| The seven deputies from the Union of Right Forces and
Yabloko know they have
fight for influence in a State Duma where they are massively outnumbered.
deciding which alliances are in their interest, they face a tough trade-off
between pragmatism and principles.
Should they negotiate with United Russia to form a deputies' group with
its more liberally minded members for the sake of getting a few seats
committees, even if United Russia would dominate the group, which requires
minimum of 35 deputies to form?
Or would it be better to stand on moral high-ground and refuse to be
into a coalition where the Kremlin, ultimately, can call the shots, even
means being sidelined from all debates?
It's a fine line to walk, since the parties have been accused of erring
too far in both directions. The failure of the Union of Right Forces,
or SPS, to win party-list seats has been widely blamed on its eagerness
to cooperate with the Kremlin, which blurred the distinction between it
and United Russia. Yabloko's leader Grigory
Yavlinsky has been criticized for being long on lofty talk and short
on policy action.
Galina Khovanskaya, a
Yabloko deputy who won a seat from a Moscow district, for one, says a
coalition is necessary: "On your own, it's almost impossible to get
Khovanskaya had not anticipated life as a lone warrior, without party
from SPS and Yabloko, which together had 48 seats in the last Duma. "Believe
I'm not happy about my victory," she said.
One option is to join forces with 10-year Duma veteran Vladimir Ryzhkov,
re-elected as an independent from the Altai region. Ryzhkov said last
he has started to form a liberal group in the new Duma, which will convene
the first time on Dec. 26.
"We are trying to unite liberal like-minded [deputies] into this
said Thursday in an interview with Interfax. He proposed calling the group
Union of Democratic Forces, or SDS.
Ryzhkov, who has been named as a possible liberal nominee to run against
President Vladimir Putin in presidential elections in March, denied that
been in talks with the Kremlin over padding his group's ranks with United
deputies, but he did not rule out such consultations in the future.
Counterbalancing the nationalistic Rodina bloc and Vladimir Zhirinovsky's
Liberal Democrats, he said, was more important than preserving distance
United Russia centrists. "We are convinced it is necessary to do
our best to
make sure that the nationalists have serious opponents in the Duma."
The four Yabloko deputies elected, including Khovanskaya, and SPS's
the logical core of that group.
From Yabloko, three deputies were re-elected: Mikhail
Yemelyanov, from Rostov; St. Petersburg lawyer Sergei
Popov and Mikhail Zadornov,
a former finance minister. Khovanskaya, previously a Moscow City Duma
deputy, is the only freshman.
The freshman SPS deputy is Arsen Fadzayev, an Olympic champion wrestler
a seat from North Ossetia. Pavel Krasheninnikov, a former justice minister,
chairman of the legislative committee in the last Duma. Alexei Likhachyov
with SPS leader Boris Nemtsov in the early 1990s when Nemtsov was governor
Nizhny Novgorod, and he served on the Duma's economic policy and
Krasheninnikov said last week he had few reservations about collaborating
United Russia. "In the elected Duma, United Russia seems to be the
faction of all," he said.
In addition to United Russia, the only parties to pass the 5 percent
to win a share of the 225 Duma seats allocated on the basis of the
vote are the Communist Party, the Liberal Democratic Party and Rodina.
225 seats are chosen in single-mandate races.
Krasheninnikov noted that deputies' groups in past Dumas, like Russia's
and the People's Deputy group, were also eclectic conglomerations of people
diverse views. The ultimate objective, he said, was to get "the status
group, and a representative on the Duma's Council and committees."
Once in the Duma, parties become known as factions -- in Russian,
and alliances among 35 or more deputies are known as deputies' groups.
parliamentary regulations, each deputies' group gets a vote on equal footing
with factions on the Duma Council, which sets the agenda.
Ryzhkov said that Viktor Pokhmelkin, a co-leader of the now defunct
Russia party who ran this time from New Course-Automotive Russia, was
join his coalition, as was Nikolai Gonchar, an independent deputy who
of Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov.
Gonchar is an exception. Observers predict that most of the Duma's 60
independents will align themselves with United Russia, to sign on with
Even if Ryzhkov can cobble together as many as 15 liberals from outside
Russia, this suggests that in order to reach the deputies' group threshold,
would have no choice but to strike a deal with Putin's party.
The downside of that, said Alexei Makarkin at the Center for Political
Technologies, is that Putin, then, will have "the controlling stake."
If United Russia loans deputies to the Ryzhkov group, it won't be
In the past, the Communist Party loaned deputies to bolster the
group, which, in return, backed its initiatives.
There has been speculation in the last week that United Russia may choose
break itself into a number of smaller, more manageable subgroups. One
could be a liberal group entirely of its own members, a rival to Ryzhkov's.
Igor Klyamkin, at the Liberal Mission Foundation, said this would amount
"imitation liberalism," because politically, their slavish subordination
Putin is not liberal at all.
Makarkin said that with the media's help, the Kremlin could give its
group a leader, and over four years, the group could take over the political
space once occupied by SPS and Yabloko, forcing those parties further
And there is another centrist initiative that may help to undermine
A party called New Right Forces declared its existence on Dec. 8, the
the elections dealt the liberals a stunning blow. Party leader Alexei
described himself as a disillusioned SPS voter who wanted to build a
"pro-Western party of power."
Yabloko and SPS promptly dismissed it as a Kremlin project aimed at
the schism between the two.
"It's some kind of circus," SPS member Leonid Gozman scoffed.
"No one's ever
heard of them and they don't represent anyone."
Forced to fight for the right to speak for a fragmented and demoralized
electorate, the liberals' best hope to reinvent themselves is to unite
single presidential candidate, Klyamkin said, adding that the person should
come from either the SPS or Yabloko leadership, because their failure
Dec. 7 vote is still too fresh. "They must pick someone neutral,
figure," he said.
Antagonism and divisions between the two also run too deep, although
SPS leader Irina Khakamada and Yabloko's Sergei
Mitrokhin indicated on Ekho Moskvy radio Saturday that they were willing
to put past differences aside and unite behind one candidate.
"We think that the current leaders of SPS have all been discredited
defeat and are responsible for all the mistakes," Khakamada said,
"so a new
person needs to be put forward."
Mitrokhin said Yavlinsky
would agree not to run if a consensus were reached to back someone else.
Neither party leader offered any candidates' names, but Klyamkin did
hesitate. "Today I see only one possibility: Vladimir Alexandrovich
the original at
State Duma elections 2003
Presidential elections 2004