THE TWO-PARTY LINE

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The Russian Party of Life and new party alliances

Plans for a two-party system in Russia finally moved into the implementation stage last week. Two party groups, drawing together around United Russia and the Russian Party of Life, took a number of measures to attract voter attention.


Plans for a two-party system in Russia finally moved into the implementation stage last week. Two party groups, drawing together around United Russia and the Russian Party of Life, took a number of measures to attract voter attention.

President Vladimir Putin met last week with Igor Zotov, leader of the Russian Party of Pensioners (RPP). Political analysts concluded immediately that the RPP would surely merge with the Russian Party of Life (RPL); some time earlier, Putin’s similar meeting with Motherland (Rodina) party leader Alexander Babakov had been followed by a merger agreement between Motherland and the RPL. Besides, Motherland and the RPP have a lot in common: when they started out, both parties were regarded as Kremlin projects designed for the purpose of taking votes from the Communist Party (CPRF); both achieved their objectives, but then started striving for independence – which led to disqualification from elections, and leadership changes.

True, both Zotov himself and RPP deputy leader Vladimir Voronin denied the possibility of the RPP joining the RPL-Motherland alliance. However, Voronin also said: “We are prepared to unite with other political forces, but we don’t intend to merge into United Russia – we’re not suicidal.”

Oddly enough, Voronin’s blunt statement is fully in line with some advice delivered by Vladislav Surkov, deputy head of the presidential administration. Last week, the RPL released the minutes from Surkov’s meeting with RPL lawmakers in March. Surkov set out his vision of the situation in Russia: our society is standing on two legs, with the right leg being the strong and healthy United Russia party, while the left leg is a conglomerate of the LDPR, the CPRF, and Motherland – crumbling, and burdened with a “nationalist flavor.” Surkov proposed replacing this conglomerate with the RPL – even if this requires the RPL to fight rival parties and regional governments as well (though Surkov requested that the RPL and United Russia should only “criticize each other,” not fight). Thus, the RPP’s reluctance to join the right leg (United Russia) means that it is sure to become part of the left leg.

At the same time as these minutes were released, RPL senior deputy leader Nikolai Levichev announced that the People’s Party had already requested an alliance with the RPL. So the RPL – considered until recently to be nothing more than Sergei Mironov’s party project, of no interest to anyone else – has started absorbing other players in the political market.

United Russia was the first to realize this, hastily announcing that it would also merge with another large party. The party in question turned out to be the Russian Unified Industrial Party (ROPP), which can’t possibly be described as large. The arguments given in favor of the merger were comical: Vyacheslav Volodin, United Russia’s general council presidium secretary, declared that United Russia is doing well in rural areas and towns, but needs more support in Russia’s major industrial cities – so the ROPP will help with that. This argument implies, firstly, that United Russia acknowledges its alienation from Russia’s most numerous and advanced electorate – and, secondly, that it doesn’t consider itself capable of winning those votes on its own.

Perhaps that is why the RPL, even before becoming society’s left leg, had already started nibbling off parts of the right leg: on August 11, three members of the United Russia faction in the Duma quit to join the RPL – walking straight into the top five on the RPL’s electoral list. On August 17, the RPP launched its March Against Poverty campaign, calling for pensions and state-sector wages to be doubled. If these demands are granted, even partially, the left leg will gain strength and tenacity – to the envy of, and as a lesson to, the right leg.

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