The 1996 presidential election marked the end of polarized
politics in Russia. If between 1990 and 1996 electoral
politics have been contests between "communists" and "democrats,"
the next national elections will have a different logic.
The threat of communist restoration died in the ballot
box in 1996, but so, too, did anti-communism.
Divisions within the anti-communist coalition already
are apparent. Prime Minister Vlktor Chernomyrdin has fought
a protracted battle against first
deputy prime ministers Anatoly
Chubais and Boris Nemtsov for
government control. The economic elites who united behind
President Boris Yeltsin's candidacy are now bitterly divided.
In the parliament, the departure of Sergei Belyayev and
Lev Rokhim from Our Home Is Russia suggests that this
party of power may crumble before the end of the Duma's
four year term. At the regional level, the divide between
communists and anti-communists played virtually no role
in dozens of recent gubernatorial elections.
A benefactor of the end of polarized politics and the
divides within the current party of power may be Yabloko.
More than any political organization in Russia today,
Yabloko resembles a genuine, post-Soviet political party.
Of course, the Communist Party boasts more members and
greater organization, but these assets were inherited,
not created in the post-Soviet era. Vladimir Zhirinovsky
has created party cells throughout the country, but it
is unlikely that his extreme right Liberal Democratic
Party would survive without him. Yegor Gaidars Russia's
Choice still maintains a skeletal national party structure
and operates internally like a Western-style party, but
its poor showing in the last parliamentary election makes
future growth difficult.
In contrast to all of these groups, Yabloko has several
advantages. First, it is the only reformist party not
connected to the government that won seats through the
proportional system in both the 1993 and 1995 parliamentary
elections. The historical experience in other democratic
transitions suggests that maintaining a presence in parliament
is a key condition for party survival in the long run.
Second, the party boasts a well-organized and effective
parliamentary faction. Yabloko has more intellectual firepower
than any other faction in the Duma. Its deputies are among
the most active in drafting and proposing legislation.
Third, Yabloko has a distinct national identity that
has helped the party establish grassroots regional organizations
around the country. Yabloko is firmly identified with
Fourth, Yabloko is not a one-man show. Grigory Yavlinsky
is the unquestioned leader of the party, but Yabloko has
a political identity that is independent of its leader
and would survive without him.
Fifth, Yabloko bears no responsibility for the policies
of the current government. Yabloko's refusal to cooperate
with Our Home or Russia s Choice earlier will pay dividends
among Russia's in intelligentsia and emerging middle class.
Remember, these people went into the streets in the late
1980s to support the democratic ideals of human rights
activist Andrei Sakharov, not the economic interests of
Uneximbank head Vladimir Potanin.
These attributes will help Yabloko grow as a parliamentary
party after the next Duma elections. Paradoxically, these
same factors also may impede Yabloko from competing effectively
in the next presidential election.
In the last parliamen lary vote, Russian polling experts
estimated that the "democratic" electorate was roughly
25 to 30 percent ot the total population. In the next
vote, Yabloko can expect to capture most ol this vote,
since the several smaller parties that won small portions
of this vote in 1995 are unlikely to be on the ballot
again. This part ot the electorate alone, however, cannot
elect a president since these voteis do not constitute
How Yabloko and Yavlinsky reach beyond this electoral
base has been a source ol controversy within the party.
The party remains ideologically divided between liberals
and social democrats. Yavlinsky himself has more closely
identified with liberal ideas while his deputy chairman
for party organization, Vyacheslav lgrunov, has advocated
more social democratic positions and even cooperation
with the communists. Moreover, Yabloko affiliates in big
cities tend to be more liberal than Yabloko branches in
less populated areas. A sharp turn in either direction
may divide the party, but no turn at all limits the party's
Another constraint has to do with leadership. Yabloko
and Yavlinsky do not strike the authoritative pose that
voters like to see in their executives.
A final problem for Yabloko and Yavlinsky is Nemtsov.
If Nemtsov succeeds in his current post, voters will have
little reason to vote tor Yavlinsky in the next presidential
election. Nemtsov's failure, however, would also hurt
Yavlinsky since voters might believe that it is time to
support someone else besides another young-reformer type.
Given these factors, Yavlinsky is a long shot candidate
in the next presidential election. Nevertheless, Yabloko
is playing a far greater role in Russia's democratic transition
than simply backing Yavlinsky's next presidential campaign.
No democracy in the world exists today without political
parties. Yabloko may be relegated to the role of the parliamentary
opposition for some time to come, but the very existence
of a loyal opposition may be more important to the long-term
consolidation of Russia's nascent democracy than winning
the next presidential election.