"I’m quite certain that they won’t allow me to be elected"

Jailed tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky is being encouraged to run for parliament in a by-election. Opposition activists consider this another step toward a broad coalition of the left and the right. Analysts say it would be in the Kremlin’s own interests to let Khodorkovsky run.

According to our sources, this week there will be a meeting of a “Muscovite initiative group” aimed at nominating Mikhail Khodorkovsky as a candidate in the Duma by-election for the 102nd (University) district in Moscow. Those promoting the nomination (and lobbying for the jailed magnate, who is unable to address citizens personally) may include prominent politicians from both the right and the left. Among them are Our Choice party leader Irina Khakamada, Russian Republican Party leader Vladimir Ryzhkov, Communist Party (CPRF) Central Committee deputy chairman Ivan Melnikov, and some members of the Union of Right Forces (URF) and Yabloko parties. URF policy council secretary Ivan Starikov might become the campaign manager.

Opposition activists consider this another step toward consolidating opponents of the authorities. Analysts say it would be in the Kremlin’s own interests to have Khodorkovsky’s name on the ballot papers: this would boost voter interest in the election. Then the Kremlin could aim to inflict an overwhelming (and demonstrative) defeat on the opposition in one electoral district.

“I’m prepared to support his nomination,” says Our Choice party leader Irina Khakamada, “since he has announced his policy program and I share his views. If he agrees to run, I’m prepared to support him in the district formerly held by Zadornov.”

The Duma seat for the 102nd district has fallen vacant since Mikhail Zadornov resigned from the Duma to take up a position with the VTB 24 bank. According to the Central Electoral Commission (CEC), the by-election may be held in late October.

Open Russia Foundation spokesman Maksim Dbar quoted Khodorkovsky as making the following response: “I’m quite certain that they won’t allow me to be elected. As yet, I have received no official communications on the topic of running for the Duma; but if I do receive a proposal from people whose opinions matter to me, I will agree. I have no illusions about the likelihood of being able to register as a candidate, and I am perfectly well aware that agreeing to be nominated could have negative consequences for me personally.”

“If he takes part in this campaign – if the Kremlin allows that – it will be very interesting,” says Valery Khomiakov, co-chairman of the National Strategy Institute. “I’d advise the Kremlin to encourage him to run. This would restore some of the popularity that is being lost by the institution of elections. In shaping the line-up of candidates, however, the Kremlin will do all it can to prevent Khodorkovsky from winning.”

“I said right from the start that what we need is a broad front and unity,” says Khakamada, who is not surprised to hear from us. “So the fact that this nomination may be supported by other parties as well is symbolic. Then again, none of these politicians have approached me with any proposals as yet. That isn’t surprising: getting the support of Ryzkhov and Yabloko is no problem, and we cooperated with the leftists at Ostankino.”

Khakamada explains the opposition’s consolidation around Khodorkovsky as follows: “All this is a symbolic gesture – a protest.”

“The authorities have spent the past year steadily reducing the opposition’s opportunities for taking part in the political battle, thus giving the left and right incentives to consolidate,” says URF policy council secretary Ivan Starikov. “Khodorkovsky’s nomination will provide the opposition with a point for consolidation against the bureaucratic regime.”

According to our sources, that “point” will include Khakamada and Starikov themselves, as well as independent Duma member Vladimir Ryzhkov, CPRF Duma member Ivan Melnikov, political analyst Andrei Piontkovsky, and someone from Yabloko.

Dmitri Oreshkin, head of the Mercator Group: “Only one thing worries me about this situation: to what extent is this initiative coming from Khodorkovsky himself? If he’s been presented with a fait accompli, then there’s something unethical about this game: people who are not in jail are forcing a choice on a person who is in extremely restricted circumstances. But if this has been arranged with Khodorkovsky in advance, then he’s taking political action himself – and since he’s not a child, he’s perfectly well aware of the consequences. In that case, his intentions deserve great respect – this is a sign of immense personal courage. Khodorkovsky can’t lose in this electoral situation. Even if he’s not allowed to run, that would be a strong blow to the authorities: it would become clear that they fear him, which would also be good for Khodorkovsky’s image. This is a strong move in political and personal terms: to some extent, Khodorkovsky is protecting himself from the possibility of a sudden illness or stabbing.”

Another important point, according to Oreshkin, is the alliance between the CPRF and the forces usually referred to as “the democrats.” A qualitatively different political situation is taking shape: despite their obviously divergent interests, these people are trying to defend the mechanism of elections as such, in which voters have been losing confidence over recent years. It’s time to stop this downward slide, says Oreshkin; we must not permit election outcomes to be decided entirely by state administration resources, although the authorities are trying hard to bring that about, in an effort to entrench their privileged position.

Can Mikhail Khodorkovsky run for the Duma?

“Khodorkovsky has lost none of his rights as yet,” says one member of his future campaign team. “The verdict still hasn’t come into legal force. We have a chance of completing the appeals process before the deadline for nominations expires – we’re assuming that the by-election will be scheduled for December 4, concurrently with the Moscow municipal legislature elections. The lawyers will complete their consideration of the verdict on August 25; then the case will go to the Moscow City Court, and if that court leaves the verdict unchanged, we can appeal to the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, the initiative group that will invite Khodorkovsky to become a candidate has already been established.”