An interview with Russian Party of Life leader Sergei Mironov

Sergei Mironov: “I’m in favor of a multi-party system. Russian citizens themselves will decide what they need. It’s too soon to say that we definitely need a two-party system. That’s premature. Fifteen to twenty parties – that’s what Russia needs now.”

In this exclusive interview, Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mikhailovich Mironov, leader of the Russian Party of Life (RPL), announces his party’s unification with the Russian Party of Pensioners (RPP).

Question: You met with RPP leader Igor Zotov today. Were you discussing a merger?

Sergei Mironov: We discussed some current political issues. In the very near future, the two of us – or perhaps even three, with Alexander Babakov – will have something interesting to tell. We discussed all the issues on which our parties have something in common. I can’t say any more – this needs to be coordinated with them. We’ve met before, keeping each other informed about the state of affairs in our parties. Such meetings will continue, and their format will be expanded.

Question: Will you go into this autumn’s elections together?

Sergei Mironov: We’ll have separate candidate lists at this stage – the candidates have already been nominated. We’ll coordinate our efforts in future.

Question: Is your cooperation with the Motherland (Rodina) party working out?

Sergei Mironov: In the Lipetsk region’s election, for example, Motherland has decided not to submit a list of candidates. We have made way for them in Chuvashia and the Astrakhan region, and Motherland has made way for us in Karelia. I’ve seen some newspaper articles alleging that we haven’t managed to reach agreement with Motherland. In fact, these agreements do exist, and they are valuable. As for the elections where both our parties are competing, we’ll be campaigning for ourselves but not against each other, and we’ll manage to get our candidates elected – meaning that in future, we’ll have strong factions in those legislatures.

Question: Which other parties are you planning to merge with?

Sergei Mironov: Consultations with many parties are either under way or have been completed – but I can’t talk about that as yet. If I say anything, someone will rush in and deny it tomorrow. But this is no secret: of late, ever since my joint press conference with Alexander Mikhailovich Babakov, I’ve been contacted by a great many representatives of all kinds of parties, movements, and public organizations. There’s a non-stop negotiation process going on. I think there’s a growing awareness that creating a powerful political force – the relevant left – is now a national objective, not confined to one party.

Question: These other participants in negotiations – what’s holding them back from uniting with you? They’re facing the prospect of collapse, after all.

Sergei Mironov: Why don’t you ask what’s holding us back? Unification isn’t a goal in itself. After all, our objective is to establish a truly powerful party to defend the workers.

Question: Your ally, Zotov, has promised President Putin that the RPP will not use mass events like demonstrations or pickets. Doesn’t this disturb you? After all, it was street protests that helped pensioners secure some concessions from the government.

Sergei Mironov: I know that the RPP has announced its March Against Poverty campaign. This is a public mass campaign in the regions, and it’s very much the right thing to do. The RPL and the RPP share a policy: replacing the flat-rate income tax with a progressive rate. We have prepared a Fighting Poverty Road Map. But what’s the point of empty gestures, eye-catching events that do nothing but impress television viewers? It’s more useful to concentrate on legislative initiatives, collect signatures on a progressive tax petition, and use this moral weight to put pressure on the government. I asked Zotov to tell me about the RPP campaign. They’re not planning to march – they’re planning to organize some pickets in urban areas and collect signatures.

Question: Can you compete successfully with the United Russia party if you support United Russia’s chief patron, President Putin, on all issues?

Sergei Mironov: I don’t think that United Russia’s chief patron is Vladimir Putin. Of course, they really want him to become their party leader, making his party membership official. But as we see, this isn’t happening – and doesn’t seem likely to happen in the near future. In terms of competition, I think that if we manage to create a truly powerful, system-forming opposition party, this will be good for United Russia itself. Only competition can give United Russia a chance to become a real political party – with a coherent ideology, and real supporters and party leaders. I don’t see any problems here. Yes, we do consider that President Putin’s policy course is good for Russia, and we agree with United Russia on that – but our similarities probably end there.

Question: What about your differences?

Sergei Mironov: Whatever might be said about United Russia, it does consider that a one-party monopoly is necessary. That’s their major error. We also have some differences regarding ways of achieving goals, including the goals President Putin has spoken of. Our position is simple: we are concerned about the needs and vital interests of ordinary people, employees, pensioners.

Question: Do you share Vladislav Surkov’s views on party-building? Are you yourself in favor of a two-party system?

Sergei Mironov: That is Vladislav Surkov’s opinion. I’m in favor of a multi-party system. Russian citizens themselves will decide what they need. It’s too soon to say that we definitely need a two-party system. That’s premature. Fifteen to twenty parties – that’s what Russia needs now. As for how many parties will be in the parliament, and how everything will be arranged, such questions should not be decided behind desks or in analytical briefs. That will be decided by real-world events – it will be decided by voters. What impressed me about Surkov’s statements is that we are seeing a transition from a party monopoly to a system with at least two parties.

Question: Central Electoral Commission Chairman Alexander Veshnyakov is opposing moves to restore the practice of early voting. Do you support Veshnyakov?

Sergei Mironov: It’s Veshnyakov who is supporting my point of view. Two years ago, when the parliament was passing the latest – and, as we thought, the last – amendments to the law on guarantees of voting rights, Federation Council members had a great many questions about it. I told my colleagues that we should vote in favor of the amendments, if only because the principle of early voting was being eliminated. These attempts to bring back early voting seem absolutely unnecessary and dangerous. At the very least, there shouldn’t be any early voting in regional elections – let alone municpal elections. At the regional level it means open corruption, voter-bribing, busloads of senior citizens… And I’m very glad that CEC Chairman Veshnyakov holds the same view.

Question: What do you think of United Russia’s proposal that candidates should be disqualified for the slightest irregularities in the documentation they submit?

Sergei Mironov: This is also a dangerous innovation. It permits the election process to be manipulated, with undesirable candidates or even undesirable parties being disqualified. I’ll be opposing that legislation, along with early voting.

Question: Why did the Federation Council vote to pass the amendments that will make it possible to convict citizens of extremism for criticizing state officials?

Sergei Mironov: It was indeed passed by the Federation Council, but with some provisos. We are aware of the threats you mentioned. We are writing further amendments to this legislation. According to the current edition of the law, any person who says that a state official is incompetent may be prosecuted. We have two committees – the constitutional law committee and the judicial committee – working on further amendments. If this work is completed by September 25, we’ll consider the amendments at our first autumn meeting and submit them to the Duma.

Question: Vyacheslav Volodin recently announced that working groups are being set up to make some changes to the more unpopular legislation passed by parliament recently. Do you see this as a sign of the Kremlin backing down?

Sergei Mironov: God willing. But perhaps it’s something else – seeking to pretend that they’re prepared to make these moves. In reality, a working group might consider a disputed point and report that everything’s in order, there’s a lot of support from the regions, and so on… And it wouldn’t be just the United Russia faction’s opinion, but the opinion of a working group. Perhaps the United Russia faction is seeking additional arguments. Actually, Volodin has never stated publicly that the legislation needs more work or that those particular points should be deleted from it.

Question: When will the Federation Council endorse the Beslan Commission’s report?

Sergei Mironov: The text of the report is ready. It’s being formatted for submission to both houses of parliament in the near future. It will then be sent to the committees, given to the Anti-Terrorism Committee, and certainly posted online, complete with all diagrams.

Question: The full text?

Sergei Mironov: The report doesn’t contain any classified sections. It was decided that if any aspects were secret, they would remain in the working papers, not being included in the report. So there aren’t any secret supplements. The report will be ready by the September 25 plenary session. It’s being edited and retyped at present.