Few more parties were in danger of being dissolved because they had not participated in enough elections in five years (2004–2008). As a result, one party was dissolved by the Supreme Court, eight voluntarily relinquished their status as parties, thus decreasing the overall number of parties in the country to six. At the same time, however, the Pravoye Delo (A Just Cause) party was created (in fact, it was formally re-created, but essentially through the merger of the remains of dissolved parties), so there were seven active parties between 2009 and 2011 [22: 615–626].

2012–2020 Party Number Dynamic

The Federal Law that decreased the required number of members from 40 thousand to 500 came into force on April 4, 2012. As a side note, we would like to point out that this number was decreased prior to the Federal Law from 50 to 40 thousand as part of the 2008–2010 "nanoreforms", at no consequence to the party system. However, the party-building surge (mass creation of organizing committees) began as early as February 2012 – soon after the President of the Russian Federation introduced the bill and even before it was passed in the first reading. Overall, nearly three hundred organizing committees emerged in 2012, but only a few managed to grow into parties [30].

The law on political parties stipulates that registering the party with the Ministry of Justice is just a mid-stage. The next step requires the party to register its offices in at least 50% of the subjects of the Russian Federation within six months. It is only after this stage is complete that the party is granted the right to participate in elections (and is therefore immune to dissolution in administrative proceedings). If the party fails to register the required number of regional offices within the specified time limit, its registration is taken away. This is why our research is focused on the number of parties with the right to participate in elections instead of the number of registered parties.

Figure 1 shows the number of parties with the right to participate in elections since 2003. The 2013–2020 data is presented at end-June, while the 2012 data is at end-July – the approximate deadline for scheduling the Unified Election Day.

Figure 1. The number of parties with the right to participate in elections over the years

As can be seen in Figure 1, the period between 2012 and 2020 largely reflected that of 2001–2007: an increase followed by a decrease. That said, the number of parties continues to decrease (this issue will be addressed later in the paper). The maximum number (75 parties) was registered in July 2015, but it did not last until June 2016, which was the start of the legislative election campaign. At that moment, there were 74 parties, just like in June 2015.

After 2014, very few new parties emerged. In 2015, the right to participate in elections was granted to 3 parties, while one party was granted such right in 2016, 2017 and 2018 each. No new parties emerged in 2019. However, the first half of 2020 saw the quick creation and registration of four new parties at once. They were granted the right to participate in the election as quickly; the said parties are Za Pravdu (For Truth), Novye Lyudi (New People), Zelyonaya Alternativa (Green Alternative) and Direct Democracy Party.

By late October 2020, the number of registered parties stood at 42, with all 42 having the right to participate in the election.

Party list and candidate nomination in regional and municipal elections

Throughout 2012–2020, it was evident that non-parliamentary parties were not active enough in nominating party lists and candidates. In this regard, 2013 stands out as the best year: new parties were still few in 2012, so they were largely not ready to participate in elections; 2014 brought about regulations that required most parties to collect voter signatures. However, party activity was low in 2013 as well, as evidenced by Figures 2 and 3. Figure 2 shows year-wise party activity in nominating party lists in single constituencies in regional parliamentary elections as well as in elections to representative bodies of regional capitals. For our research, we counted the number of parties that nominated lists: 1) in all such elections; 2) in 50% of the campaigns or more; 3) in (from and including) 20 to 50% of campaigns; 4) in less than 20% of campaigns; 5) in none of the campaigns. The choice of a 20% threshold was not a random one: the law stipulates that parties participate in regional parliamentary elections in no less than 20% of regions.

Figure 2. Party activity in nominating party lists in regional parliamentary elections as well as in elections to representative bodies of regional capitals. Color designation: grey for the no. of parties that nominated lists in all such elections; blue for the no. of parties that nominated lists in 50% of the campaigns or more; green for the no. of parties that nominated lists in (from and including) 20 to 50% of campaigns; cyan for the no. of parties that nominated lists in less than 20% of campaigns; light cyan for the no. of parties that nominated lists in none of the campaigns.

Figure 2 shows that the four parliamentary party – and they alone – nominated lists in all elections. 2016 was the only exception, when LDPR did not nominate any lists in the Chechen Republic and its capital city Grozny, and A Just Russia did not nominate any lists in Kemerovo. However, the parties that nominated lists in more than 50% of the campaigns in one year were also few. In 2012, the number included the older parties – Yabloko and Patriots of Russia – accompanied by Communists of Russia and REP The Greens as well as three parties from the so-called "Bogdanov's pool" (meaning those established with the assistance of Andrei Bogdanov Center, a public association for the advancement of social technology) – Democratic Party of Russia (DPR), Communist Party of Social Justice (CPSJ) and Soyuz Gorozhan ("Citizens' Union"). In 2013, these parties were joined by Civic Platform, Russian Party of Pensioners for Justice, Rodina ("Motherland") and four more parties from "Bogdanov's pool" – People's Party of Russia, Grazhdanskaya Pozitsiya, Social Democratic Party of Russia and Rodnaya Strana (Mother Country). That said, all seven parties from "Bogdanov's pool" nominated lists containing the names of the same people who often had nothing to do with the region they were being nominated in (the so-called "package" lists) [17: 60–63].

Starting from 2014, the number of non-parliamentary parties that nominated lists in at least 50% of campaigns was small. Between 2014 and 2016, this number included Yabloko, Patriots of Russia, Communists of Russia and Rodina. In 2014 and 2016, they were accompanied by CPSJ and Party of Growth respectively. Only Yabloko, Communists of Russia and Rodina carried on to 2017. In 2018, Yabloko left the trio. By 2019, Communists of Russia and Rodina were joined by Russian Party of Pensioners for Social Justice, and Yabloko made a comeback to the group in 2020 (as of 2017, Yabloko no longer has the federal privilege).

Throughout all years (except 2012), a large number of parties nominated lists in less that 20% of campaigns. The number of parties that did not nominate any lists was three and one in 2012 and 2013 respectively. However, when voter signature collection became obligatory, the number of such parties started to increase: in 2015–2016, it reached nearly 50% of the parties, going over that mark in 2017. Many of these parties were dissolved in the following years, so the number of "slackers" decreased as a result.

Figure 3 shows year-wise party activity in nominating gubernatorial candidates, mayoral candidates in regional capitals as well as candidates in majority constituencies in regional parliamentary elections and candidates to representative bodies of regional capitals. Following 2017, the data also shows party activity in legislative by-elections. In this case, we split the parties into four categories: 1) parties that nominated candidates for more than 50% of seats; 2) parties that nominated candidates for 10–50% of seats; 3) parties that nominated candidates for less than every tenth seat; 4) parties that did not nominate any candidates.

