"The Just Russia project has not been shut down, only postponed…"

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In only one year, says Gazeta.ru, Just Russia (Spravedlivaya Rossiya) has changed from being the second Kremlin party to an organization which is uncertain of making it across the 7% threshold in the Duma election. Yet party leader Sergei Mironov still dreams of the day when Just Russia’s foundation date will become a national holiday, and experts are still discussing the extent to which the Kremlin might intend to rely on Just Russia in the long term.

Gazeta.ru notes that the party’s first anniversary celebrations, held at the Forum Hall in Moscow, resembled a psychotherapy session. Sergei Mironov praised his activists for their steadfastness in “enduring, standing up to, and repelling the attacks of the bureaucracy,” and told them: “Having set out on this path, we no longer have the right to give up.”

The arts were used to boost the confidence of Just Russia members. After Mironov’s speech, singer Dima Bilan took the stage for a rendition of “The Impossible is Possible,” while the Angels of Hope (an ensemble of children with hearing problems) danced to the music.

Indeed, the election chances of the second pro-presidential party seem to be fading. Nezavisimaya Gazeta has published the latest poll results from the All-Russian Public Opinion Research Center (VTsIOM): for the first time in this election season, they indicate that political preferences have not undergone any substantial changes for two or three weeks. According to VTsIOM, if the election were held right now, Just Russia would get 3% of the vote – compared to 54% for United Russia, 7% for the Communist Party (CPRF), 5% for the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), and around 1% for Yabloko, the Union of Right Forces (SPS), and the Agrarian Party.

According to political analyst Dmitri Orlov, these figures indicate that “electoral corridors” for all parties have taken shape, and “from now on, opinion poll results will only fluctuate within that framework, by no more than one or two percentage points.”

LDPR leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky is prepared to challenge VTsIOM’s poll results. In his opinion, Just Russia will make it over the 7% threshold after all.

In an interview with The New Times magazine, Zhirinovsky makes his predictions for the composition of the new Duma. In his opinion, it will have four parties: “United Russia and Just Russia, as two pro-government parties. Just Russia won’t be allowed to get more than 8% of the vote.” Zhirinovsky predicts 12-14% of the vote for the CPRF and at least 15% for the LDPR.

Tatiana Stanova, chief analyst at the Political Techniques Center, maintains that the Kremlin will find a use for Just Russia. In an article for Politkom.ru, Stanova says: “The emergence and rise of Just Russia are based on the Kremlin’s long-term interests, so there will be a need for this party or something like it, in one form or another.”

In her view, there are advantages and disadvantages to United Russia’s dominance. On the one hand, “this makes it possible to reduce political risks by reducing competition,” and “a majority in parliament will maintain policy course continuity.” On the other hand, the party is tailored to suit one person – President Putin – and cannot make decisions on its own. In order to become a truly influential agent, United Russia needs to become a decision-maker. Thus, “the expansion of United Russia and the growing ambitions of its party bureaucracy require additional control levers.”

Moreover, the possibility (if only theoretical) of a crushing defeat for United Russia still can’t be ruled out. Stanova says that “this could become a reality if there is a socio-economic crisis and Vladimir Putin’s popularity declines,” and “in that event, the sole alternative for the dominant party role would be the CPRF.”

Stanova goes on to say that the Kremlin was driven to create Just Russia by “the need to establish another party – a center-left, social-democratic party that will become the CPRF’s historical replacement.”

Vladimir Zhirinovsky agrees. In his view, the Kremlin needs Just Russia “in order to demolish the CPRF, eventually.” He discusses the CPRF’s prospects in his interview with The New Times, noting that the Communists are being allowed to participate in a parliamentary election for the last time – and only because of the presidential election coming up in March: “The March 2 election is dangerous for the Kremlin. If Zyuganov organizes protest rallies – joining forces with Limonov, Kasparov, Kasyanov, Berezovsky – that could be a bad situation for March 2. That’s why the Communists are being allowed to remain in the Duma race.”

Stanova offers a different explanation for the Kremlin’s decision to put the brakes on Just Russia: “This is being done because in the Kremlin’s view, Just Russia lacks experience in political activity. It’s also due to the Kremlin’s own pre-election fears.”

As Stanova notes, a successful election campaign requires a party to use populism, criticism of the authorities, and criticism of United Russia; and this creates “the kind of niche in which Just Russia becomes doubly dangerous for United Russia,” especially since United Russia itself faces substantial restrictions in promoting any populist ideas.

