Gleb PAVLOVSKY, President of the Effective Policy Foundation

Vladimir Putin's convincing victory at the March 14 presidential elections was logical and predictable. The high popularity of the incumbent president ruled out any other outcome. Compared to the 2000 elections, this year's campaign was noted by a much higher level of public support for Putin. Four years ago, he received 53% of the vote, while on March 14, he got more than 70%. Putin won by a much larger and considerably bigger majority this time.

The social composition of this majority has changed, with the middle class as its core. In 2000, the rather small middle class split and did not play a considerable part in Putin's electorate. He was mostly supported by Communists, senior citizens, veterans and the bureaucracy. This year the head of state and his team mobilised a very powerful group of support, which developed and grew stronger during his first term. The fact that the majority of the middle class (the section of the population that plans the most and never plays at random), which has grown considerably in the past four years, opted for Putin was the result of a reasonable policy of reforms that the president pursued consistently.

At the same time, the results of the elections show that opposition candidates - Nikolai Kharitonov, Sergei Glazyev and Irina Khakamada, who represented both right- and left-wing parties and fought under different but mostly anti-Putin slogans - won (together with the "none of the above" entry) an impressive 25% of the vote.

This makes one ask, What will happen to this substantial part of the population now? Will it be involved in the implementation of Putin's policy? For it is unthinkable that 25% of the population should be hostile to the president. This means that Vladimir Putin has to find a common language with this section because the success of his domestic political initiatives in the next four years will depend on it.

It should be said that half of the 25% of the anti-Putin electorate was mobilised by the Communist Party (KPRF). The elections showed that the party is the only political machine that can mobilise the public and its success is evident. Left-wing candidate Nikolai Kharitonov quickly rallied votes when he identified himself with the KPRF.

We are entering a period of strong opposition action and a struggle for the voters who cast their ballots for Putin's adversaries. Indeed, 25% is serious political capital and there will be a fierce fight to win it. It is clear that the KPRF will do its best to protect its electorate (10-12% of the vote) from any outside influence, in an attempt to stop its dwindling. Irina Khakamada, who won about 4% without any support from the right-wing parties, can celebrate the election results as a victory. It may even inspire her to create her own party.

Sergei Glazyev, who received slightly more than Khakamada, is one of the main leaders in the struggle for the opposition votes. He will certainly try to rally the opposition majority. Glazyev proved his unsinkable nature at the elections. He is an experienced and rather dangerous politician, above all because of his non-critical attitude to his own views and a degree of fanaticism, which is not unlike that of Boris Yeltsin. Glazyev will want to create his own party, too, but he may fail because a good election result does not necessarily means success in party development. One example is the late General Alexander Lebed, who failed to create a party despite his sensational success at the 1996 elections.

In short, there will be a party boom in Russia soon. And President Putin will encourage it, for this is his policy of creating a substantial party system and providing more alternative candidates for the public. Whatever the West may say, democracy is developing in Russia at a growing pace and there is more democracy in the country than five years ago.

The claims to Russian democracy were voiced in the early 1990s, during Yeltsin's presidency. Boris Yeltsin destroyed the party system; he did not need parties. He encouraged the lack of alternatives and gave rise to the notorious election slogan, "There is no alternative to Yeltsin!"

Happily, Vladimir Putin has a different view of democracy and it is true to the meaning of the word. There was no genuine competition or intrigue at the March 14 elections, but the blame for this should be put on the president's soaring political ratings and popularity, rather than the lack of rivals. He had adversaries who had a chance to fight the favourite on equal terms. So, the struggle was honest, it kept to the rules, and the advantage of the winner was obvious.

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