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1999 Duma Election Campaign

 

The new pro-Kremlin bloc was to be led by Sergei Shoigu, the respected emergencies minister. Because of the nature of his job of supervising disaster relief operations during earthquakes, floods, fires, and so on, Shoigu was often in the news and had earned a reputation as an effective and no-nonsense “disaster manager.” His election bloc was backed by the new prime minister, Putin, who also showed himself from the start to be a tough administrator, capable of taking responsibility for risky actions, including military operations in Dagestan to repel the incursions of Chechen armed groups and then in Chechnya itself.

 
Sergei Shoigu

Thus, the regional bureaucracy, united under the umbrella of the Fatherland—All Russia bloc, suddenly found itself confronted by a powerful regions-based contender, which was competing on the same segment of the electoral field and had the public endorsement of the popular prime minister to boot.

All in all, twenty-six electoral coalitions and blocs took part in the 1999 election campaign. However, only six of them had any real chance of passing the 5 percent hurdle needed to enter the Duma: the Communist Party, Fatherland—All Russia, the Unity bloc, Yabloko, the Union of Right Forces, and Zhirinovsky’s ultranationalists. Out of these leading six, only the Communists seemed to be assured of the stable support of their electorate, which traditionally voted for them out of nostalgia for the times of Brezhnev’s “stagnation” and the long-gone certainties of the Soviet era.

The rest had to fight for votes in fierce competition with other contestants occupying similar ideological and political niches: the Unity bloc pitted against Fatherland—All Russia, the Union of Right Forces against Yabloko, and Zhirinovsky’s “liberal democrats” against a number of smaller ultraradical groupings. The result of this uncompromising struggle, which took the form of a venomous “information war” waged in the national media, saw the “outsiders” – the Unity bloc, the Union of Right Forces, and the Zhirinovsky bloc – begin to press the favorites – Fatherland—All Russia and Yabloko.

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