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The Moscow Times, December 3, 2003

Yukos Takes a Bite Out of Yabloko's Party List

By Francesca Mereu

Editor's note: This is the fourth in a series of stories based on extensive analysis by The Moscow Times of the business presence on the federal and regional lists of candidates put forward by the major political parties for Sunday's parliamentary elections.

The liberal Yabloko party has been financed by former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky since its creation in 1993, but this year for the first time it has included top representatives of the oil company on its party list.

"That was Yukos' condition for funding our party," party leader Grigory Yavlinsky said on NTV television last month. "We accepted that condition and we believe that this open policy is right. We cannot earn that money ourselves, as the law does not allow us to do that."

An analysis of the 142 candidates on Yabloko's list found three top Yukos representatives, all on the federal list and thus likely to win seats in Sunday's election if the party gets at least 5 percent of the vote. They are the only businessmen the party has included on its list of candidates vying for the 225 seats allocated on the basis of party lists. The other 225 seats in the Duma represent single-mandate districts.

The 11th, 12th and 13th spots on Yabloko's federal list are occupied, respectively, by Konstantin Kagalovsky, a Yukos shareholder and former board member who heads the Yukos-funded Open Economics Institute; Galina Antonova, the head of strategic planning at Yukos; and Alexander Osovtsov, project director of Yukos' Open Russia foundation.

Both the oil company and the political party stand to benefit from the arrangement.

"For Yukos it was important to have Yabloko's support," said Alexei Makarkin, a political expert with the Center for Political Technologies. "The party not only has a real chance of getting into parliament, but it also has a respectable liberal image close to that that Khodorkovsky was trying to build around himself. Investing in Yabloko was part of the same strategy of Khodorkovsky inviting Western managers to work for Yukos."

Khodorkovsky acknowledges funding Yabloko since the 1993 parliamentary election. In this election campaign, he or Yukos also have been giving money to the Union of Right Forces and the Communist Party, which has been read as a threat to the Kremlin's goal of forming a two-thirds majority in the next Duma. With a two-thirds majority, the Kremlin would be able to amend the Constitution, in addition to being able to push through legislation that could make life harder for big business in general and oil companies in particular.

Yury Korgunyuk, the editor of the weekly political bulletin Partinfo, said he sees Khodorkovsky's interest in Yabloko as having less to do with it being a kindred party than with him making a "pragmatic calculation" aimed at getting his representatives into the Duma.

"Even if Yabloko is unlikely to get more than 6 to 7 percent [of the vote] and therefore forms a faction with some 18 to 20 deputies, Yukos will have an entire faction under its control," he said.

Yabloko also benefits from Khodorkovsky's support, which Korgunyuk said is more important to the party this year because it no longer has the backing of Vladimir Gusinsky, who after losing NTV and the rest of Media-MOST now lives in exile.

"In 1999 [the last elections], the situation was much easier for Yabloko," he said. "Khodorkovsky paid for the party campaign and Gusinsky gave them free airtime. The party did not need any businessmen on its list to earn money at the time, but now it does."

But the presence of Yukos representatives in the next Yabloko faction is likely to hurt the party discipline Yabloko deputies have always shown when voting on important legislation, Korgunyuk said. He predicted that the political deputies will continue to show solidarity when voting, but the businessmen will go their own way.

Yabloko deputy head Sergei Mitrokhin, however, denied the Yukos representatives will change party policy. "Those deputies who represent Yukos will not influence Yabloko's policy or the way the party has always voted for important bills," he said. "It will be the same as before."

In 1994, Yabloko expelled one of its deputies, Vladimir Lysenko, because he voted against the party line. But the party later closed its eyes when Mikhail Yurev, a businessman and party sponsor who was elected on the Yabloko list in 1995, did not respect party discipline at all. In 1999, Yabloko put no businessmen on its list.

The legal assault on Yukos and arrest of Khodorkovsky in October is unlikely to hurt Yabloko at the polls, Makarkin and Korgunyuk said.

"Yabloko's electorate is human-rights oriented and those people will continue to vote for the party anyway," Makarkin said. The Yukos affair, however, will not help the party attract new voters, because those people who are most concerned about the case against Yukos already vote for Yabloko, he said.

However, leaders of Yabloko's biggest rival, the Union of Right Forces, have been more vocal in their criticism of the Yukos case, and the parties appeal to some of the same voters.

Vladimir Pribylovsky, the head of the Panorama think tank, said Yabloko has to play a careful balancing game.

"The party has to be careful," he said. "If it actively defends Yukos, it might lose that part of the electorate that opposes the reforms and does not like the oligarchs, but if it does not speak out against what is going on with the oil company, it might lose the vote of the democracy-oriented electorate."

Furthermore, he said, Yabloko finds itself in an awkward situation in that many of its democratic-oriented voters would like to see Khodorkovsky run for president in 2004, an election in which Yavlinsky plans to take part.

Pribylovsky said Yavlinsky and other party leaders also have to be careful not to annoy their detractors within the presidential administration. "If they do, the results of the elections can be modified against them and it wouldn't be too difficult to do for the Kremlin. A small modification -- let's say of two percentage points -- is enough for Yabloko not to get through."

Mitrokhin said Yabloko is not embarrassed by what has been happening to Yukos and has not changed its program or campaign "in any way."

Yabloko has 17 candidates on its federal list, which will be given the first seats won on the basis of the party vote; the rest of the candidates are on 16 regional lists.

The spots on the list above the three Yukos candidates are occupied by party stalwarts who are running for re-election. The spots below are party activists and a few small regional businessmen who are party members. They are unlikely to get into the Duma. Some incumbent Duma deputies are running for re-election in single-mandate districts.

In the last Duma, Yabloko held 17 seats after winning 5.98 percent of the vote.

Yabloko, like the Communist Party, has a stable core of support. The bulk of its electorate is composed of well-educated people who believe in democracy and a market economy but have been left behind by the changes of the past decade. Yabloko also appeals to businessmen, entrepreneurs and professionals who are well integrated in the new economic and political system and have medium-low incomes. The common thread of the Yabloko electorate is opposition to the reforms of the past 10 years and the way these reforms were carried out.


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Elections to the State Duma, 2003

The Moscow Times, December 3, 2003

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