PARTIES AND POLITICIANS ARE DOING ELECTION RECONNAISSANCE: THE POLITICAL SEASON IS OVER – LONG LIVE THE NEW POLITICAL SEASON!

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Spring session of the Senate is over; and, by tradition, the political season has also ended. However, at present it is difficult to speak of political calm in Russia. Nonetheless, experts, politicians, and party officials are summing up results, which are not very encouraging.

The Vremya MN paper wrote reproachfully on the threshold of Duma vacations that the lower house of parliament worked in an awful rush last days before vacations, “Laws that are to determine the fate of the country were mechanically produced one by one.” As a result, many laws were passed without a thorough working out. The paper also cited Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky, who said that the quality of the Russian legislation that raises great criticism from qualified lawyers keeps falling. A flood of governmental bills that had been saved for the end of the session entirely disorganized the work of the Duma. Besides, Russian regions have in fact been withdrawn from the legislative process although they have a “legal right to make conclusions about bills and make amendments in them.”

In short, Vremya MN writes, the Cabinet uses all possible methods to squeeze through the bills it needs: “Time limits are ignored if necessary. Copies of bills may be distributed on the day of the debate, although they ought to be provided at least three days beforehand. A number of Duma amendments made by special committees during preliminary work disappear without a trace.”

Moreover, the fate of almost all bills is in fact determined by the leaders of four centrist Duma factions, while remaining Duma deputy formations are most of the time “out of game”: the Kremlin and the government are not interested in their opinion.

As Grigory Yavlinsky says, “this complete profanation of lawmaking and its transformation into an absurd farce is a result of efforts of the presidential administration to gain total control in the Duma.”

As a Duma deputy explained to Vremya MN, the Cabinet uses very simple ways to make the Duma obedient: current members of parliament have been promised places on in party lists for the next elections. Although only about 10-15% of the current members have a chance of winning in the next election, the stimulus works very well.

Political parties are also making various efforts to expand their election capacities. Recently the United Russia party enlarged its ranks at the expense of various public formations, in particular, creative unions of composers, architects, and even circus artists.

According to the Izvestia paper, the party expected leader of the union of circus artists, world-famous magician and wonder-worker Emil Kio to work some magic tricks while signing an agreement with the party; for instance to pull out of Andrei Isaev’s pocket an endless red ribbon. However, Mr. Kio was very serious: according to him, creative unions are extremely interested in lobbying their professional interests, mostly with regional authorities. Unfortunately, the level of civilization of regional authorities is so low that artists do not rely on their support of different cultural programs and projects without a pressure from the top.

It is clear why the party of power needs public organizations, including OPORA, which united representatives of small and medium-size businesses. There are about 80,000 public organizations in Tver, many of them have a well-developed network of regional and local branches, which overall equal the number of Communist Party members. Meanwhile, the United Russia will be in bad need of activists for working in regions in the year of elections.

According to Aleksei Tsaredvortsev, a leader of the United Russia, this new electorate can be used as a “driving belt from the society to the party.”

The Novaya Gazeta paper said sarcastically in these terms, “This must be present political strategists’ image of ruled democracy – instead of total control of ‘bolts’ there will be an era of total control of ‘driving belts’.”

Meanwhile, Nezavisimaya Gazeta informed, the United Russia party has a rival now. Last Saturday, the constituent congress of the Russian Party of Life took place. Journalists call the party the most exotic project of the year.

The core of the new party is a public formation “Will of Petersburg”, which is headed by Speaker of the Federation Council Sergei Mironov; by the way, the latter was mentioned as a guest at the congress. His compatriot Nikolai Levichev is one of seven co-chairs of the party.

After the congress the journalists were perplexed. First, because the aims of the new party hardly differ from the objectives of the United Russia: both aim at strengthening of the state. As for the economic position of the party, the Party of Life also intends to search for a balance “between market and social fairness.”

At the same time, founders of the new party consider their know-how construction of the party “from below”: it is formed of commonwealth of public (again!) organizations. This time Russian branches of Red and Green Crosses, women’s unions, and so on. Apparently, there is no originality here.

Ideology of the new party is far from being unique either: according to Levichev the party is to protect “needs of ordinary citizens” as no one but the president is concerned about them. In these terms, the Party of Life hopes to become a support for the head of the state.

As Nezavisimaya Gazeta noted about it, it is unclear how the twp parties of power plan to participate in 2003 elections as one of them will inevitably take away votes of another. As for uniting with the Party of Life, it is most unlikely in the near future: members of Sergei Shoigu’s party have hardly got over the previous shock.

