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Vek No. 22, July 12, 2002

No merger or alliance for the Union of Right-Wing Forces and Yabloko

by Andrei Ryabov

The latest round of talks about campaign cooperation between the Union of Right-Wing Forces (SPS) and Yabloko has led to much discussion about the form of this cooperation - from joint support for candidates in single-mandate districts to all the democratic parties uniting behind one presidential candidate. As in previous years, there is a marked level of scepticism about the possibility of a pre-election alliance between these parties.

It seems that any moves toward unification have less chance of success than ever before; even though it would appear that reality demands unification among the democratic parties. Their electoral niche is narrowing, primarily because some democratic voters are moving over to the pro-government party in the political centre. Both right-wing parties face a serious risk of not making it past the five-percent barrier in the Duma elections. However, there are also some fairly substantial arguments against unification. The main problem is that the partners are at different political stages. The SPS has been having some serious problems lately. Its version of the bill on alternative civilian service failed to pass the Duma. This is a significant defeat for the SPS; if the bill had passed into law in the liberal form proposed by the SPS, the party would have scored some major political points for the parliamentary campaign, and would have justifiably expected to attract millions of votes from conscription-age youths and their families, especially in the big cities.

The SPS's position in the executive branch isn't problem-free either. The standing of Anatoly Chubais, often called the unofficial leader of the SPS, has been destabilized by the president's direct criticism of the policy of RAO UES and the postponement of debate on a package of bills regarding the restructuring of the electricity sector. The position of German Gref, the Cabinet's leading reformer, similarly seems unstable. Even Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin has recently faced some harsh criticism from business leaders and government. Although Gref and Kudrin are not SPS members, they are very close to it ideologically. They are considered to be implementing SPS policies within the government.

Ever since some members of the SPS's ideological nucleus quit the party - experienced democratic activists and human rights activists - the SPS has become much more sensitive to political fluctuations. In the circumstances it would make sense for the SPS to strengthen its position by forming an alliance with an ideologically similar political force.

Yabloko is in a different situation. After marking time for a while, it has re-emerged in the political arena with what is essentially a new platform - constructive cooperation with the regime. Obviously, those who assume that the regime is entirely satisfied with a two-party system - United Russia and the Communist Party - are wrong. As ever, the Kremlin's political strategy includes dialogue and cooperation with Russia's remaining liberal politicians and other liberals who are fairly influential in Russia and abroad. For a long time, the SPS was the Kremlin's major right-wing partner; but now this party is losing ground. Politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum. Yabloko is apparently trying to fill the gap. Of course, Yabloko will never become the regime's junior partner in the fullest sense of the term, asthis party's ideology rules out compromises on its underlying principles. However, Yabloko is prepared to replace the SPS as the supplier of personnel for the economic bloc in the Cabinet, and as a source of ideas for that bloc. And for this purpose, Yabloko does not need any partners, let alone allies.

Consequently all the current negotiations represent nothing more than paying tribute to summertime PR. Yabloko and the SPS, the partners in this dialogue process, currently have diametrically opposed interests.

See also:
Presidential Elections 2004
Duma Elections 2003

Vek No. 22, July 12, 2002

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