Legislative Accountability in a Semi-Presidential System: Analysis of the Single-Member District Elections to the Russian State Duma

Topics: Elections, Political parties, Election Pages: 39 (12765 words) Published: June 24, 2013
EUROPE-ASIA STUDIES Vol. 57, No. 8, December 2005, 1143 – 1167

Legislative Accountability in a Semi-Presidential System: Analysis of the Single-Member District Elections to the Russian State Duma DINISSA DUVANOVA & JAKUB ZIELINSKI

THE CENTRAL PROPOSITION OF MODERN DEMOCRATIC THEORY is that repeated elections function as a mechanism of accountability. The underlying logic behind this claim is simple: if politicians want to be re-elected and if voters condition their ballots on policy outcomes, then politicians have an incentive to implement policies that benefit the electorate. Otherwise, they lose in electoral competition. This argument is intuitive and well-known, but is it empirically valid? Does the system of repeated elections function as a mechanism of political control? This question is particularly interesting in the case of the new post-communist democracies because electoral competition in these countries takes place in the context of unstable party systems and, in some cases, under constitutional arrangements obscuring political responsibility. Among new democracies, Russia stands out as one of the most dubious cases for democratic responsibility. It is often argued that, although formal democratic institutions exist in this post-communist country, their de facto functions are different from those performed in established liberal democracies. In Russia, where formal democratic institutions do not have deep roots in cultural attitudes and historical traditions, one would expect that politicians will be unlikely to care for the needs and welfare of their electorate. Given Russia’s long history of politics as a zero-sum game in which the losing party was usually exterminated, its revolutionary tradition, and the increasingly authoritarian features of current politics, adherence to democratic rules of the game can be interpreted as a pact on the part of the competing elites that secures their long-term survival and political influence. Russia’s problem-ridden democracy provides the opportunity to test for the existence of electoral controls. We investigate whether the system of repeated elections in Russia provides the mechanism for political accountability. If politicians’ prospects for re-election are affected by their party affiliation and economic performance, we can say that electoral accountability exists in Russian democracy. If voters condition their ballot on policy outcomes and politicians seek re-election, the latter have incentives to implement ISSN 0966-8136 print; ISSN 1465-3427 online/05/081143-25 ª 2005 University of Glasgow DOI: 10.1080/09668130500351241

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DINISSA DUVANOVA & JAKUB ZIELINSKI

policies beneficial to the former. Insofar as the chances for re-election of incumbent politicians depend on the economic performance of the government, the incentives for being responsive to the interests of the electorate produce the mechanism of accountability. The empirical question we address is whether local economic conditions affect politicians chances for re-election. Beyond this general question, we are interested in the role of political parties in facilitating electoral control. In the established Western democracies, parties structure the process of political competition and provide the necessary information on which voters condition their choice. The party system plays an important role in clarifying the political responsibility of incumbent politicians. Political parties persist over a long period of time and manage to develop clear policy reputations and a stable leadership structure. In contrast, the party system in the new democracies of Eastern Europe, including Russia, consists of many short-lived organisations with murky policy reputations and fluid personnel. Since current understanding of electoral controls is based primarily on the analysis of established democracies in the West, there is a limited understanding of how electoral control works, if at all, in the context of a floating...
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