However, Nezavisimaya Gazeta cites words of Gleb Pavlovsky, who is convinced that currently the main war is for “getting into Putin’s elections pool”.

Experts, whom the Izvestia paper asked to comment on establishment of the new party are rather skeptical. Head of the Merkator grouping Dmitry Oreshkin thinks that the party will have prospects only if “key players are discontent with some centrist leaders”. From the standpoint of electors, all centrists structures hardly differ from one another and are “simply various clans of officials”.

Director of the Center for Political Conjuncture Valery Fedorov thinks that it is impossible to compete with the United Russia as “Too many resources were put on the altar of transforming this formation into the main party of Putin’s era.”

Fedorov states that rivals of the United Russia can be a success only if they decide to fight for the right-wing electorate, the so-called “voters of tomorrow”. The Union of Right Forces and Yabloko, which have to some extent lost their potential, may become convenient rivals for the Party of Life.

Director of the foundation Center for political Researches and Consulting Andrei Fedorov is more optimistic. As he said to journalists, “Evidently, the Party of Life is directly connected with the president. People, who are developing this project are not from nowhere, they all origin from St. Petersburg. That is why the project may become unexpectedly successful.”

The trump card of founders of the project is creation of the party “that will meet the standards of the new phase of the country – the phase of Putin.” Such a brand is to be very popular on the threshold of the elections.

However, the right wing does not intend to share its electorate with any formations. According to latest polls of the All-Russia Center for Public Opinion Research (VTsIOM), popularity rating of the Union of Right Forces grew up to 7%. Besides, right wing leaders discovered an interesting way to attract attention of regional party bosses, whose chances for being elected deputies through party lists in 2003 considerably increase.

The Moskovskie Novosti weekly analyzes in detail this new method: now any activist of the Union of Right Forces will have to participate in the work of a regional organization of the party in order to be elected to the Duma in accordance with the party list. If the leadership considers the work of an activist inefficient, he is to be replaced with the next activist from the list. That is why, all candidates from the Union of Right Forces will have to write beforehand an undated application about rejection their deputy’s authorities. Moskovskie Novosti remind that second candidates on the list are, as a rule, local organizers of election campaign.

However, the weekly makes a reservation, so far the system which could interest regional party members had just been declared. And it is not clear yet whether it will remain attractive when lists are being formed.

There is even a more complicated issue, which concerns Boris Nemtsov’s idea about promoting a united right wing leader at the presidential elections basing on results of parliamentary elections. Moskovskie Novosti writes, “The Union of Right Forces seems to be serious about competing with incumbent president.” The weekly writes that even if other right wing parties, such as Yabloko, do not agree to support the Union of Right Forces in its initiative, the liberals believe it is their duty to promote their candidate at the presidential elections, “Otherwise, the authorities will no longer consider us a serious opponent.”

Nemtsov thinks despite all difficulties in negotiations with Yabloko, it is vitally important to come to agreement with them, “If there is a single candidate from liberal parties, it will become a signal for the society that democrats have finally united. Even if such a candidate is third at the elections, the head of the state will have to take his opinion into consideration, which means that the president will be unable to form the government without participation of the right wing.”

Obviously that Boris Nemtsov is not very exited about prospects to become a third, he is not very willing to participate in an apparently lost action.

Nonetheless, Nemtsov insists that voters must have a choice, which would determine democratic vector of further development of the country. There is an alternative, and Nemtsov stresses that it is important not to allow Russia to descend to nationalist socialism after Putin’s presidency. Traditional left wing opposition will be unable to keep the attention of the audience, the Communists are “degrading and disappearing”. At the same time, the Union of Right Forces leader warns, the number of destitute citizens in Russia is still the same, “”Who do they vote for? Who do they follow? The whole world history proves that if they vote not for communists they descend to nationalist socialism.”

From the standpoint of the Vlast magazine, “having privatized a fashionable idea of uniting all democratic forces in Russia, the Union of Right Forces evidently decided to have a cheap but loud PR action at the expense of the Yabloko party.”

In fact, this seems to be a case when it is impossible to find an optimal decision: this way or that, Grigory Yavlinsky is to lose this game. If he refuses to unite, he will confirm his reputation of a person, who thinks only of his personal ambitions. However, if he agrees to unite, he will have to retrieve to shade, as the Union of Right Forces will inevitably enjoy all popularity.

However, Vlast thinks, there is another option: Nemtsov’s initiative may cost a pretty penny to its author. If Yabloko maximally mobilizes its regional network, which is equal to that of the Union of Right Forces, it will be able to receive at least 0.5% more than the Union of Right Forces at the parliamentary elections. Then, Nemtsov will have to support Yavlinsky at the presidential elections.

