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#15 - JRL 7016
Nezavisimaya Gazeta
January 13, 2003
Parties grow out of all proportion on the eve of the parliamentary election
Author: Maksim Glikin
[from WPS Monitoring Agency, www.wps.ru/e_index.html]



An analysis of the popularity of political parties based on the numbers of active Russian citizens that joined them and on the statistical data provided by the political structures themselves leaves observers with a paradoxical picture. Judging by these figures, millions of Russians already resolved to join political parties. Along with that, Yabloko and the Union of Right Forces, whose initiatives are always in the focus of public attention, are the least voluminous. Not so the ever so quiet agrarians, who did not even join protest marches when the law on land was adopted. According to the figures they provide, the Agrarian Party is swelling fast. It goes without saying that United Russia is the leader here. On the other hand, its administrative resource throughout the country appears to be considerably less effective than Vladimir Zhirinovsky's charisma. If he were to be believed, there are long lines for membership in the LDPR. This newspaper made an attempt to study how self-evaluation of party leaders correlates with hard facts of life.

Mass nature of political parties is viewed nowadays almost as the only and principal indicator of success in party construction. It appears, however, that party construction is only getting into high gear. In any case, our simple question concerning the number of activists in this or that political party never failed to catch party functionaries unprepared. With rare exceptions, heads of PR departments could not give an immediate and straightforward answer. "Who are you, the Federal Security Service?" a PR specialist of the People's Party asked this correspondent. An official request had to be sent, and the answer appeared a week later. Activists of Zhirinovsky's party were even more reluctant to give exact figures. It turned out afterwards that they did not have anything to be ashamed of. Judging by the official data provided by the LDPR apparatus, this is the largest political party in Russia.

These strange delays with a pretty routine matter make one wonder whether perhaps political parties keep several books at once - one for the media, another for the Justice Ministry, and still another for party leaders and activists themselves. Functionaries of United Russia were jittery when this correspondent approached, in such a way as to leave the impression that this particular party keeps a fourth book as well - for reports to its supervisors from Staraya Square.

Political parties did more or less okay with their numerical strength, but other questions were met with something resembling outright hostility. The Union of Right Forces, for example, refused to reveal data on how many regional organizations it has throughout the country. Other political structures admitted that they had not yet begun to issue party cards. In the meantime, a party card is the only reliable evidence showing that this or that person is really an activist of some political structure. This is the opinion of communists and agrarians, where all 100% of members are supposed to have party cards. From this point of view, United Russia has five times fewer members that it claims to have. And 20 times fewer than it would like to have. There was the plan to bring membership in the party to one million by the end of 2002. That means one percent of all voters in Russia. United Russia failed. It is actually understandable. Its supervisors in high places do not let the party get carried away too much when reporting membership figures. Life is much easier for the LDPR, agrarians, and the People's Party in this respect.

There is a structure in Russia which is supposed to have exact figures on membership in political parties. The matter concerns the Justice Ministry. It includes a whole department, whose officials tally declared memberships in political parties against the true state of affairs. Too large a difference is grounds for refusal to register the party. According to department head Galina Fokina, not a single application for registration has ever been turned down for that particular reason. It is a wholly different matter that the lists forwarded to the Justice Ministry have figures dozens of times smaller than the ones mentioned for the benefit of the media: the 10,000 member barrier has to be scaled. The LDPR is a leader again: its self- evaluation is 50 times above the officially logged parameters. The difference between statement and legally recognized reality is the smallest in the Union of Right Forces, Yabloko, and Party of Life.

As a matter of fact, it is not that easy to compile 10,000 surnames with passport data in an initiative for a new party. "There are special structures established on the basis of former parties and financial pyramids. They do not advertise themselves, but if you know the right people, just pay and they will give you a brand-new party," says Valery Khomyakov. A member of the Political Council of the Union of Right Forces, he participated in establishment of a lot of movements in his time. "There was a time when these structures had brand-new movements for sale for between $4,000 and $5,000. Pay the sum and you get the charter for a new movement a month later and the registration certificate in another month's time. The same applies to political parties nowadays, but they cost $200,000. Rank and file members should be paid, or they tend to forget which party they belong to. After that, you can run in elections and enlist services of prominent figures..."

Only a glance at the provinces will reveal which party exists in real life and which only on paper. Our correspondent Yuri Chuvashev reports that 23 regional organizations of federal political parties are registered in Krasnoyarsk. Only three of them genuinely have organizations - the communists, United Russia, and the Agrarian Party. All the rest have what amount to and resemble obscure clubs. And that is how residents of Krasnoyarsk view them.

There are over 40 political parties in Russia, but nobody can say what parties of the 21st century should be like. Textbook parties of the masses as in the 20th century, or compact structures, heavily relying on financial sources and on the media. United Russia faced this problem too. Judging by the charter adopted when two centrist structures merged, United Russia leaders leaned towards a compact party at first. Hence the unique requirement, for example, that every new appointee should be given fully-fledged membership only at the central apparatus in Moscow, no matter where he or she actually resided. It would have made United Russia a kind of an exclusive club rather than a party of the masses. In the long run, however, party construction reverted to the old principles and procedures. The same is true for all other organizations. All of that results in the situation in which a lot of parties may get a nasty surprise at the elections, polling fewer votes than what the data on membership led them to believe they would.

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