#4 - JRL 7041
January 30, 2003
BATTLEFIELD BEFORE THE ELECTIONS
Changes on the right, changes on the left
Boris Nemtsov and Grigori Yavlinsky may miss their chance
Author: political scientist Valery Fedorov
[from WPS Monitoring Agency, www.wps.ru/e_index.html]
THE YEAR OF THE DUMA ELECTIONS WILL HAVE ITS OWN POLITICAL INTRIGUE. SIGNIFICANT CHANGES MAY TAKE PLACE, PRIMARILY ON THE RIGHT OF THE POLITICAL SPECTRUM - WHERE YABLOKO AND THE UNION OF RIGHT FORCES HAVE FAILED TO UNITE, AND ARE STILL OPERATING SEPARATELY.
The year of the Duma elections will have its own political intrigue. Significant changes may take place, primarily on the right of the political spectrum - where Yabloko and the Union of Right Forces have failed to unite, and are still operating separately.
Battles between favorites in the future elections are like a game (after all, the communists and centrists have different electorates, each party capable of polling 20%) - while the battle on the right is just a brawl between "political brothers". They are fighting to scale the 5% barrier, not for the Duma majority. The United Russia party is encouraged to challenge and fight the Communist Party from outside, by its supervisors; but the conflict between Yabloko and the Union of Right Forces has been initiated by the parties themselves. Centrists rely on additional votes, while the right-wing parties may eventually discover to their dismay that the brawl has cost them some Duma seats. All this raises the importance of the issue for each party, makes them deaf to the other's suggestions, and bolsters their dependence on sponsors and the authorities.
Ideological similarity results in a situation where Yabloko and the Union of Right Forces are gradually losing their voters. Similarity of the parties makes their electorates overlap and objectively leads to reduction of the electorates. It follows that electoral logic should be driving both parties to an alliance, but that is exactly what has not happened - because of Yabloko leader's political ambitions. A decade of opposing the executive branch because of encroachment on political, social, and economic rights of Russian citizens has earned Grigori Yavlinsky a small but loyal electorate. He would not share it with the Union of Right Forces or give up his image as an irreconcilable fighter and a leader of a social-oriented party. That is why Yavlinsky has been using Boris Nemtsov's suggestions of an alliance just to get concessions from the Union of Right Forces that are supposed to lead to its eventual absorption by Yabloko.
Nemtsov, in the meantime, is demonstrating more and more fierce opposition to the president - clearly jealous of Yavlinsky and expecting to scale the 5% barrier on brashness alone (brashness is one of the pet terms in the political lexicon of Union of Right Forces leaders). The aggressiveness of the Union of Right Forces irritates the presidential administration. But Yavlinsky is becoming more and more composed and constructive in his criticism of the regime, and the regime cannot help liking the change. Nemtsov tried to replace an alliance with the president by an alliance with Yabloko - but miscalculated. Yavlinsky found himself holding the whip, and would not mind discussing "integration", but only on his own terms.
As a result, the chances of a single democratic party in the future Duma are infinitesimal. Actually, even if Yabloko and the Union of Right Forces make it into the Duma independently of each other, it would be a "political miracle". That is why it is much more likely that the next Duma will include only one democratic party instead of two.
There is more to the situation on the right of the political spectrum than a problem with two parties. The situation affects the interests of the president, big business, and the new electorate - the middle class that is now forming. It is the right wing that may solve the problem of a legislative basis for Putin's modernization and (perhaps) formation of a party that may become a mechanism of setting the reforms into motion.
Yabloko has never been a party for that. Yavlinsky clings to his voters - the "aggrieved intelligentsia". The Union of Right Forces in its turn has chosen against transformation into a right-wing party of the Western type, a party of Russian neo-conservatives.
Such a party is needed. A whole stratum has appeared in Russia recently whose income already exceeded the pre-crisis level. People in this stratum do not want any subsidies from the state. What they want are conditions under which they can realize their own plans. Neither the Union of Right Forces nor Yabloko will get their votes.
...Both Nemtsov and Yavlinsky are running the risk of missing their political opportunity. Once re-elected, Putin will give new impetus to economic changes, and the United Russia party may fill the niche of the "party of modernists".