Moreover, by the very fact of its existence, Just Russia has inevitably provoked competition with United Russia for recognizable and influential political figures, especially at the regional level. This affects the bureaucracy, the business community, and influential public politicians – many of whom have found a career advancement opportunity in Just Russia.

Indeed, recruiting popular regional figures has helped Just Russia hold its ground in some regions, even in the wake of Putin’s decision to head United Russia’s candidate list.

Paradoxically enough, according to Newsweek Russia, Just Russia has maintained its support rating in the Chelyabinsk region – while support for the CPRF has declined. Artem Perekhrist, head of the Urals Analytical Center, says that a great many former Motherland (Rodina) supporters had switched their votes to the Communists, but these people are mostly pro-Putin and have decided to support United Russia since Putin’s announcement that he will head United Russia’s list.

The situation in the Arkhangelsk region hasn’t really changed either, according to Arkhangelsk-based pollster Vadim Treskin: “Just Russia has retained its core electorate, and it will get at least 7% of the vote – the region’s business community and elites will help it to do so.”

Tatiana Stanova also names a third reason why the Kremlin is denying Just Russia support at this stage: “The party has started recruiting candidates who are dubious figures, in the Kremlin’s view.”

According to Stanova, Just Russia’s fall from favor “indicates that the Kremlin has drawn a clear distinction between its short-term and long-term objectives.” The short-term objective is to maximize United Russia’s results in the Duma election – so Just Russia’s content and opportunities are being restricted.

Nezavisimaya Gazeta quotes Just Russia leader Sergei Mironov as saying that “certain important men in offices” are seeking to split his party. A source in Just Russia’s leadership team told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that “the Kremlin’s movie directors” are “thinking up some sort of new theme” every week, “aiming to create the impression that our party is falling apart.”

Nezavisimaya Gazeta reports that on Tuesday, just before the most active phase of the election campaign period, some anonymous individual claiming to be a Just Russia staffer “leaked” Just Russia’s campaign ads on the Internet, accompanied by humorous comments.

Another “new theme” is United Russia’s move to organize round-table conferences on the topic of November 7 (the 1917 Revolution anniversary). United Russia intends to invite representatives of all leading parties to participate in this major event. But according to a source quoted in Nezavisimaya Gazeta, United Russia activists have been given strict instructions to avoid inviting anyone from Just Russia, since “no such party exists.”

A number of popular politicians have been removed from Just Russia’s candidate lists: Alexander Lebedev, critic of the Moscow city government; experienced politician Sergei Glaziev; Yevgeny Roizman, Duma member from Yekaterinburg; Sergei Shargunov, leader of the Ura (Hurrah) youth movement. Many media reports claim that this has been done in compliance with the Kremlin’s demands.

The latest scandal broke out in St. Petersburg last week, says Newsweek Russia. Alexei Timofeyev, a member of the Just Russia faction in the St. Petersburg legislature, called on Just Russia to disband itself, because “President Putin’s decision to head United Russia’s candidate list sends a clear message: … our party is unnecessary.” It was later revealed that several of St. Petersburg’s leading newspapers had been sent instructions from the municipal administration the previous day, by email, telling them how to cover Timofeyev’s proposal in a negative tone aimed at Just Russia.

The Vedomosti newspaper reports that Tamara Sharoglazova, leader of Just Russia’s Novosibirsk branch, informed the party and the Central Electoral Commission on October 22 that she is withdrawing from Just Russia’s candidate list. Others have also quit Just Russia’s list: Tver-based banker Vasili Urban, Duma member Valentina Savostianova (Perm territory), and Denis Ushakov, former deputy speaker of the Perm city legislature. Voronezh Mayor Boris Skrynnikov, former deputy leader of Just Russia’s Voronezh branch, has quit the party.

Tatiana Stanova maintains that the exodus of politicians from Just Russia indicates that the establishment is disillusioned with the Just Russia project. And that’s exactly what the Kremlin wants to achieve, now that it’s decided to back United Russia unequivocally. Thus, the short-term objectives are taking priority.

But Stanova adds that the Kremlin still has some long-term objectives as well, so “the center-left party project has not been shut down, only postponed – and at some point in the future it may once again be supported at the very highest level.”

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