In a lightening quick change on the political
scene just days before the presidential election, leading
liberals from the Union of Right Forces jumped on the
bandwagon of candidate Grigory Yavlinsky late Wednesday.
It was unclear whether the budding alliance
appeared spontaneously or was planned ahead of time, or
whether it would be enough to make any difference in the
election that acting President Vladimir Putin has appeared
to have wrapped up.
Boris Nemtsov, Irina Khakamada, Anatoly
Chubais and Yegor Gaidar said they were interested in
forming a coalition with Yavlinsky, Interfax reported,
Nemtsov went further and said the Union
of Right Forces, known as SPS, should actively campaign
for Yavlinsky. "Today I am flying out to Tomsk and Khakamada
is flying to Yekaterinburg," Nemtsov told Interfax.
He said they should do everything possible
to bring out the vote for Yavlinsky in Sunday's election
with the goal of getting him into a second-round runoff
against Putin. "The appearance of Yavlinsky in a second
round is undoubtedly a step forward, a guarantee that
the country will follow a democratic path," Nemtsov was
quoted as saying.
National opinion polls have Yavlinsky
running third behind Putin and Communist Gennady Zyuganov.
Yavlinsky got his first boost late Tuesday
night when liberal candidate Yevgeny Savostyanov withdrew
from the race and urged his supporters to vote for the
Yavlinsky won the SPS endorsement with
his offer at a news conference Wednesday evening to create,
after the election, "a powerful democratic coalition that
will resist the creeping spread of absolutist, totalitarian
and criminal trends in Russian society."
The key seemed to be his statement that
he would not insist on being the coalition's sole leader.
"Whatever the results of the elections,
I am ready to take part in a broad right-wing liberal
coalition with the participation of Yabloko, Union of
Right Forces and other [democratic forces]," Yavlinsky
said. "At the same time, I don't claim single-handed leadership
of this coalition."
Yavlinsky has in the past been unwilling
to compromise or take part in democratic alliances that
would not be under his leadership. He has particularly
avoided Chubais and Gaidar, seeing them as tainted by
their involvement in past governments.
"It is very important that Grigory Alexeyevich
[Yavlinsky] isn't staking a claim on the role of single
leader of the future coalition, which SPS and Yabloko
are ready to form," Nemtsov was quoted as saying.
The rallying of democratic forces may
also reflect growing opposition to Putin. In his news
conference Yavlinsky called the acting president "a hidden
communist who conducts his policy by Soviet means" and
said he posed a "real danger to Russian democracy."
The leader of the Union of Right Forces,
Sergei Kiriyenko, who has backed Putin, said he was skeptical
of Yavlinsky's offer.
While Kiriyenko said the creation of
a broad right-wing coalition was necessary for forming
an effective political system in Russia, Yavlinsky's proposal
smacked of campaign politics.
"Campaign populism is one thing but real
party building is something else entirely," Kiriyenko
said, Interfax reported. Any serious discussion of forming
a coalition should wait until after the election, he said.
A split in SPS ranks has appeared since
the bloc voted last week to support Putin's election campaign.
Nemtsov, Khakamada and Gaidar abstained.
Savostyanov's decision to withdraw from
the race came at the end of NTV television's "Vox Populi"
talk show, broadcasted live, with Savastyanov, Yavlinsky
and Samara region Governor Konstantin Titov as guests.
Titov, a member of SPS, also is running for president.
At 11:47 p.m. Tuesday- just 13 minutes
before the midnight deadline for official withdrawal from
the race - Savostyanov signed a letter to the Central
Election Committee saying he will not participate in Sunday's
During the show, Khakamada said Russia's
democrats should chose a single leader "for the sake of
the democratic movement's future." She was supported by
76 percent of the show's audience, who voted to support
a single democratic candidate.
"This is a realistic decision," Savostyanov
said as he signed the withdrawal statement he had prepared
before the show. The statement was faxed to the CEC immediately
from the NTV office.
The election committee agreed Wednesday
to annul his registration. Each candidate received 400,000
($14,000) in campaign funds from the CEC, and Savostyanov
will have to return the money no later than 30 days after
the election, CEC officials said.
Recent national polls have showed both
Savostyanov and Titov likely to receive less than 2 percent
of the vote.
As Savostyanov was leaving Central Election
Commission headquarters Wednesday, he said: "If all democratic
forces unite, I think it is possible that Yavlinsky will
overtake Zyuganov and make it to the second round."
Yavlinsky on Wednesday hailed Sevastyanov's
decision as "the beginning of the consolidation of Russia's
Savostyanov tried Tuesday night to persuade
Titov to pull out of the race, but Titov refused, claiming
he couldn't "ditch his supporters" and had to consult
with his colleagues at SPS before making a decision.
When someone from the audience suggested
that Titov call SPS, Titov promptly replied: "It is inappropriate
to make telephone calls after 10 p.m."
Another person from the audience said
to Titov: "You said you are afraid to ditch your supporters,
but you are about to ditch the entire nation" by refusing
to withdraw from the race.
Yavlinsky refrained from criticizing
Titov. He said he "understands" his position as governor.
Yavlinsky also rejected suggestions that
the withdrawal of Sevastianov's candidacy had been planned
from the outset of the campaign.
Vladimir Zhirinovsky said Tuesday he
might bow out of the election and throw his support behind
Yavlinsky or Zyuganov. But he did not do so by the midnight
- Anna Badkhen and Andrei Zolotov Jr.
contributed to this report.