Figure 3. Party activity in nominating gubernatorial candidates, mayoral candidates in regional capitals as well as candidates in majority constituencies in regional parliamentary elections and candidates to representative bodies of regional capitals + party activity in nominating candidates for legislative by-elections (following 2017). Color designation: grey for parties that nominated candidates for more than 50% of seats; blue for parties that nominated candidates for 10–50% of seats; green for parties that nominated candidates for less than every tenth seat; light cyan for parties that did not nominate any candidates.

In this case, the scenario is largely the same. Parliamentary parties nominated candidates for nearly all seats. For the most part, more than 80% of seats were contested, except in 2014, when A Just Russia contested only 69%, and in 2019, when it contested 76%.

None of the non-parliamentary parties nominated candidates for more than 50% of seats. Civic Platform got the highest result (49.8%) in 2013. The number also went over 40% in 2012 (Communists of Russia), in 2016 (Yabloko), 2017 (Communists of Russia) and 2020 (Novye Lyudi). However, in neither 2014, nor 2018, nor 2019 did any non-parliamentary party nominate candidates for even as much as 30% of seats.

The group of "second tier" parties in the case with candidate nomination is largely the same as its counterpart with nominated party lists we discussed earlier. There is one exception, however: parties from "Bogdanov's pool" are not in the majority in this group of "second tier" parties. The present group includes Yabloko (2012–2020), Communists of Russia (2012–2020), Rodina (2013–2020), Patriots of Russia (2012–2016, 2018), Russian Party of Pensioners for (Social) Justice (2013, 2016–2020), REP The Greens (2012, 2013, 2018), Civic Platform (2013, 2018), Party of Growth (2016, 2019, 2020), as well as Green Alliance (2012, 2013), Party for Justice! (2012, 2013), Goroda Rossii (2012; Rus. for “cities of Russia”), PARNAS (2013), Labor Party of Russia (2013), CPSJ (2017), Novye Lyudi (2020).

Party activity was even lower at the less relevant municipal elections as well elections that took place outside of unified voting days [1; 15: 126; 19: 220].

Party participation in elections

Notably, not all nominated party lists and candidates (especially since 2014) were registered and able to participate in elections. In the previous section, we focused on analyzing candidate and list nomination that depended on parties alone. However, the law (and common sense for that matter) defines electoral participation of parties as the fact that voting on their candidates or lists took place. In other words, candidates and lists had to be registered, put on the ballot and get to the voting stage.

The law prescribes dissolution if a party fails to run a required number of election campaigns in seven years. Simply put, a party has to get a "pass" in one of the following nominations over the course of seven years:

1) participating in the legislative (State Duma) election;

2) participating in the presidential election;

3) participating in gubernatorial election in at least 9 regions;

4) participating in the legislative assembly elections in at least 17 regions;

5) participating in the municipal elections in at least 43 regions.

The easiest way for the parties to gain the necessary level of electoral participation would have been participating in a legislative election. Therefore, it is likely that had the 2012 regulation (the one that exempted all parties from collecting signatures) been in place in the 2016 legislative election, the majority of parties would have nominated their lists. However, this regulation changed after the 2014 law on legislative election had been passed, so only the parties that had passed the threshold in at least on regional election were exempted from collecting signatures. At the time, there were 12 such parties, which were joined by two more following the 2014 election. These 14 parties (United Russia, CPRF, LDPR, A Just Russia, Yabloko, Patriots of Russia, Party of Growth, PARNAS, Communists of Russia, Russian Party of Pensioners for Justice, Rodina, REP The Greens, Civic Platform, Civilian Power) were the ones to participate in the 2016 legislative elections.

The remaining 60 parties had to collect 200 thousand signatures in order to qualify for participating in the legislative election. Only 11 of them tried to participate in this election. At the same time, three parties held congresses to nominate their candidates, yet did not file the documents to the CEC. Two parties nominated their candidates in violation of the law, so they were denied signature lists authentication. Two more parties only nominated candidates for single-seat districts [14: 472–477]. However, nominating candidates in single-seat constituencies in a legislative election during this period does not count as parties participating in the election: it did before 2007, and for reasons unknown the corresponding regulation was not reinstated after the return of a mixed system.

That way, only four parties out of 60 with no federal privilege tried to nominate their lists for the legislative election. However, Rodnaya (roughly translated as "native", "home") party simply did not submit its signature lists, VOLYA (roughly translated as "freedom", "willpower") wittingly submitted an insufficient number of signatures, and parties Velikoye Otechestvo (The Great Fatherland) and Soyuz Truda (Labor Union) were revealed by the CEC to have submitted a large number of invalid signatures [14: 770–772].

As a result, the 14 parties that took part in the legislative election got a "pass" for the seven-year period. At the same time, some of these parties (PARNAS, Civilian Power) barely participated in any other elections.

To participate in a presidential election, a candidate nominated by a non-parliamentary party had to collect 100 thousand signatures. That said, some parties (United Russia and A Just Russia included) did not nominate any candidates, supporting the independently running incumbent instead. An overall of 22 parties nominated presidential candidates. Four were rejected the registration of their authorized representatives (this was the CEC's way of refusing to acknowledge the legality of candidate nomination). There were also two cases of nominees withdrawing as candidates during the discussion of the issue at the CEC. As a result, nominees from 14 parties were approved for collecting signatures, while two more parties (CPRF and LDPR) did not have to collect signatures at all. As for the actual submission of signatures, candidates from five parties did and were subsequently granted registration. As a result, seven parties took part in the presidential election. Five (CPRF, LDPR, Yabloko, Party of Growth, Communists of Russia) out of the seven participated in the legislative election. Two remaining parties (Russian All-People's Union and Civic Initiative) got the electoral participation "pass" through the presidential election.

The parties that did not get a "pass" in federal elections had to try and get it in either regional (gubernatorial or parliamentary) or municipal elections. However, in gubernatorial elections, any candidate had to pass the municipal filter, and their doing so fully rested on regional administrations (CPRF candidates in some regions were the only exception) [19: 483–497].

Yet even though to get a "pass" in gubernatorial elections nomination parties had to participate in said elections in just nine regions, few parties managed to hit that mark, even among those that participated in the legislative election. Apart from parliamentary parties, only Patriots of Russia and Communists of Russia scored more than nine regions following the 2012–2017 electoral campaigns. Out of the parties that did not participate in the legislative election, CPSJ scored the highest (6 regions), followed by Party of Pensioners of Russia (4 regions) and Cossack Party of the Russian Federation (3 regions) [19: 467–469]. Following the 2018 elections (meaning over the seven-year period), the parties that participated in the legislative election and passed the 9-regions mark were joined by Party of Growth and Russian Party of Pensioners for Social Justice. None of the parties that did not participate in the legislative election hit the mark.

