CAMPAIGN OVERTURE: PARTY GAMES AGAINST THE BACKDROP OF TWO CREEPING COUPS

0
13

“There is no such thing as a friend during an election campaign.” That was the slogan Boris Nemtsov used as an ornament for his speech at the Union of Right Forces (URF) pre-campaign congress; and he immediately supported it with some descriptions of his party’s rivals in the upcoming elections.

Nemtsov described the Communist Party (CPRF) as “the party of Lenin, Stalin, and Zyuganov”; United Russia as “the party of stagnation”; and the LDPR as “an entity that has transformed politics into business.”

As for Yabloko, the URF’s neighbor on the right, Nemtsov noted that both parties share the same ancestry, but the “offspring” have turned out different.

Just to make everything perfectly clear, the URF leader set out his party’s position on the main topic of recent political debates: “Forget about redistribution of property or revising the outcomes of privatization – that wouldn’t make anybody richer, other than the people from you-know-which-city.”

Journalists were clearly interested in what the URF had to say. None of the papers missed Nemtsov’s Stolypin quote: “The active and sober must be represented in the Duma, not only the drunk and lazy.” In keeping with the rules of the genre, this was followed by speeches from some “active and sober” people: Duma deputy speaker Irina Khakamada; Yegor Gaidar, whom the Americans have just invited to Iraq as a specialist in restoring the economies of totalitarian states; and the URF’s main sensation – the third name on its electoral list – Anatoly Chubais.

Nezavisimaya Gazeta notes that when Chubais got up to speak, his very first words – “I have been silent for a long time” – drew a storm of applause. Thus, many in the audience simply didn’t hear the rest of that sentence: “I have been silent because I was working on two tasks of strategic importance to the nation: it was necessary to avert a catastrophe in the electricity sector, and carry out comprehensive reforms there.”

The rest of Chubais’s speech fully complied with the recommendations of analysts who have been advising the URF for a long time to identify itself strongly as a defender of business, rather than being distracted by attempts to attract support from the undiscerning “swamp” majority of the electorate – who are incapable of appreciating the URF’s occasional democratic “bows” in their direction anyway.

Chubais’s speech was precisely in this tone: “All the reforms – past and present – are ours, all the ideas are ours. Yes, we raised prices in 1991. But thanks to that, there’s a full assortment of goods in stores these days, even in Uriupinsk. Yes, we arranged the default; but that was what provided the driving force for the development of our economy.”

Now, according to Chubais, “a full-scale political battle is shaping up in Russia – or, to put it simply, a good fight.” And Chubais could not deny himself the pleasure of participating in such an event.

He went on to develop Nemtsov’s thesis about there being no friends during elections. After acknowledging that United Russia is a brother-party for the URF (since “it includes many friends of the URF”), Chubais still fired a Parthian shot at those “brothers”, saying: “We can see how deeply and wholeheartedly they love President Putin. That’s good. But this is not the regime’s first party.” Neither is it the regime’s only party, or its last party, added Chubais; and on the topic of how deeply the centrists love the regime, he recalled a famous quote from Viktor Chernomyrdin. When Chernomyrdin was prime minister, he once said to Samara Governor Konstantin Titov: “See the long strands of hair over my bald spot, Kostya? It was you who licked them into place!”

Against this vivid backdrop, the pre-campaign congresses of other parties appeared more modest; however, they weren’t entirely without interesting issues either. According to the papers, the main intrigue for the Communist Party (CPRF) has been the return of Gennadi Semigin to its federal electoral list.

When Semigin was nominated, instead of the unknown and harmless St. Petersburg entrepreneur Alexander Afanasiev, Nezavisimaya Gazeta observer Anatoly Kostiukov says: “Zyuganov’s team realized that Semigin’s nomination had been stage-managed, and extremely well at that. The goal of those behind it was to take a bite out of Gennadi Zyuganov.”

And that goal was achieved, despite someone among the delegates discovering a shocking omission in the federal electoral list – it doesn’t include a single worker! However, even an attempt to correct the situation by bringing out the “heavy artillery” – nominating Vasily Ivanovich Shandybin – proved unsuccessful. As Nezavisimaya Gazeta noted, “The stage-management was indeed done very well.”

A member of the CPRF central committee commented on Semigin’s return as follows: “This is the work of Kuptsov and Potapov.”

Valentin Kuptsov is Zyuganov’s senior deputy, and Sergei Potapov is the CPRF’s secretary for organizational work. According to the sources of Nezavisimaya Gazeta, it was they who organized the congress and shaped the selection of delegates to their liking – “since they have always supported Semigin in his conflicts with Zyuganov, while Kuptsov is fundamentally dissatisfied with his position in the party and never misses a chance to take a swing at the leader.”

