When politicians hit the campaign trail and Russians prepare to vote for a new parliament (the Duma), Western attention is invariably drawn to the familiar and colorful competition among parties seeking to elect their lists of candidates. But only half of the Duma is elected in this way. Moreover, this half has been and is likely to remain the least important in determining the Russian president’s power and in shaping Russia’s ability to implement key reforms in foreign policy, economic reform, and democratic (or authoritarian) development.
In the upcoming December 2003 vote, Putin’s power in the legislature will depend primarily on the other half, elected among individual candidates, many of whom are independents, rather than in a contest among party lists. These individual district contests pose the greatest threats to Putin’s own grasp on power and, accordingly, they will determine the fate of Russian democracy. […]