In regional parliamentary elections, the law stipulates that parties run campaigns in at least 17 regions. This is a much easier mark, which was hit by most parties that participated in the legislative election (except PARNAS and Civilian Power) as soon as 2017. Out of the rest, two parties from "Bogdanov's pool" initially got the "pass" (CPSJ and Democratic Party of Russia), mostly by means of "package" lists in the 2012–2013 elections. Two more parties – Grazhdanskaya Pozitsiya (another "Bogdanov's pool" representative) and Party For Justice! – scored 16 regions each [19: 469–474]. The situation did not change following the 2018 election: Grazhdanskaya Pozitsiya was renamed Party of Progress and nominated only one candidate in the region it had already scored in 2013, Party For Justice! nominated one lists that was registered first, but then removed by a court judgement [18: 201, 309]. None other parties reached the 17-regions mark.

The fate of the two parties was decided through a by-election to one seat in Tambov Oblast Duma that took place on May 26, 2019. Candidates contesting the seat were Mikhail Kazyulin of Party for Justice! (338 votes, or 2.9%) and Moscow resident Nikolai Pakin of Party of Progress (92 votes, or 0.8%), given that both of them had to submit about a thousand signatures to participate. As a result, both parties got the necessary "pass".

To sum up, four parties that did not participate in the legislative election got "passes" in the "regional parliamentary elections" nomination, three of them (CPSJ, Democratic Party of Russia and Party of Progress) coming from the "Bogdanov's pool" and one (Party For Justice!) obviously being a spoiler.

In municipal elections, the law stipulates that parties run campaigns in 43 regions, which seems like an easy enough requirement as these take place in most regions each unified election day. Municipal elections are also quite common outside unified election days as well. That said, to participate in a municipal election, a candidate has to collect very few signatures (registration in smaller municipal entities sometimes requires no signatures at all). As for head of municipal entity elections, party candidates do not have to collect signatures at all. If we assume that every party has offices in at least 43 regions (as stipulated by law, that is), then it is quite logical to expect that each of these offices will at least once participate in the municipal elections over the seven-year period.

It seems, however, that regional offices of most parties existed on paper alone; otherwise, it would have been difficult to explain their total lack of participation in municipal elections. Our estimates show that out of those with no participation in the legislative election, no party came anywhere near getting the "pass" in municipal nomination over the period of 2012–2017. Only six such parties (CPSJ, Velikoye Otechestvo, Green Alliance, Party of Pensioners of Russia, Cossack Party of the Russian Federation, Labor Party of Russia) scored between 20 and 28 regions in municipal elections nomination [19: 476–479].

Our estimates were mostly proven true once the seven-year period expired and the Ministry of Justice began filing dissolution cases against parties that did not "pass" in any of the nominations to the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation. Between June 2019 and September 2020, the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation judged to dissolve 24 parties for the lack of electoral participation. These judgments [4] show the number of regions where a party participated in gubernatorial, regional parliamentary and municipal elections. The names of regions are listed as well, which allowed us to determine the overall number of regions where every party participated in regional and municipal election. This data is displayed in Table 1 below.

Table 1. Regional and municipal election participation of parties dissolved following the judgements of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation
Party Judgment date No. of regions with electoral participation
head of region legislature local self-gov. total
Agrarian Party of Russia Oct 21, 2019 2 3 14 14
CHESTNO Nov 18, 2019 1 3 7 9
Democratic and Lawful Russia June 2, 2020 0 0 1 1
Goroda Rossii June 13, 2019 2 5 16 19
Green Alliance June 14, 2019 1 11 27 30
Labor Party of Russia Feb 11, 2020 0 10 25 31
Monarchist Party Dec 2, 2019 0 0 2 2
Narodny Allyans Oct 31, 2019 1 8 13 20
Natsionalny Kurs Sept 28, 2020 0 1 1 2
Party of Pensioners of Russia June 13, 2019 5 9 24 31
People's Party of Russia June 14, 2019 0 11 16 23
Protiv Vsekh Feb 18, 2020 0 2 2 3
Razvitiye Rossii March 2, 2020 0 0 0 0
Rossiya Budushchego Sep 21, 2020 2 3 6 11
Russian Party of Gardeners Sept 28, 2020 0 5 3 6
Russian Socialist Party Feb 13, 2020 0 1 2 2
Russian United Labour Front Feb 27, 2020 0 3 33 33
Russian Veterans Party Feb 25, 2020 2 5 20 23

The table is not fully displayed Show table

NB. The data was sourced from the dissolution judgments passed by the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation on said parties ( For every party, we estimated its electoral participation in the seven years following the date the party was registered.

As can be seen from the table, the level of activity among the dissolved parties is varied. Razvitiye Rossii (Progress of Russia) proved to be a unique case, as over seven years, the party failed to participate in a single election. A few more parties (Monarchist Party, Democratic and Lawful Russia, Natsionalny Kurs, Protiv Vsekh (None of the Above), Russian Socialist Party) were barely active. At the same time, several parties with a relatively visible level of activity were dissolved, such as Green Alliance, ROT Front, Party of Pensioners of Russia, Russian Veterans Party, Labor Party of Russia (we do not count the four "Bogdanov's pool" parties – Soyuz Gorozhan, People's Party of Russia, Social-Democratic Party of Russia and Narodny Allyans (People's Alliance) – among them, as their activity level heavily relied on nominating "package" lists).

That said, four parties demonstrated that getting a "pass" in the municipal nomination was quite doable, and at a relatively short notice at that. Although these parties suddenly redoubled their campaigning efforts in the municipal elections, they did so too late: Party of Business did for September 2017 election, Political Party of Social Security did for May 2018 election while Party of Russia's Rebirth and Cossack Party of the Russian Federation did for September 2018 election. That said, three parties out of four (with the exception of Cossack Party) ensured their participation in most regions by nominating only one candidate.

Performance of parties in elections

The same four parties made the cut to State Duma in 2019 that did in 2007 and 2011. However, if we were to consider the fact that A Just Russia is a formal successor of Rodina that was part of the Rodina bloc in 2003, we could say that the parliamentary party system has not changed since 2003.

This time, none of the parties that did not make the cut to State Duma received more than 3% of votes that make a party eligible for state funding and relieve it from having to collect voter signatures in all but presidential elections. Communists of Russia placed fifth with 2.3%, while the rest of the parties gained less than 2%.

In the 2016 legislative election, it was mostly United Russia candidates that made the cut in single-member constituencies, followed by a few candidates from the other three parliamentary parties, as well as one candidate from Rodina and Civic Platform each in the constituencies that were vacated for them specifically (meaning there were no United Russia candidates present there) [14: 1090–1101].

The independently running incumbent was the uncontested leader in the 2018 presidential election, followed by Pavel Grudinin, an nonpartisan candidate nominated by CPRF, who gained 11.8% of votes.

Between 2012 and 2020, either the incumbent or governor interim won most gubernatorial elections. The nominees mostly came from United Russia, with a few cases of independents and rare cases of nominees from CPRF (Oryol Oblast, 2014, 2018), LDPR (Smolensk Oblast, 2015, 2020) or A Just Russia (Zabaikalsky Krai, 2013). The exceptions included CPRF candidate Sergei Levchenko elected in Irkutsk Oblast in 2015, LDPR candidates Sergei Furgal and Vladimir Sipyagin elected in Khabarovsk Krai and Vladimir Oblast respectively in 2018, and CPRF candidate Valentin Konovalov elected in the Republic of Khakassia in 2018. All of them won in the second round, with Furgal and Konovalov taking the lead, and Levchenko and Sipyagin being runners-up in the first round in their respective regions.