At the same time, there is no unanimity in the Union of Right Forces concerning uniting with other right wing parties. As famous right wing politician Arkady Murashov said in his interview with the magazine, the position of co-chairs of the Union of Right Forces, Gaidar and Chubais, think that “at the presidential elections it is necessary to openly support Vladimir Putin instead of acting like small children”.

Vlast also cites a statement of another member of the party, “Boris Nemtsov is acting like an upstart, and he is trying to use this trick with Yavlinsky in order to accustom everyone on the party that he is the only candidate for president from the party.”

Besides, the magazine believes, the only chance for Nemtsov to gain some scores is to “escape from his image of Putin’s appendage and to become at least outwardly opposing before the elections.” At the same time, main supporter of the Union of Right Forces and head of the Russian Joint Energy Systems (RJES) Anatoly Chubais most unlikely likes Nemtsov’s criticism of the president. Chubais’ main objective is reform of the Russian energy system and there are more than enough issues here, “Before the end of the spring session the State Duma postponed consideration of the issue until the fall.”

From the standpoint of Vremya MN Observer Leonid Radzikhovsky, after the famous question of Vladimir Putin to the leadership of the RJES concerning their intention to increase energy rates in order to receive means for liquidation of consequences of the flood in the south of Russia, “Are you the smartest or the most cynical?”, Chubais began to annoy the president. According to Radzikhovsky, the reason is not the rumor that Chubais intends to support Mikhail Kasianov at the presidential elections or to become Putin’s rival. There is no doubt that Putin is to remain the president until 2008. The question is whether he is to have real power.

Leonid Radzikhovsky writes, “The issue of Chubais is that he is a central player of the team that surrounds Putin and they “support” the president so ardently that they actually tighten his arms.” So the reason of the presidential annoyance is not Chubais but the head of the Family and his statements in Belarus.

When this “old weapon” made his speech in Belarus, Putin had to react. He showed his first reaction at the traditional summer press conference, however, it did not impress anyone properly. As Radzikhovsky noted, a “cold polite shower is a bad remedy for Yeltsin and his Family.”

According to the author, Yeltsin knows all secret mainsprings that create the present stability of the power: a group of tycoons plus a group of politicians, who are still connected with Yeltsin. This means that the Family is currently a second power center in the country. As long as this center exists, Putin has to take it into account.

Observer of Vremya MN thinks that the problems of the Union of Right Forces is its involvement in the Family: this liberal party was born due to the “wildest and turmoil period of Yeltsin’s feudalism.” According to Leonid Radzikhovsky, this is the explanation for “constant nostalgia of the Union of Right Forces about its ‘happy childhood in Yeltsin’s times’ and of feudal arbitrariness of that time, which they consider to be an example of democracy and freedom of speech.” Radzikhovsky wrote in the paper, “Putin’s divorce with the Family became inevitable,” Viktor Linnik wrote in the Slovo weekly.

For some time after having been elected the president Putin honestly observed all conditions of the concluded transaction: he treated Yeltsin with piety and kept his eyes closed on corruption and arbitrariness of the Family. However, time flew but the situation did not change, “Yeltsin acted as if he left Kremlin for a week or two.” Besides, Putin paid a very high price for that transaction with Yeltsin: it was difficult to consider Putin an independent figure. And in fact, opposition between the Family and St. Petersburgers have become the essence of Putin’s first presidency.

The fight for power constantly leaks to the media: some periodicals disclose Chubais and his reform, other report on a criminal case instituted in France against Sergei Pugachev.

So Viktor Linnik concludes, this fight cannot prevent Putin from reelection but at the same time it “prolongs the present stupor of the power.”

Moskovskie Novosti wrote that apparently participants of the fight have no doubts that money, election techniques, and administrative resources are to bring success to developing election campaign. No one thinks of wishes and needs of voters, “They are perceived not as partners or a subject, but as an object for manipulation and influencing.”

Of course it is possible to win elections this way. However, as a result, there will never be normal cooperation between the power and the society.

Judging by results of researches, about 80% of Russians do not realize what kind of a state is being created at present and what is the goal of the country. However, presumably President Putin and his team are aware of this goal. Judging by everything, this is a major reason for Putin’s high popularity rating. However, Moskovskie Novosti stresses that a real long-term strategy should not be created and implemented without the awareness and conscious participation of the citizenry. There cannot be a reform strategy until the political elite changes its ideas about the people.

So Leonid Radzikhovsky seems to be right when he states that opposition between “Putin’s team” and the Family is currently “a substitute for democracy, division of powers, and civil society.” We are most unlikely to have anything more in the near future.

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