Doom and Duma? Why the Nationalists Surged in the Russian Election

Michael A. McFaul - On election night in Moscow fours years ago, Russia's liberals drank to celebrate their unexpected electoral victory in the 1999 parliamentary vote. Optimists predicted a resurgence of liberalism as economic prosperity continued to build a middle-class constituency for liberal ideas. That evening leaders of the liberal coalition, Union of Right Forces (SPS is the Russian acronym), even talked about a real run for the Kremlin by one of their own in 2008. The prospect that Anatoly Chubais, Russia's privatization czar turned CEO of Russia's electricity monopoly, might end up president did not sound fanciful. But last week, instead of toasting their momentum, members of the SPS drank to numb the bitterness of a resounding defeat. The xenophobic demagogue Vladimir Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) doubled its share of the vote since the last Duma election four years ago, while a new nationalist coalition, Motherland (Rodina), came from nowhere to win 9 percent of the popular vote. The 50 or so seats previously held by liberals in Russia's parliament will now be occupied by these nationalists.