The cases when the runner-up received more than 25% of votes were few. That said, non-parliamentary nominees passed this mark in the early years of the period: Alexey Navalny (Moscow, 2013, PARNAS, 27.2%), Vladimir Petrov (Altai Republic, 2014, Civilian Power, 36.4%), Ernst Beryozkin (Republic of Sakha (Yakutia), 2014, Civic Platform, 29.5%). Over the period of 2012–2020, CPRF had 10 such cases while LDPR had three, and there were two cases of United Russia runners-up.

A party's performance in regional parliamentary elections has quite a lot of weight as well. For example, making the cut to at least one regional general assembly gives a party the right to nominate lists and candidates in the legislative (State Duma) elections without having to collect signatures.

As we pointed out before, four parliamentary parties participated in nearly all regional elections (with the only exception of LDPR in Chechen Republic in 2016). United Russia made the cut to all regional parliaments, taking the lead in party list elections nearly everywhere (exceptions: Khakassia as well as Irkutsk and Ulyanovsk Oblasts in 2018, where it was the runner-up; Khabarovsk Krai in 2019, where it placed only third).

CPRF and LDPR lost 6 and 14 campaigns respectively. Still, out of said 14, LDPR seated its candidates to single-member constituencies in three regions plus Moscow in 2014 (no party lists in all four cases). A Just Russia lost 26 campaigns, yet out of said 26, it seated candidates to single-member constituencies in three regions plus Moscow in 2019 (no party lists in all four cases). CPRF led Khakassia, Irkutsk and Ulyanovsk Oblasts in 2018. LDPR gained more than 50% of votes in Khabarovsk Krai in 2019. The same four parties that made it to State Duma also made it to regional parliaments in 59 cases out of 130.

Fifteen non-parliamentary parties made it to regional parliaments at least once over said period. Their performance is documented in Table 2. As we can see, six parties were successful only once. At the same time, Russian Party of Pensioners for (Social) Justice, Patriots of Russia, Communists of Russia and Rodina all made it to regional parliaments in more than five campaigns. However, these cases are not strictly black and white either. For example, Patriots of Russia mostly had their successes in 2012–2016, while Russian Party of Pensioners for Social Justice did in 2019–2020. For Communists of Russia, the majority of successful campaigns fell on 2018. Successful 2020 performances from three new parties at once deserve special mention as well.

Table 2. Party-list performance of non-parliamentary parties in regional parliamentary elections
Party Regions (years) Best result
Russian Party of Pensioners for (Social) Justice Smolensk Oblast (2013, 2018), Primorsky Krai (2016), Volgograd Oblast (2019), Tula Oblast (2019), Sevastopol (2019), Belgorod Oblast (2020), Kaluga Oblast (2020), Kostroma Oblast (2020), Kaluga Oblast (2020), Novosibirsk Oblast (2020), Ryazan Oblast (2020), Chelyabinsk Oblast (2020) 9.3% (Smolensk Oblast, 2018)
Patriots of Russia Republic of North Ossetia–Alania (2012, 2017), Republic of Kalmykia (2013), Chechen Republic (2013), Altai Republic (2014), Karachay-Cherkess Republic (2014, 2019), Krasnoyarsk Krai (2016), Kaliningrad Oblast (2016), Kemerovo Oblast (2018) 26.6% (Republic of North Ossetia–Alania, 2012)
Communists of Russia Republic of Khakassia (2013, 2018), Rostov Oblast (2018), Ulyanovsk Oblast (2018), Yaroslavl Oblast (2018), Nenets Autonomous Okrug (2018), Tula Oblast (2019) 8.0% (Khakassia, 2018)
Rodina Arkhangelsk Oblast (2013), Nenets Autonomous Okrug (2014, 2018), Tambov Oblast (2016), Altai Republic (2019), Komi Republic (2020) 9.8% (Komi)
Novye Lyudi Kaluga Oblast (2020), Kostroma Oblast (2020), Novosibirsk Oblast (2020), Ryazan Oblast (2020) 8.1% (Kaluga Oblast)
Civic Platform Republic of Kalmykia (2013), Irkutsk Oblast (2013), Karachay-Cherkess Republic (2019) 9.4% (Kalmykia)
Yabloko Republic of Karelia (2016), Pskov Oblast (2016), Saint-Petersburg (2016) 9.9% (Karelia)
REP the Greens Kabardino-Balkarian Republic (2014, 2019) 5.1% (both times)
Green Alternative Komi Republic (2020), Chelyabinsk Oblast (2020) 10.0% (Komi)
PARNAS Yaroslavl Oblast (2013) 5.1%
Civilian Power Nenets Autonomous Okrug (2014) 5.1%
Party of Growth Saint-Petersburg (2016) 10.7%
Party of Pensioners of Russia Zabaykalsky Krai (2018) 6.0%
CPSJ Vladimir Oblast (2018) 6.1%
Za Pravdu Ryazan Oblast (2020) 7.0%

Some parties managed to take their candidates in regional parliamentary elections to single-member constituencies as well. Out of parties listed in Table 2, these include Patriots of Russia, Russian Party of Pensioners for (Social) Justice, Rodina, Yabloko, Civic Platform, REP The Greens and Party of Growth. Besides, in 2013, candidates from several parties not listed in the table were elected in single-member constituencies as well, like candidates from Green Alliance and Party of Social Solidarity Republic of Bashkortostan, and candidates from Za Zhenshchin Rossii (For the Women of Russia) People's Party in the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia). In 2018 and 2019 candidates from Party of Business did the same in Zabaikalsky Krai and Altai Republic respectively. In 2020, candidates from Political Party of Social Security were elected in Kostroma Oblast.

As for elections to representative bodies in regional capitals, the parties that were most successful were the four parliamentary parties (with some exceptions) nearly all of the same non-parliamentary parties (see Table 3).

