| ULYANOVSK, Russia--It was billed as the grand start to
a parliamentary election campaign that will be free of violence and dirt.
However, the formal presentation of the parties' programs, during which
they vowed not to smear opponents, seemed to presage a rough-and-tumble
campaign for seats in the Duma in December.
Some observers labeled the Elections 2003 forum, aired on two television national
channels on 22 August, as "political fiction." They claimed that the country's
two largest (state-owned) channels had given more air-time to "the party
of power," United Russia, than to all the other parties combined.
Moreover, they said that only 27 of the 43 parties who are entitled to enter the
elections signed the agreement.
One signature that was conspicuously absent was that of Yabloko, a small liberal
party that, thanks to partly to rarity value, punches above its weight.
In a statement published on 18 August, Yabloko said that its campaign would be
fair and strictly within the law. But, it said, it refused not to take
part in "ceremonies" alongside parties that do not adhere to the principles
It was a reference directed at the Union of Right Forces (SPS), another party
not directly associated with the Kremlin.
Signing any declarations when we are subject to a smear campaign and black PR
would be hypocritical, Yabloko leaders said, and there is already enough
hypocrisy in Russia.
"We already have an imitation of a parliament, democracy and judicial system,"
deputy Yabloko chair Sergei
Mitrokhin told reporters on 21 August. "Dirty elections are one of
the largest political problems, and they are causing serious damage to
the country's reputation," he added.
Mitrokhin has been the most consistent critic of SPS. He openly named three men
that Yabloko believes to be organizing the "dirty campaign." As well as
the head of the SPS's campaign effort Alfred Kokh, he fingered Anatoly
Chubais, the "father" of Russian privatization.
Mitrokhin also said the SPS had been behind billboards in Moscow that in May pictured
Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky
hugging Communist Party chief Gennady Zhuganov.
In June, Yabloko and the Communists united in a vote of no confidence against
the government. They fell 50 votes short of success.
The SPS occupies a number of senior economic posts in the government.
Mitrokhin also alleges that SPS headquarters sponsored articles in the regional
press criticizing Yabloko policies.
These are not the only recent campaigns against Yabloko. In a number ofcities,
members of a movement called "Yabloko without Yavlinsky" have demonstrated
and picketed against the "authoritarian" leader of Yabloko, Yavlinsky,
an outspoken critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin. At some of the
pickets, Yabloko said they had seen members of the SPS. None of Yabloko's
roughly 60,000 members had been involved in the demonstrations, Mitrokhin
He added he had documented materials indicating that SPS leaders had directed
the campaign against Yabloko and claimed that SPS was willing to spend
up to $5 million.
These may be more than accusations. The SPS's Kokh has said that his party has
allocated considerable sums of money to winning over Yabloko voters.
Now Yabloko itself has begun placing ads in regional press explaining thatsome
of the money they spend on electricity is being used by the monopolyelectricity
generator and supplier Unified Energy Systems (UES) to fund theSPS's campaign.
The head of UES is Anatoly Chubais, who on 19 August said that he would stand
for election to the Duma.
SPS leaders are now threatening to sue Yabloko for libel.
CHUBAIS: BOON OR BANE?
Many observers, though, believe that UES is indeed financing the SPS' selectoral
campaign. Funds could be one of the reasons that Chubais was last week
placed third on the party's list, behind party leader Boris Nemtsov and
Even if this is true, money may not be the key reason.
The party hopes that Chubais will be able to attract the votes it needs in parliamentary
The party currently has only 5 percent support, just enough to enter parliament.
Skeptics think that, as father of privatization, Chubais has made many
enemies among ordinary people. Nor have his tough methods as head of UES
endeared him. As the system of energy supply is centralized in Russia,
UES's decision to cut off supplies to non-paying factories has also made
ordinary people suffer.
However, with support for the SPS so low, the party may not need mass popularity.
Chubais's personal ratings are 8 percent, ahead of the party he helped
to found. The SPS believes that 20 million Russians have benefited from
economic reforms, and they form the party's political base.
That also highlights a question being asked about the SPS's interest inYabloko's
electorate. Surveys suggest Yabloko supporters disliked the methods of
Russia's economic reform.
Yabloko's leaders are certainly highly critical of Chubais, suggesting at the
end of the year that Chubais publicly recant for the failings of the1990s
and leave the SPS. Yavlinsky has constantly criticized Chubais for his
"savage" privatization, which resulted in the impoverishment of many people
and a disenchantment with democracy.
Kokh, the SPS's campaign head, was one of Chubais's men during the privatization.
In 2001 he spearheaded the Gazprom takeover of independent NTV television.
Among those who believe that Chubais's inclusion on the SPS's party list will
harm it is the speaker of the Duma Gennady Seleznyov, a member of the Communist
Party. He told reporters on 21 August that "this decision istant amount
to suicide. Chubais will not only not save the SPS, he will help it to
usher it quickly off the political scene."
There are some indications of fatigue in the battle between the SPS and Yabloko,
which some believe could leave both parties with less than the 5 percent
they need to enter the Duma and save themselves politically.
SPS leader Boris Nemtsov spoke in a conciliatory spirit on 24 August.
As well as denying any campaign against Yabloko, Nemtsov said that in hisview
disagreements between the two parties could only hurt them, as voters are
not interested in this quarrel.
All the disputes should be resolved in open public discussion, Nemtsov said. "Caprice,
resentment, and complaints" are counter productive, Nemtsov argued.
Nemtsov cited the decision by Yabloko and the SPS not to stand against each other
in single-mandate constituencies in St. Petersburg as an example of the
two parties being able to rise above their differences.
Why they seem unable to do so at national level he did not say.
the original at
State Duma elections 2003
YABLOKO and SPS