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The Moscow Times, December 15, 2003

Liberals Got to Get Their Act Together


The liberals from Yabloko and SPS have done a lot to discredit themselves as a serious opposition force, due to their inconsistent line and refusal to criticize President Vladimir Putin's authoritarian tendencies during the parliamentary election campaign for fear of provoking the Kremlin's wrath and retribution.

The evidence is that a large section of the liberal-minded electorate chose either not to vote at all or voted against all, because they were so disillusioned or disgusted with the spinelessness and vacillation of the two parties. The liberal electorate according to various estimates is 15 percent to 20 percent.

If the leaders of Yabloko and SPS hope to salvage their parties' reputations and play any role in the March presidential election, they have two options.

Their best option is to field a single candidate who has the backbone to take Putin to task for the increasingly authoritarian direction of the regime and the dangerous concentration of power in the Kremlin.

By definition this must be someone new, someone able to inspire confidence as a genuinely independent politician. Grigory Yavlinsky, Boris Nemtsov and Irina Khakamada must step aside and rally behind someone who can carry the liberal banner forward in a way that they, with all their baggage, no longer can.

Their other option is not to put forward any candidate and in effect boycott the election as an expression of no confidence in the electoral system. This would delegitimize the election and reduce Putin's chances of winning in a first round, since turnout must exceed 50 percent for the voting to be valid.

Even if they do field a candidate, the liberals should make it quite clear that they will withdraw their candidate if the electoral process is as fundamentally rigged in favor of the powers that be as these parliamentary elections.

Not putting forward a candidate, however, could also play into the Kremlin's hands by allowing Putin to masquerade as the defender of liberal, democratic values against the likes of Vladimir Zhirinovsky or Sergei Glazyev.

But, if they play it right and put forward a strong candidate, the liberals could launch a new figure onto the political scene. Like Alexander Lebed in 1996, their candidate could have little hope of winning, but with a respectable showing he could become the leader of a liberal force to be reckoned with.

Failure to pursue one of the above options will only strengthen the view that their current predicament and consignment to the political wilderness are, above all, of their own making.


See also:

the original at

State Duma elections 2003

Presidential Elections 2004

The Moscow Times, December 15, 2003

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