Table 3. Party-list performance of non-parliamentary parties in elections to representative bodies in regional capitals
Party Cities (years) Best result
Russian Party of Pensioners for (Social) Justice Belgorod (2013, 2018), Yekaterinburg (2013), Blagoveshchensk (2014), Vladimir (2015), Lipetsk (2015), Vladimir (2017), Abakan (2018), Penza (2019), Tula (2019), Cheboksary (2020), Ivanovo (2020), Kaluga (2020), Oryol (2020), Orenburg (2020), Smolensk (2020) 10.1% (Lipetsk)
Yabloko Yaroslavl (2012), Novgorod (2013, 2018), Vladimir (2015), Kostroma (2015), Tomsk (2015, 2020), Perm (2016), Kaliningrad (2016), Pskov (2017), Yekaterinburg (2018) 11.1% (Novgorod, 2018)
Communists of Russia Maikop (2013, 2018), Belgorod (2013), Lipetsk (2015), Cherkessk (2017), Kirov (2017), Omsk (2017), Abakan (2018), Rostov-on-Don (2020) 12.4% (Cherkessk)
Patriots of Russia Yaroslavl (2012), Krasnoyarsk (2013), Vladikavkaz (2014, 2019), Izhevsk (2015), Ufa (2016), Nalchik (2016), Kaliningrad (2016) 25.6% (Krasnoyarsk)
Rodina Maikop (2013), Arkhangelsk (2013), Gorno-Altaisk (2017), Tver (2017), Vladikavkaz (2019), Syktyvkar (2020), Voronezh (2020), Tambov (2020) 44.2% (Tambov)
Civic Platform Yakutsk (2013, 2018), Krasnoyarsk (2013), Belgorod (2013), Yekaterinburg (2013), Elista (2014), Murmansk (2014), Cherkessk (2017) 13.4% (Yekaterinburg)
REP the Greens Belgorod (2013), Nalchik (2016), Krasnoyarsk (2018) 6.6% (Krasnoyarsk)
CPSJ Volgograd (2013), Elista (2019) 5.6% (Elista)
Novye Lyudi Kaluga (2020), Tomsk (2020) 15.0% (Tomsk)
PARNAS Barnaul (2012) 5.4%
Party of Growth Tomsk (2020) 5.3%

It should be said that although the number of party-list campaigns in regional capitals was lower than that in the regions, most parties had more success in elections in the cities.

Candidates from the following parties won the majority constituencies: Russian Party of Pensioners for (Social) Justice, Patriots of Russia, Civic Platform, Rodina, Communists of Russia, Yabloko, REP The Greens, Party of Growth, Novye Lyudi as well as Party of Pensioners of Russia, Green Alliance and Russian All-People's Union.

And, naturally, the fact that a Party of Russia's Rebirth nominee was elected mayor of Yakutsk in 2018 deserves a special mention.

Thus, there were 26 political parties that had at least one winning candidate in a major election over the course of nine years.

Apart from party list-based regional capitals, 19 out of the 26 aforementioned parties made some advancements in municipal elections (United Russia, CPRF, LDPR, A Just Russia, Russian Party of Pensioners for (Social) Justice, Patriots of Russia, Rodina, Communists of Russia, Yabloko, Civic Platform, REP The Greens, Party of Growth (formerly "Pravoye Delo"), PARNAS, CPSJ, Party of Pensioners of Russia, Za Zhenshchin Rossii People's Party, Green Alliance, Party of Business, Russian All-People's Union) as well as 13 more parties (we shall not list all of their advancements, listing only regions and years instead):

- Agrarian Party of Russia (Republic of Sakha (Yakutia), 2013, 2018, 2019; Arkhangelsk Oblast, 2013; Zabaikalsky Krai, 2017);

- Goroda Rossii (Republic of Dagestan, 2013; Bryansk Oblast, 2014);

- Soyuz Truda (Sakhalin Oblast, 2013; Dagestan, 2015);

- Russian Veterans Party (Republic of Crimea, 2014; Dagestan, 2015), placed first at 68.8% in the town of Buynaksk (Dagestan);

- Russian Party of People's Power (Republic of Crimea, 2014);

- Party for Rebirth of Rural Areas (Dagestan, 2015; Krasnoyarsk Krai, 2015, 2019) placed first at 42.8% in Uzhursk District of Krasnoyarsk Krai in 2015.

- Labor Party of Russia (Dagestan 2015, 2018);

- Party of Free Citizens (Dagestan, 2015);

- United Agrarian and Industrial Party of Russia (Dagestan, 2015);

- ROT Front (Dagestan, 2015);

- Dostoinstvo (Republic of North Ossetia–Alania, 2016);

- Party For Justice! (Yakutia, 2018; Republic of Ingushetia, 2019);

- Small Business Party of Russia (Novgorod Oblast, 2019).

Information on party performance in majority constituencies in municipal election (except regional capitals) is insufficient. However, the data we sourced from Russian Encyclopedia of Election Candidates [45] show that candidates from the following parties not mentioned above performed quite successfully (the number in the brackets indicates the number of elected candidates): Cossack Party of the Russian Federation (50); Velikoye Otechestvo Party (18); Umnaya Rossiya (9); Democratic Choice (5); Molodaya Rossiya (3); Civic Initiative (3); Zashchitniki Otechestva (1); Party of Peace and Unity (1); Russian Party of Gardeners (1); Rodnaya party (1); Vozrozhdeniye Agrarnoi Rossii (1); Born in USSR (1).

Combined with these parties, the number of parties that nominated at least one candidate goes up to 51.

Candidate election or getting a party list to a representative body may be considered the main measure of success in an election. Nevertheless, the share of votes gained by a party list is also quite significant. In some cases, these results even have legal value that determines whether a party has to collect signatures in one region or another.

Ever since 2013 (with the exception of 2016), we have been ranking the performance of political parties using arithmetic mean results of party lists in regional parliamentary elections and elections to representative bodies of regional capitals [17: 293–295; 16: 358–359; 15: 497–498; 19: 449; 18: 513–514]. United Russia always placed first in the ranking, followed by CPRF. LDPR placed third in 2014, 2017–2020, while A Just Russia placed fourth in 2017–2020. The two parties switched places for a short time in 2013 and 2015. However, in 2014, the fourth place went to Patriots of Russia, who beat A Just Russia by 0.01%.

The fifth place went to Russian Party of Pensioners for (Social) Justice three times (in 2015, 2017 and 2018). In 2013, 2014, 2019 and 2020 the fifth spot was occupied by Civic Platform, A Just Russia, Patriots of Russia and Novye Lyudi respectively.

The following non-parliamentary parties averaged a result of no less than 4%: Civic Platform (2013, 4.5%; 2014, 5.0%), Patriots of Russia (2014, 5.2%; 2017, 4.4%; 2019, 5.3%), Russian Party of Pensioners for (Social) Justice (2014, 4.0%; 2015, 4.8%; 2017, 5.1%; 2018, 5.9%; 2019, 5.1%; 2020, 6.4%), Communists of Russia (2017, 4.5%; 2018, 5.1%), Yabloko (2018, 4.3%), CPSJ (2019, 4.1%), Rodina (2020, 6.5%), Novye Lyudi (2020, 8.3%), Green Alternative (2020, 7.7%).

