The Motherland and Russian Party of Life merger: several opinions

The merger between the Russian Party of Life and the Motherland party hasn’t been formalized yet, but the alliance is already courting more candidates. The new project aspires to win leadership on the left. But its fate will be decided by voters, not Kremlin officials.

The merger between the Russian Party of Life (RPL) and the Motherland (Rodina) party hasn’t been formalized yet, but the alliance is already courting more candidates. Rumor has it that the Russian Party of Pensioners, the Agrarian Party, and the People’s Party are next in line. The new project aspires to win leadership on the left. But its fate will be decided by voters, not Kremlin officials.

Valery Khomyakov, general director, National Strategy Council:

What is being pursued on the left wing of politics is not a tactical objective. In my view, many experts and journalists are underestimating this process, and the commentaries I have heard aren’t entirely fair.

One might say, of course, that the Kremlin has launched yet another project aimed at taking votes away from the Communist Party (CPRF). Quoting from the speech made to RPL activists by Vladislav Surkov, deputy head of the presidential administration, one might call this an attempt to grow a “second leg” for the Kremlin. But it seems to me that what we’re seeing is more than just preparations for the election of 2007. It’s more likely that this project has been launched with the aim of achieving a strategic objective. The meaning of this would become more understandable if the party that’s being established now gains Vladimir Putin as its leader after 2008. The election of 2007 would only be a minor test.

In fact, personification will be very important for this new political force. It won’t be able to build up international credibility with Sergei Mironov as its leader – it won’t be accepted into the Socialist International. Russia still isn’t represented by any party in this very important and influential organization. But if this party, provisionally described as a social-democratic party, gains Putin as its leader after 2008 – then the project will take on both weight and significance.

What would we have then? The next president would still have United Russia as the Kremlin’s party. Meanwhile, Putin could build up a constructive social-democrat oppostion. This task would be fairly interesting for him. What’s more, Putin himself has stated repeatedly that a stable party system needs to be created in Russia. He’s even hinted, as if in jest, that he might become the leader of an opposition party.

A close reading of the transcript of Surkov’s speech to RPL activists shows that he unambiguously emphasized the following: the impact of this project won’t be fully felt for at least five years. Five years from now, it will be 2011 – with another round of parliamentary and presidential elections coming up, at which Putin, as the new party’s leaer, might well position himself as a patriotic social-democrat. Surkov’s speech, if read carefully, contains some fairly clear hints at this.

Personally, I see this as an entirely realistic scenario. But without Putin, the whole plan would end up as nothing more than a repeat of the Ivan Rybkin Bloc. As we all remember, that bloc, headed by the then-speaker of the Duma, got a negligible share of the vote in the parliamentary election of 1995, failing to win representation in parliament.

Surkov’s quite right: Russia does need a European-type social-democratic party. We are currently represented in the International Democratic Union by the Union of Right Forces, and in the Liberal International by the Yabloko party. But there aren’t any Russian parties in the Socialist International, and that’s a substantial disadvantage for Russian politics – since some serious political decisions are made in international party associations.

One final point. There’s a great deal of talk these days about how many parties Russia ought to have. But the number of parties shouldn’t be decided by the Kremlin, after all. The number of parties and their credibility is decided by voters, in elections. Now that the “against all candidates” option is being abolished, if voter turnout declines, that will be a clear message: the people aren’t satisfied with United Russia; everyone’s tired of the LDPR, the CPRF, the Union of Right Forces, and Yabloko; and the new alliance lacks credibility. If voters vote with their feet, and no real alternative to existing forces emerges, we wouldn’t even have a one-and-a-half party system; in effect, we’d have a one-party system, because all levers of power and influence would be concentrated in the hands of United Russia.

America’s founding fathers didn’t decide how many parties there should be. The two-party system in the United States evolved in the course of history. Similarly, the number of parties in Russia should be decided by the Russian people, not by the Kremlin.

Konstantin Kosachev, United Russia general council presidium member, Duma committee chairman:

The new party, if it comes together, is starting with the same mistake made by all opposition parties in Russia. This mistake is that they try to criticize their opponents, but fail to propose any alternative solutions.

Andrei Isayev, United Russia general council presidium member, Duma committee chairman:

I’d like to point out that the decisions made by the United Russia party in the Duma are consistently approved by the Federation Council, where Sergei Mironov is the speaker. Under the circumstances, his attempts to take credit for all the good things and blame United Russia for all the bad things seem neither appropriate nor convincing.

Dmitri Oreshkin, political analyst, head of the Mercator Group:

The regional legislature elections in a number of regions this autumn will be a kind of test for the whole country, in terms of the latest political techniques now being applied. Will the Kremlin manage to fool the people with its special projects, like the RPL-Motherland merger? How much of the vote will this alliance take from United Russia? Voter behavior will also be interesting to observe: how high will turnout be, what percentage will each player get, how many ballot-papers will be spoiled deliberately – and will people come to the polling-stations at all?