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Transitions Online, August 25, 2003

Russia: Political Correctness, Russian-Style
As the Duma election campaign begins, two non-Kremlin parties have become implacable political rivals.

By Sergei Borisov

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 they declare.


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 said.


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.




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 Irina Khakamada.


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 elections.


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.


See also:

the original at

State Duma elections 2003


Transitions Online, August 25, 2003

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