Effective number of parties

The effective number of parties (ENP) is an important device for taking the gauge of a country's party system. There are several ways of calculating this measure [8; 6], although the formula introduced by Laakso and Taagepera has become the most commonly used: \(1 / \sum\limits_{i=1}^n {{v_i}^2}\), where \(v_i\) is the proportion of votes for party i from the number of valid votes (from the overall number of votes casted for all parties if the against all vote is available) [24; 7: 168–170; 27: 425–426]. This coefficient is sometimes called the effective number of electoral parties \(ENP_E\) to distinguish it from the effective number of parliamentary parties \(ENP_P\), which is calculated in a similar manner based on the proportion of seats that the parties occupy in parliament. In our research, we are using ENP to refer to the Laakso–Taagepera index, and \(ENP_E\) to refer to ENP with no index.

ENP amounted to 2.88 in the 2016 legislative election in the federal constituency, which is not only lower than that in 1993–2003, but also than that of 2011 (3.10), and higher only than that in 2007 (2.22) [14: 884; 27: 436].

As for the ENP for regional parliamentary elections, elections to representative bodies of regional capitals under proportional representation of mixed system, it was calculated in our previous papers as well as in publications by Sergei Shpagin [17: 296–297; 16: 218–220; 15: 306–307; 14: 885–886; 19: 299–300; 18: 494–496; 27: 437–440; 33; 48; 47].

Figure 4 shows average, median, minimum and maximum ENP values in regional elections arranged by 6 or 12 months since 2003. Two factors should be considered when analyzing this data. First, when a dominant party is present, the ENP value is strongly affected by the level of support for this party [27: 440]. This is why United Russia's decline in popularity that occurred in both 2011 and 2018 raised the ENP values irrespective of the number of other parties. Second, average and other values in regional elections arranged by years are strongly affected by the set of regions where such elections were held. This is why comparing the years when the set of regions was the same or roughly the same is more productive. Considering the five-year cycle that developed by early 2010s, such years are: 2011 and 2016; 2012 and 2017; 2013 and 2018; 2009, 2014 and 2019; 2010, 2015 and 2020.

Figure 4. Effective number of parties values in regional elections arranged by years

The trends are nevertheless very clear. They barely pertain to the minimum level of competition, as nearly every campaign had regions with extremely low levels of competition. However, both average/median and maximum ENP values point at these trends. Between 2004 and 2007, regional elections experienced a decline in competition, which was its lowest point between December 2007 and October 2009: maximum ENP values stayed below 3.3 while average and median stayed below 2.6. December 2011 saw a significant increase in average, median and maximum ENP values induced by United Russia's declining popularity.

The process seems more fluctuating in the following years, which is caused by the factors we described above: the changing levels of support for the "party of power" (Crimean consensus on the one hand and pension reform on the other) and differing sets of regions (there were many "electorally managed" regions in 2012, 2014 and 2017). Nevertheless, there is a visible trend of competition increasing, which is why we can assume that party reform was one of the factors that allowed new parties to appear.

Dissolution of political parties

As we pointed out before, the number of parties began to decrease after peaking in 2015–2016. Between November 2015 and September 2020, five parties (Novaya Rossiya, Party of the Man of Labor, Party for Protection of Business and Entrepreneurship, Avtomobilnaya Rossiya, Dostoinstvo) dissolved voluntarily, and 39 were dissolved by judgements of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation. Out of these parties, one (VOLIA) was dissolved for extremist activities, five (Umnaya Rossiya, Party of Taxpayers of Russia, Born in USSR, Democratic Choice, Zdorovyye Sily athletic party of Russia) for failing to submit the necessary documents, eight (United Agrarian and Industrial Party of Russia, Party of Peace and Unity, Party of Social Solidarity, Party of Russia's Spiritual Transformation, Party of Russia's National Security, Molodaya Rossiya, Russian Party of People's Power, Party for Rebirth of Rural Areas) for failing to open the required amount of regional offices, one (Velikoye Otechestvo Party) for failing to address the violations and 24 parties (listed in Table 1) for insufficient electoral participation.

As of late October 2020, the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation was considering two more dissolution cases filed by the Ministry of Justice against two parties – Rodnaya party and People Against Corruption party [4].

As can be seen from the previous sections of this paper, most of the dissolved parties were underactive and unsuccessful. Nevertheless, Party of Pensioners of Russia happened to be one the dissolved despite being elected into a legislative body of one of the regions. Several more parties were still dissolved despite being relatively active (and successful, at least at a local level), including Green Alliance, Za Zhenshchin Rossii People's Party, Velikoye Otechestvo Party, Agrarian Party of Russia, Goroda Rossii, Labor Party of Russia, Russian Veterans Party, ROT Front and others.

Russia's party system after eight years of development

We believe the motives that drove Russian authorities to adopt the 2012 reforms were entirely pragmatic. Reducing the number of parties to seven triggered the 2011 legislative election scenario where protest voting clustered around the few remaining parties, also fueled by the nationwide campaign urging people to vote "for any other party". This scenario thus prompted the decision to allow the creation of many new parties so that protest votes would "disperse" [31; 28; 21].

Nevertheless, the reform was largely perceived as positive [9; 31]. The established system of four parliamentary and three non-parliamentary parties clearly did not reflect the diversity of the existing political spectrum, stripping large groups of voters of representation [39]. By 2011, the party system as a whole slipped into a deep crisis [22: 725–753].

The very obvious result of the reform was the surge in the number of political parties. Yet this poses the question: did this surge bring any qualitative change?

Essentially – it did not. The system is still dominated by one party that takes the lead in nearly every election both in party lists and in majority constituencies. This party holds more than 50% of seats in both the State Duma and the overwhelming majority of regional parliaments and representative bodies of municipal entities, even in those cases when its list gains less than 50% of votes [19: 508–509].

At the same time, the dominant party still neither forms the government, nor determines the state policy. It is not a political actor in its own right either, merely serving as a passive tool in the hands of the ruling bureaucrats. Yurii Korgunyuk [12; 10] defines the system with such characteristics as a "pseudo-party" system.

In 2016, the same four parties made it to the State Duma as before. At the same time, parliamentary parties retain their edge over their non-parliamentary colleagues in terms of both activity level and the number of electoral victories.

On the other hand, several new parties managed to either catch up with the three already existing non-parliamentary parties or even pass them altogether in activity level and the number of electoral victories. The overall level of competition in party-list elections increased a little, and several new parties gained seats in regional parliaments and municipal representative bodies.

However, experts largely believe that the current party system still does not meet public demand. This thesis is advanced both by experts that are critical of the current political regime [39; 21] and by those who support the current government. However, this viewpoint does not have much academic coverage, being discussed primarily among political experts online.

For instance, Pyotr Skorobogaty says that "Although Russia's political party system of today is stable, it is ineffectual. There is an obvious crisis of representation: the electoral core of political movements is shrinking dramatically, and the people do not see any difference between the existing movements. Parliamentary parties are seen as characterless and dependent on the executive branch, while non-parliamentary parties have neither resources, nor supporters, nor motivation. What we therefore see is a lack of political competition, severe staff shortages, violation of the principle of division of powers... The party system ceases to function as both a government–population facilitator and a channel for protest voices... Few will debate the thesis that the current sesquiparty parliament model hinders the development of Russia's political system" [49].