So the CPRF electoral list has ended up without a single worker. However, as the Vedomosti newspaper reports, it does include two “delegates” from the YUKOS oil company: former chairman of the board Sergei Muravlenko, and Alexei Kondaurov, head of YUKOS-Moskva, the company’s analysis division.

There are also some YUKOS representatives on the Yabloko electoral list. According to Yabloko deputy chairman Sergei Mitrokhin, YUKOS is represented by: Konstantin Kagalovsky, president of the Open Economy Institute; Galina Antonova, director of the YUKOS campaign department; and Alexander Osovtsev, director of the Open Russia project. The Kommersant newspaper has identified yet another YUKOS representative: Deputy Finance Minister Mikhail Motorin.

In his opening speech at the Yabloko pre-campaign congress, party leader Grigori Yavlinsky declared that Yabloko stands for “orderly, but persistent and tough, demolition of the oligarchic system” (quoted in the Gazeta newspaper). Curiously enough, the main effort within the framework of this program, according to Yavlinsky, is “defending the political system against mega-corporations.”

As Kommersant points out, Yavlinsky’s speech was evidently not aimed at like-minded people; it was aimed at President Putin, although Putin had not sent a greetings telegram to Yabloko’s congress.

Nevertheless, Yavlinsky found it necessary to stress that Yabloko should be considered “the only democratic party” in Russia at present. What’s more, Yabloko claims that things have always been this way: to spite “some people who call themselves democrats” but have spent the past decade “sharing out the Kremlin, jobs, and pipelines.”

Despite all the warnings from the Central Electoral Commission (CEC) about the ban on campaign advertising and even opinion poll results, the papers are continuing to publish election forecasts not only from well-known political analysts, but politicians as well.

The analysts are mostly in agreement: the Vremya Novostei newspaper even published average figures for election results, based on the predictions of many analysts: 27% of the vote for the CPRF, 23.6% for United Russia, 9.2% for the LDPR, 6.25% for Yabloko, and 6% for the URF.

The other parties, according to the analysts polled by Vremya Novostei, will fail to cross the 5% threshold; but they are entirely capable of influencing the election outcome.

Valery Fedorov, director of the Russian Political Situation Center, says the Communists may well have problems due to the fact that left-wing voters are being targetted not only by the Glaziev-Rogozin leftist-patriotic bloc, but Seleznev’s party as well, and the People’s Party led by Raikov. Fedorov says: “The only thing that could help the CPRF is a low voter turnout: the higher the turnout, the worse for the CPRF; so it is reasonable to expect that the Communists will try to discredit the elections completely.”

Dmitri Oreshkin, head of the Merkator Group, believes that the results for United Russia will depend on the outcome of the power-struggle at the top between “the enforcers” and “the oligarchs”. Oreshkin says: “The second group is seeking to destroy the oligarchic structures and build its own; it is backing the People’s Party and the Party of Life; and it is trying to make the situation explosive. If it succeeds, United Russia will be worse off.”

Political analyst Yuri Solozobov believes that the inertia scenario for the election campaign could break down “due to people taking aim at the presidential election of 2004.” And it is likely to be broken down by United Russia itself. In that event, Solozobov predicts that United Russia would only get 10-12% of the vote, while the Communists would win with 35%.

Igor Bunin, director of the Political Techniques Center, says the CPRF will be more conservative in this election campaign than it has been in the past: “The question is to what extent the conservative trends in the Communist Party will reduce its share of the vote. If they reduce it a lot, it could fall to 22-23%; if not, it will remain around 27-30%.”

And so on, and so forth; every analyst has a different opinion.

Responses from politicians are more straightforward: each party leader predicts a stunning triumph for himself and his party.

Gennadi Zyuganov told Vremya Novostei that he considers the CPRF’s current 27-28% voter support rating to be only a starting position: “Providing there is a normal campaign and honest vote-counting, we will get the support of very many people.” According to Zyuganov, 80% of voters are dissatisfied with United Russia’s policies, and United Russia won’t be able to do anything about that: “They have nothing to offer the public, so they’re offering Putin.” However, Zyuganov said nothing about whom the CPRF might offer as an alternative to Putin.

Valery Bogomolov, secretary of the United Russia party’s general council, commented in a similar vein: “As secretary of the general council, it would be ridiculous for me to say that any other party will defeat us. We believe that we are certain to win this race and secure a parliamentary majority; the president will be able to make a well-founded and confident selection of people for government bodies from the ranks of our party.” As they say, there are no questions here.

