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Izvestia, September 5, 2002

Unions Without Right-Wing Forces
The right wing of Russian politics is weakening

by Mikhail Vinogradov and Natalia Ratiani

Two serious parties target the middle class today - the Union of Right-Wing Forces (SPS) and Yabloko. However, can they convince the new middle class to become their electorate. Does this electorate want to vote for them? Otherwise, the right wing of Russian politics will disperse in its own contradictions and ambitions, while its electorate will turn to partners on the political arena that are smarter.

We are continuing our survey of the Russian multi-party system. On July 22 we looked at the overall state of the parties. Then we analyzed the situation in United Russia and the Communist Party (CPRF) (July 30 and August 5), the People's Party and the Party of Life (August 19 and 26). Now we are looking at two parties which could have merged: the SPS and Yabloko.

The situation here leaves much to be desired. Mired in conflict and an obvious leadership crisis, the SPS and Yabloko may end up missing the train carrying off their potential electorate - a new and active one that knows what it risks losing, the middle class. In that case, this political project in Russia may be declared a failure.In the previous election campaign, the SPS was viewed as an important element of Putin's party project.

The Kremlin was going to make the SPS do all the work of establishing control of such an important part of the electorate as the middle class and well-off. However, the SPS dropped out of the project for two reasons. Valery Fyodorov, Director of the Political Situation Centre, comments: "First of all, they failed to show they were strong enough - the attempts to merge with Yabloko, arrange strong regional organisations, gain the support of regional governors, and go beyond the limits of a parliamentary faction fell through. Secondly, they failed to monopolize the liberal arena and play on the expansion of the middle class. The party is more a vision than a real political force". A number of analysts believe that this is clear to SPS leaders as well: during the electoral cycle the party has failed to become a serious player on the right, independent of the Kremlin's support.

In the current situation, they can either grit their teeth and work on, or seek someone to blame and fight for leadership. Unfortunately, the SPS has chosen the second path, Fyodorov thinks. However, this route was doomed from the outset.

In spring and summer 1999, some leading political figures decided to create the SPS on the basis of a number of small public organisations.

The alliance received considerable financial assistance (first of all from Anatoli Chubais) and obtained at the Duma elections in 1999 8.5% of the vote or 30 seats in the parliament. However, we also witnessed another result from the very outset: an alliance consisting of people with different views failed to act in unison. The Duma has already become accustomed to the fact that SPS deputies have different visions: consequently the faction presents two or more drafts of laws on the same topic.

The SPS founding congress will be remembered in Russian party history as one of the longest - they worked for 26 hours! It became more and more apparent that the leaders of the party could not reach agreement on basic activity directions or transmit their priorities via party members to potential voters. The three leaders - Boris Nemtsov, Yegor Gaidar, and Irina Khakamada (Sergei Kiriyenko and Anatoly Chubais do not play an active role in party operations owing to their positions) - have three different concepts of party development. "The party has grown used to this model," notes a senior SPS figure who recently quit, and adds, "Their leadership is totally unpredictable."

When assessing the problems of the right, experts often speak about the gap between the worldviews of two existing groups - Nemtsov and Kiriyenko. The first group is flexible, as it manoeuvres between the opposition; it exhibits elements of shocking behaviour, and has Putin's backing. The second group is disposed to cooperate with the regime.

Boris Makarenko, deputy head of the Political Techniques Centre: "There always has been and will always be a conflict between the clans of Nemtsov and Kiriyenko."

However, a real split may be caused by the latent opposition of the "past" (Nemtsov, Gaidar, Krasheninnikov, Khakamada, and Generalov) and "future" (Agrarian Committee Deputy Chairman Alexander Fomin, members of the social policy committee Gasan Mirzoev and Andrei Selivanov, Finance Committee Deputy Chairman Nikolai Brusnikin, and Rosenergoatom Deputy Chairman Pavel Romanov). The first "divorce" symptoms included the steady exodus of members to Liberal Russia under the banner of Boris Berezovsky, as well as the obvious reluctance of the head of the party ranks to expand its co-leader list from five to eight, as had been claimed as far back as 2001. Many thought at the time that the right wing was not going to bring forth any new leaders. According to an observer, one can be either a leader or a footsoldier in the SPS - there is no alternative.

Regional structuring also proved hard work, handled by an outstanding representative of the Yeltsin era, former Yabloko member Travkin. There are strong regional branches in Astrakhan and Arkhangelsk, but there are more and more weak divisions submerged in internal conflicts. For example, the branch in St. Petersburg that used to have a strong position was on the verge of a split last year: the split was prevented by the centre. Some activists still left for Liberal Russia. According to expert forecasts, the elections for the city legislature scheduled for the upcoming December will reveal the extent of the party's impotence.

The SPS also failed to establish mutually advantageous relations with the executive branch, although senior officials, such as Labour Minister Alexander Pochinok, Deputy Finance Minister Aleksei Uliukaev, and Economic Development and Trade Ministry representatives were repeatedly observed at party events. Liberally-inclined officials avail themselves of SPS proposals and projects - the economic deregulation programme and income tax reform.

The SPS seemed to have found a solution. An idea was recently raised: merger with another, older democratic party - Yabloko. They were going to cooperate in the Duma and regional elections, and even propose a common list of candidates at the parliamentary elections in 2003. Experts started speaking about a merger of the right wing into "one powerful fist". However, these expectations are probably unfounded: while the agreement is more or less observed in the Duma, other points have mainly remained declarations.

Yabloko also rejected the major initiative of the SPS - to propose a common candidate for President. At the time a member of Yabloko commented: “It is clear who the Yabloko candidate could be. However, who will stand from the SPS? Nothing says that the candidate should be a party member. They might well nominate Putin."

The second-largest right-wing party, Yabloko, actually faces the same problems. Its positions in the regions are growing weaker. Most initiatives proposed by the party recently have proved abortive, such as "Civil Forum"; or are doomed to fail, such as the campaign against the import of spent nuclear fuel into Russia.

See also:

Izvestia, September 5, 2002

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