Here are viewpoints from other experts. "In the eyes of voters, all parties – especially parliamentary ones – have unfortunately melted into one obfuscated smudge of sorts" [13]. "It seems that no one is doubting the fact that this country's political and party system is in a dire need of reset" [44]. A very obvious fact is that Russia's current party system is in a permanent crisis state" [2].

Seeing these opinions, we propose a series of questions: 1) could the situation have turned out differently? 2) if yes, what was done wrong?

The answer to the first question may be two-fold: yes, if reform engineers had actually aimed for improving the political and party systems; no, if we assume that all they had aimed for was making sure the power stayed where it currently was. Here is what Boris Makarenko [37] pointed out as early as 2012: "The dominant party was yet again overwhelmed by the fear of losing its de-facto monopoly on power while it could have realized a conscious need to restore political plurality as a way of taking on challenges raised by modernization instead."

The answer to the second question may get quite comprehensive. The first conspicuous thing for us was the following logical inconsistency: the required number of party members was decreased dramatically at the same time as all parties were relieved of having to collect signatures. Implemented one at a time, both these measures could make a positive impact. Their simultaneous implementation, however, caused side effects: a massive influx of new parties created for profit-making as well as nomination of "package" lists [31; 32]. That said, it was an easy enough prediction that one of these measures will be reversed in two years [35].

And sure enough, 2014 saw the regulations for candidate registration take a 180-degree turn as the number of parties relieved of signature collection was cut. However, while such a turn of events seemed sensible (although not ideal) for a legislative election, the number of privileged parties in regional elections was cut too severely. As for municipal elections, the cut was not at all necessary [34]. Competition levels in both regional and municipal elections thus took a heavy blow. It appears that the whole circumstance was a concession made to parliamentary parties as part of the "Crimean consensus" [21].

At the same time, a few other legislative amendments were introduced; these amendments were detrimental to the party system and effectively triggered "de-partisation". One of such amendments was the so-called "Klishas law" that abolished the requirement to use party-list voting in major municipal entities and federal cities as well as lowered the required share of proportional representation in regional parliamentary elections. Abolishing direct elections of heads of urban okrugs delivered an extra blow to the system [21].

Changes of legislation aside, administrative interventions into the party system aggravated the situation further as well. On the one hand, there is no doubt that the flurry of new parties (including those with ambiguous names and political stances) was orchestrated either by the administration directly, or with its support. Seeing how quickly these parties were registered was proof enough. On the other hand, actual opposition parties were faced with newly erected obstacles, with the most notable example being Alexey Navalny's party and other parties spawned by the protest movement. And finally, 2014–2016 saw administrative blows delivered to several new promising parties, such as Green and Social Democratic Alliance, Civic Platform, Russian Party of Pensioners for Justice. The first was gaining popularity by combining forces of several politicians while the other two had several successful regional elections behind their backs [14: 34, 38, 476, 477, 593; 30].

How many parties does the system need? Why does it need minor parties?

While academic literature barely discusses these questions, they create quite a buzz in opinion journalism. Here is an example of a relatively moderate assessment of the situation in Russia: "There are certain rules that regulate the number of public conflicts as well as social and political schisms in a way that it corresponds with the number of parties. I believe that twenty would be the best number of parties for Russia to maintain a party system that would stay relevant." Based on this assessment, the author predicts that the number of parties will naturally fall to about twenty [42].

The 2012 reform was immediately followed by the following assumption: "What does the future hold for new parties? One can hardly envy the fate of most of them. Nevertheless, about ten organizations do have a chance of securing a spot on the political are­na at least at regional level" [43].

Still, what we know for sure is that in democratically steady countries, the number of parties tends to be quite large. Even the UK with its seemingly two-party system is home to over a hundred political parties. For instance, our data indicates that 133 parties participated in the 2015 election to the House of Commons (in 2019, the count was lower, at 69), with 11 actually gaining seats (in 2019, 10 did). In Germany, 42 parties participated in the 2017 Bundestag election. In other European countries, the situations are similar as well.

As for minor parties, we should first elaborate on what we mean by the term. Naturally, a minor party is not one that has few members, but rather one that does not have enough electoral support. When it comes to academic literature, however, the term "minor parties" is used to refer to parties that are underrepresented in parliament [43]. In our case, we use the term to refer to parties that lack representation on both federal and regional levels.

Recent experience (as well as that of other countries) indicates that only around ten parties or so can play a more or less significant role in a country's politics. In fact, only 11 parties managed to gain seats in regional parliaments more than twice between 2012 and 2020 (see Table 2). Aside from the four parliamentary parties, these included Russian Party of Pensioners for (Social) Justice, Patriots of Russia, Rodina, Communists of Russia, Civic Platform, Yabloko and Novye Lyudi in 2020. These parties also were the most active in campaigning. Since the "first tier" should include parliamentary parties, the aforementioned parties may be considered "second tier".

Does this mean that ten is the ideal number of parties for the country? We certainly believe it does not. The record of 2009–2011, when there were only seven parties left, is proof enough. The point is, monopolizing a certain niche takes away a party's motivation to develop and move forward [20]. This is why the 10 relatively influential parties need ten more that would "breathe down their neck" in their chosen niche (the third tier of parties). In addition, 10 more parties that would keep the third tier on their toes (which would make this group the fourth tier). That would ultimately be enough, putting the ideal number of parties at around 25–35. It is likely that we would eventually get to this number should the party system be left to evolve naturally, on its own.

At the same time, we have to keep in mind that Russia's sheer size and number of federal subjects makes regional diversification inevitable. In other words, minor parties will only be active in certain groups of regions and not across the entire nation. That said, we have to revisit the long-running debate on the possibility of regional and interregional parties existing.

Just like we did before [32; 29: 109–111], we believe that allowing regional parties in Russia is impractical, since the country has too many regions, but few of them are recognizably different. Interregional parties, on the other hand, are a possibility worthy of consideration. First, it would allow to create parties at a grassroots level, since creating a party that would have active offices in 43 regions at once is extremely difficult. Parties need some time to build up their numbers, influence and resources. Because if we look at existing parties, we will see that they are overwhelmingly interregional, not federal. It is true that these parties have offices in more than 50% of the country's federal subjects, but we can also see that over seven years, many of these offices did not even once participate in elections, which means they only exist on paper. Nevertheless, these parties have active regional offices, but they constitute the minority.

Another pro-interregional party argument is the need to relax the regulations on party dissolution. The situation where several dozens of parties are dissolved through legal proceedings hardly seems natural. However, when it comes to federal parties, the requirement to have offices and participate in elections in at least 50% of federal subjects seems fair. If we afford the existence of interregional parties, the federal parties that fail to meet these requirements will be reformed into interregional instead of being dissolved.