Vladimir Zhirinovsky claims that the CPRF, United Russia, and the LDPR will get 30% of the vote each in these elections. However, by the time of the next parliamentary elections, United Russia will “absorb” the CPRF, and only two major parties will remain in Russia: the pro-regime party and the oppositional LDPR. It will happen, says Zhirinovsky: “All is well in the LDPR. The whole country knows who we are and loves us. We recently did a tour on our campaign train – people were throwing themselves at us, kissing our hands and feet.” The LDPR could secure the controlling package of votes in the Duma even now, “if single-mandate districts were abolished.”

Boris Nemtsov said: “The URF started out in the previous election cycle, in 1999, with a voter support rating of 1%; but we got 8.5% of the vote. Now we have a voter support rating of 5%. It’s not hard to calculate that all will be well this time.” The URF is quite certain that it has a social support base (those “active and sober” people): “They are educated and progressive people, thinking people; there are millions of them in Russia, and they must be represented in the Duma.”

Only Grigori Yavlinsky was somewhat more cautious: “This autumn will see various events that could influence the situation very strongly, one way or another. Back in spring, political analysts were saying that the outcome was already clear, even naming percentages of the vote for each party. But by summer, opinion polls had started showing something entirely unexpected.” Actually, Yavlinsky believes that Yabloko could get either 7% or 12% of the vote: “A great deal depends on how our campaign goes.”

Campaign participants, observers, and even organizers have all warned many times that unexpected developments may arise in the course of the election campaign. CEC chairman Alexander Veshnyakov has told the media on more than one occasion that “these elections will not be boring.” And the other day, the chorus of warnings issued by many articles in various papers was joined by Gleb Olegovich Pavlovsky himself, head of the Effective Policy Foundation and advisor to the head of the presidential administration.

First of all, several websites published a report compiled by Pavlovsky, with the title “On the negative consequences of this summer’s attack by the minority opposing the Russian president’s policies.”

This report, described by its author as a working memo, says that a kind of “parallel center of governance” has arisen in Russia, and it’s attempting to carry out a “creeping coup.” Following the report, Pavlovsky elaborated on his warnings in a number of articles and interviews.

Pavlovsky told Nezavisimaya Gazeta (in an article headlined “Pavlovsky discovers a new State of Emergency Committee”) that the new center of governance is led by “some high-ranking Kremlin officials with support from the security structures and certain major corporations.”

Pavlovsky told Ekspert magazine (in an article headline “The Brother III”) that the main goal of this “new systemic elite” is “to carry out a redistribution of property in its own favor and a sweeping replacement of the elites at the federal and regional levels.” Simultaneously, a new ideology is being developed, one which could help the “new oligarchy” retain power. The president’s role would be reduced to “constantly supporting the new oligarchy, as a hostage of its actions.”

Pavlovsky stressed in an interview with Profil magazine that the plotters of the “creeping coup” are also collecting keys to the Duma elections, of course. He said: “One of the keys is the People’s Party, which thus far has been acting so awkwardly that it’s repelling urban voters who are Putin supporters. There are also attempts to recruit the Party of Life. It’s too early to say how successful these party politics intrigues may be. However, it’s clear that the group’s immediate objective is to prevent a concentration of the majority around the center-right policy agenda of United Russia.”

Indeed, the People’s Party is trying to outdo United Russia on all fronts; and it’s true that its efforts are clumsy. However, it does have flair.

In any event, as Vedomosti reports, even before the start of the official election campaign (that is, before the ban on campaign advertising that will only be lifted on November 7, thirty days before voting day) the People’s Party had spent more on television advertising than any other party ($3.5 million, mostly for prime time slots). United Russia was pushed into second place, spending $2.7 million. The well-off URF was third with $2.1 million.

However, the most curious thing is that the URF turned out to have the highest volume of advertising on national and network television. And political analysts say the URF could reap the greatest rewards; since, according to the GfK marketing research institute, around a third of URF supporters decide to vote for that party at the very last minute – and as everyone knows, advertising is aimed precisely at those “spontaneous” voters.

As Nezavisimaya Gazeta points out, Pavlovsky’s “working memo” seems to be a symmetric response to the well-publicized report written by political analysts Stanislav Belkovsky and Iosif Diskin, which described a “creeping oligarchic coup.” Thus, says Nezavisimaya Gazeta, the ongoing confrontation between two Kremlin factions and their allied financial groups – colloquially known as “the people from St. Petersburg” and “Yeltsin’s Family” – has emerged into the open.

