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#7 - JRL 7213
Rossiiskaya Gazeta
No. 108
June 5, 2003
[translation from RIA Novosti for personal use only]
Towards Parliamentary and Presidential Elections

In this article from a series of articles about the election chances of different parties, I will talk about Yabloko. But I will begin with an event that cannot be disregarded, a nearly unprecedented meeting of the leaders of over 40 countries organised by President Vladimir Putin in St. Petersburg. It is a reliable proof of the extremely large personal weight of Putin in the world and a dramatic growth of the prestige of Russia.

The St. Petersburg summit will strengthen Putin's rating at home, which is vital for the forthcoming presidential election campaign. I have written before that the parties' positioning with regard to Putin will be an important factor of their election tactic.

For Yabloko, which has very few internal resources, the issue of attitude to Putin and relations with him is both extremely important and highly difficult and painful. Some people consider Yabloko a social democratic party, meaning a left party but with a clearly anti-Communist tilt. Others - including Yabloko members - say (at least publicly) that the party is positioned on the right, meaning liberal and democratic wing. The anti-Communist democracy of Yabloko is apparent but its liberalism has not been proved practically or theoretically, because it is extremely fragmentary and selective.

Liberal social democrats seems to be a more or less precise political definition of Yabloko, but it offers very little ground for placing the party in the electoral palette of Russia. However, the three permanent characteristics of Yabloko fit this description very well.

Yabloko is (1) a party that stands in opposition to the authorities, (2) a party of intellectuals (which is why it is so restless) with a clear focus on human rights, and (3) a leader-dependent party (though the world "leader" does not fit Yavlinsky very well). These three features can be used as the guidelines for forecasting the electoral prospects of Yabloko.

To begin with, we will analyse the election results of Yabloko and its leader, at the previous elections, just as we did in the case of the KPRF and the LDPR.

Yabloko results at Duma elections are as follows: 7.9% (the fifth largest faction) in 1993; 6.9% (the fought largest of the Duma four factions) in 1995; and 5.9% (the fifth largest faction, with the LDPR being the sixth largest faction though its election results by party lists were better than those of Yabloko) in 1999.

Presidential elections (Yavlinsky): 7.3% (which put him fourth, while Lebed, with the third largest number of votes, got two times more votes than Yavlinsky did, and Zhirinovsky got only slightly fewer votes than the Yabloko leader did) in 1996; and 5.8% (the third largest number of votes after Putin and Zyuganov and slightly ahead of Zhirinovsky, who got 2.7% of the votes).

Like in the case of the LDPR and Zhirinovsky, the results of Yabloko and Yavlinsky are decreasing.

Grigory Yavlinsky was lucky in 1999. First, the SPS did not risk running against Putin and so Yabloko took over a part of the SPS votes. And second and most important, Primakov did not run for presidency, though many people hoped that he would. If he did, this would have reduced Yabloko winnings to a minimum.

In short, the forthcoming elections will be crucial for Yabloko and Yavlinsky, just as they will be for the LDPR. Yavlinsky can hope to get the third largest number of votes at the 2004 presidential elections. On the other hand, this result is not assured.

Yabloko's objective chances at the parliamentary elections are minor. The Russian/Soviet intelligentsia (the bulk of the party's electorate) is becoming visibly stratified, with parts of it joining the ideologically better defined communist, liberal, and nationalist poles.

Grigory Yavlinsky is generally regarded as an eternal reasoner who either does not want to or cannot master the courage to become a member of the authorities. The political class has come to think that he will never again be offered a place in power. The people increasingly believe that it would be senseless to vote for Yabloko at the parliamentary elections because they can demonstrate their personal sympathy for Yavlinsky at the presidential elections.

The once outspoken opposition stand of Yavlinsky has lost its brightness somewhat. The KPRF has become a much firmly opposition-minded party.

In short, we must regrettably conclude that Yabloko has not found its special place in Russia's Realpolitik. Consequently, it has only two chances to prolong its existence, both of which Yavlinsky tried to avoid in the past: form a secret collusion either with the Kremlin or one of the oligarchs. This would give the party a chance.

The Kremlin needs Yabloko in the State Duma as a counterbalance to the powerful KPRF and partly to the SPS, which is energetically acting behind the scenes. The oligarchs need Yabloko as a counterbalance to the Kremlin (United Russia). In fact, Grigory Yavlinsky and Mikhail Khodorkovsky seem to have formed a union, though the Kremlin has not discarded Yabloko yet. If Yavlinsky cleverly manoeuvres between the Kremlin and the oligarchs, his party will negotiate the 5% eligibility barrier.

Naturally, the smarter part of the Yabloko electorate would not like this, the more so that a union with the Kremlin is possible only on the condition that Yabloko would not criticise the president and United Russia. But these voters may come to see that in order to survive as a party (which is impossible without winning seats in the Duma), Yabloko will have to forget its principles. There are no other options.

Grigory Yavlinsky made three grave mistakes in the past. He refused to become member of the government when he was invited, which would have reinforced his public weight with the most important status in Russia, the status of a former member of the executive authority. Neither did Yavlinsky send one of Yabloko members to the executive branch when he could do this (this would have increased the party's electoral weight). And lastly, Yavlinsky did not nurture any other bright figures on the Yabloko team. He does not stand on the shoulders of giants, which decreases his own height.

On the other hand, this is how it should have been. Parties of the intelligentsia do not live long.

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