A summary for a legislator

A party system is shaped by two legislations: on political parties and on elections [41: 5–20; 22: 81–122; 36: 191–215]. Starting from Duverger [3], a lot of attention has been directed at how the electoral system (in its strict sense) shapes the party system [25; 38: 165–192; 41: 13–17; 46; 7: 211–222; 22: 102–122; 40]. Our assumption is that the election admission requirements for candidates and parties are no less significant in this regard, at least in the case of Russia's party system.

We believe that many provisions of both party and electoral legislations in Russia do not meet the necessary requirements for the party system to develop properly, and are therefore in need of revision.

As we pointed out in the previous section, a practical decision would be to allow both federal and interregional parties to exist. The latter should have the right to participate in regional and municipal election, and perhaps even in legislative elections in single-member constituencies. Naturally, the parties that do not meet the federal party requirements should be reformed as interregional instead of being dissolved.

The general regulations regarding party dissolution have to be revised as well. The circumstances where a party is dissolved only because it failed to submit certain documents to the Ministry of Justice can hardly be considered normal. The circumstances that prompted the dissolution of the Republican Party of Russia in 2007 are also something that should be avoided in the future: at the time, Rosregistratsia effectively blocked the party's chances to address the detected violations. ECHR eventually declared the dissolution illegal and the party was restored, yet the legislation still retained the provisions that could allow the situation to repeat itself [22: 620–621; 5].

Dissolving a party for failing to participate in elections may be considered a reasonable penalty seeing how electoral participation is a party's main function. However, as it often happens in such cases, the legal text and common sense are far removed from one another. What we get is after participating in elections in more than 30 regions and even gaining seats in one of Legislative Assemblies, a party is still dissolved for "non-participation in elections".

Reforming federal parties into interregional may partially solve this issue, as participation requirements for the latter would have to be significantly lower than for the former. In that case, however, one would have to add electoral performance to the list of criteria as well. More specifically, dissolution should not threaten parties that gained at least one seat [29: 114–115].

Speaking of regulations regarding party registration, we believe that the regulation on the minimum number of 500 members introduced in 2012 does not need revision. This number may be deemed too small for a federal party, however. In any case, registration is only the initial stage of party activity, which makes stricter requirements unnecessary. Moreover, our research indicates that formal membership numbers of a party barely reflect its actual political influence.

Revising the arguments for denying a party its registration seems more essential. There are two extremely ambiguous ones: "the provisions of the party charter contradict the Constitution of the Russian Federation, federal constitutional laws, this Federal Law and other federal laws" and "the authorized federal authority has established that the information contained within the documents submitted by the political party for the purposes of acquiring state registration does not meet the requirements of this Federal Law." Such wording allows to deny a party registration based on minor or even unsubstantiated irregularities [31; 29: 112–113].

There are a few more provisions in the law on parties that need revision. For example, the requirement to register all regional offices seems objectionable, especially since the requirements regarding the number of members there have been lifted. The requirement to submit quarterly reports seems excessive as well.

One can often hear proclamations on the advantages of party mergers are desirable, yet these proclamations are not backed up by any regulations that would allow the parties from the same side of political spectrum to merge. There are several known cases of mergers, yet they all had to be done the hard way that often provoked conflict, all because the regulations that would allow to do it the proper way did not exist. For example, A Just Russia was de facto established in 2006 through a merger of Rodina, Russian Party of Pensioners and Russian Party of Life, yet de jure it was established after Rodina was renamed, and the members of the other two parties had to join individually. In a similar manner, Pravoye Delo (A Just Cause) party was de facto established through a merger of Union of Right Forces, Civilian Power and Democratic Party of Russia, while de jure all these parties dissolved voluntarily, and Pravoye Delo was established as a new party [22: 622–626].

However, as we stated before, changes in electoral legislation have a major effect on the party system as well. For example, in the previous section we pointed out the negative effect of the changes adopted in 2013–2014, such as decreased use of proportional representation in regional and municipal elections as well as restored requirement for parties to collect voter signatures in order to be allowed to participate in said elections. This time we will speak on these and other issues in a bit more detail.

Speaking of electoral systems (in the strict sense of the term), we believe that none of the systems that either were or are being used in Russia have been ideal, be it fully proportional representation with closed lists in a single constituency, full plurality voting (either one-round, or two-round) or parallel voting. We presume there are systems that, to a better degree, both guarantee representation for different social groups and ensure the development of the party system. Examples include mixed-member proportional representation (like the one used in Germany), open-list voting as well as some other systems [22: 108–113; 26; 27: 180–201, 213–243, 581–591]. Nevertheless, in our current situation, we support the continued use of parallel voting and oppose replacing it with fully proportional representation or full plurality voting. We also support the sustained parity between plurality and proportional components [29: 35–37].

We also believe that a 5% electoral threshold is too high, so lowering it to 3 or 4% would be more favorable. In case the number of seats is small, we presume the threshold is not at all necessary [27: 337–354, 410–412; 29: 55–58].

Another essential issue is the option for parties to form alliances. Alliances will allow political parties to pass the electoral threshold, subsequently increasing representation levels for different political powers. Moreover, alliances may promote party consolidation through mergers with parties from the same side of political spectrum. There are two known types of alliances: electoral blocs and joint lists. Either type is fine, yet the license to form alliances has to be restored [27: 378–387; 29: 125–128].

The final essential aspect is the regulations regarding candidate and party list registration. Here, too, finding the middle ground is the preferred solution: neither very strict regulations that bring nothing but abuse of power and political discrimination are acceptable, nor the uncontrolled electoral participation of representatives of just any party (especially if the registration terms for parties themselves are quite liberal).

We presume that reforms should aim to liberalize registration rules exponentially. Necessary measures include reimbursement of election deposit, decreased amount of required voter signatures, increased share of invalid signatures, changes in signature collection and verification procedures and a reduced list of grounds for denying registration.

As for granting parties registration privileges (as in relieving certain parties from having to collect signatures), the general liberalization of registration rules will significantly reduce the gravity of the issue. All the same, certain changes may be introduced in this case as well.

We assume that in municipal election (with the exception of capitals, perhaps), privileges should be granted to all parties. This will serve as additional motivation for improving their work at a local level, which is the closest to voters. At regional level, the list of privileges would have to be quite extensive. In legislative election, granting the privilege to 10–15 parties seems quite sensible. However, there is doubt as to whether the number of seats gained in regional elections is valid enough criteria for getting the privilege. For example, this has led to Civilian Power getting the privilege after seating its members to the Assembly of Deputies of Nenets Autonomous Okrug (one of the two federal subjects with smallest populations) by gaining only 702 votes. At the same time, our data indicates that this party only gained 4,676 votes in the 2012–2015 regional elections, placing as low as 35th among other parties in this nomination. It is no wonder that it placed last in the 2016 legislative election, only gaining 0.14%. This leads us to believe that when granting the privileges, it is more accurate to consider the number of votes gained by parties than the number of seats they occupy [29: 132–165].

Received 09.10.2020, revision received 25.10.2020.


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