When asked why he has decided to come out with his warnings right at this particular time, Pavlovsky explained that the danger associated with the coup he has detected has increased greatly with the start of the parliamentary election campaign, “which always includes objectives and some elements of the presidential campaign.” Thus, as Pavlovsky emphasizes, “a real, overt threat of disloyalty to the basic political projects of the Putin administration has arisen.”

Besides, the oppositional group “has itself come out into the open – although acting through others; it has placed articles in the regional media – articles of a very leftist-populist nature, inciting class discord in Russia and destroying consolidation.”

Nezavisimaya Gazeta offered Stanislav Belkovsky the opportunity to comment on Pavlovsky’s statements. Rather condescendingly, he noted that Pavlovsky has said such things before: “He has spent a number of years promoting an image for himself as the person who brought Putin to power. Now it seems he has an urgent need to revive that image, especially since campaign contracts for political consultants are being distributed.”

Novaya Gazeta has commented on Pavlovsky’s warnings in an article headlined “The Family takes up the ‘junta’s’ challenge” – doing a kind of stylistic analysis of Pavlovsky’s laments, and detecting a note of sincerity.

Novaya Gazeta also recalled that Pavlovsky has addressed the public and the regime with some frightening predictions in the past: “However, every time, he has expressed his thoughts in such obscure and convoluted ways that even people with three university degrees had trouble getting though the fog of his reasoning… That thick fog has dispersed over time, and all the predictions of doom along with it.”

But now this has changed: “Perhaps for the first time, Gleb Pavlosky, loyal defender of ‘Family’ values, has penned a call to resist the aggressor in such coherent, simple prose. It seems his patrons are seriously scared this time.”

Novaya Gazeta considers that Pavlovsky’s new manifesto is not a pre-election attempt to confuse the public at all: rather, “this is a declaration of war.” The Moscow old guard is finally fed up with the attacks of the newcomers from St. Petersburg.

None of the previous events had prompted the Voloshin faction of the presidential administration to intervene: not the many politically-motivated arrests with their obvious violations of the Criminal Code, not the destruction of private companies by crude state interference, not the shutdown of NTV. Novaya Gazeta says: “They were only prompted to intervene when Ivanov and Sechin displaced Voloshin and Surkov from Putin’s ear, and the emboldened opponents started a campaign of arrests aimed at big business.” Only then did the “cynical political consultant” from the Kremlin’s pool decide to tell the truth. Even so, says Novaya Gazeta, he hasn’t told the whole truth: “Our ‘junta’ isn’t trying to replace the state. It has taken shape from the start as part of the regime. Sechin, Ivanov, Ustinov, Zaostrovtsev, Bukatin – if they’re not the state, then Pavlovsky isn’t from Odessa.”

Actually, Novaya Gazeta does give Pavlovsky his due: “Apart from journalists, almost nobody has ventured to speak out against the violence and license brought into contemporary political practice by the security and law enforcement agencies and the entrepreneurs from a military or security background. Pavlovsky’s manifesto is at least a form of taking action.”

And the Vedomosti newspaper even called Pavlovsky “The Stormy Petrel.”

In his report, says Vedomosti, Pavlovsky sets out “all the major phobias of the Yeltsin-era oligarchy in relation to 2004-08: the period when ‘the chekists’ are expected to do all they can to seize their historical opportunity and become the new rulers.”

The threat in this scenario to the present oligarchs is obvious; but it appears that “the Yeltsin era oligarchs’ lobby group no longer has power over the security and law enforcement agencies.”

We can argue ourselves hoarse, says Vedomosti, over what may happen to the oligarchs after 2004, once Putin has announced his new agenda; “but it’s clear that the preconditions for conclusively checkmating the oligarchs have been created.” And the question of whether they will be checkmated is entirely up to the president’s will.

Here, of course, there could be some unexpected developments. As Yezhenedelnyi Zhurnal points out, the president’s policies have their own logic: “he can never be pinned down, his statements can always be interpreted in many ways, he cleverly refrains from spelling out his opinion on any truly vital issues.” As Pavlovsky himself says, this is precisely what enables Putin “to remain the curator of the truly national project.” Or, in simple terms, a president for all Russian citizens.

However, as Pavlovsky promised in Profil magazine, the regime of “managed democracy” will certainly not survive the upcoming elections.

Indeed – what use does a “junta” have for democracy, even managed democracy?

LEAVE A REPLY