Life, Pensioners, Motherland: challenging United Russia

The Union of Confidence was launched at a press conference on Tuesday, August 29. That’s the working title for the “relevant left” party, to be formed from the existing Motherland party, the Russian Party of Pensioners, and the Russian Party of Life.

The Union of Confidence (Soyuz Doveriya) was launched on Tuesday, August 29. That’s the working title for the “relevant left” party, to be formed from the existing Motherland (Rodina) party, the Russian Party of Pensioners (RPP), and the Russian Party of Life (RPL). The press conference drew a full house, with media passes being checked twice and tight security around the venue. The main event was the simultaneous arrival of the three party leaders – Sergei Mironov (RPL), Alexander Babakov (Motherland), and Igor Zotov (RPP) – in three luxury cars; photographers recorded their every move. The main theme of the Union of Confidence/RPL pact is as follows: apparently, the United Russia party’s interests are not the same as the interests of the majority of the Russian people, whose advocate the Union of Confidence aims to be; so there will soon be up to a million members of the new party. A party represented in the Duma.

Since journalists are entitled not take a politician’s word for everything, we sent our correspondent to get answers to some specific questions – and they were provided, more or less.

So does the Motherland-RPP-RPL alliance intend to defeat United Russia itself in the Duma election of 2007? Not yet, but it does mean to force United Russia to move over and make room.

“I wouldn’t talk of prospects or future scenarios at this stage – you’re present at the source, the fountainhead,” said Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov at the end of the press conference. But he had started in a bolder tone: “The creation of this new party will fundamentally change the political map of Russia.” A draft scenario was also expressed: “We’ll strive to ensure free media coverage of what happens during elections – and administrative resources, that giant with feet of clay, will be brought down.”

A giant statue crashing down in your immediate vicinity – that’s a dangerous prospect, alas, so there’s some degree of risk in the Union of Confidence/RPL plan. Is there a precise calculation of their own forces and resources? Yes: the Motherland faction in the Duma has 29 members, and 21 senators are members of Sergei Mironov’s RPL. And the March Against Poverty campaign, launched nationwide by RPP leader Igor Zotov, using anti-government and anti-United Russia slogans, will gather a large social support base of the discontented. Moreover, Motherland leader Alexander Babakov is launching his own nationwide party newspaper from September 1; this is intended to replace the party’s special relationship with the “Zavtra” newspaper.

Will the Union of Confidence/RPL remain loyal to the established voter base of the three parties – and, bypassing that, to the Kremlin? After all, the goal – “creating a new force, stronger than each party on its own” – and the attempt to “make elections constructive and democratic” (Babakov) don’t always fit in with the demands of the Glaziev-Rogozin electorate from 2003; but a concession to voters has been made. Even if the Union of Confidence title is discarded in the course of further negotiations about the new party’s name, the key words “life” and “pensioners” will be fitted into a single context with “Motherland.”

According to our sources, the bloc will become a unified party when it holds an inaugural congress in late October. The allies have promised not to make any hasty decisions in choosing an official leader for the new party – but the unofficial leader is already evident. Mironov promised to continue supporting “the policy course set out in President Putin’s addresses to parliament, although all three parties challenge the idea that “one political force should exercise a monopoly as that policy course is implemented.”

Simple political analysis shows that with elections using party lists only from now on, United Russia’s resources clearly won’t be enough to maintain the Kremlin’s current interests in the Duma and the Federation Council. In a fair election, it’s most unlikely that one party could win two-thirds of Duma seats (300 seats, equivalent to a constitutional two-thirds majority), even if campaign advertising for one party is pervasive; United Russia got only 37% of the vote in 2003, and under 50% in the Moscow municipal election in 2005, recruiting the rest of its faction members from lawmakers elected in single-mandate districts. Consequently, United Russia will now have to share its success with some other major party. The Communist Party is out of the game. The LDPR is unsuitable for aesthetic reasons. Somehow, a reasonably large force – in opposition to the government, at least – will have to be recruited.

The provisional logo for the Union of Confidence/RPL displays three lines – one red and two green: an unambiguous reference to the experience of Germany’s “red-green coalition” led by former chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. Then again, the German coalition was dominated by the red Social-Democrats – but in the Russian case, the green RPL and RPP are aspiring to co-leadership, describing the event not as a merger with Motherland, but as the unification of three parties. And there shall be no fourth.

There have been rumors that Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov might be a potential leader for the “relevant left,” and their presidential candidate in 2008. Naturally, these rumors weren’t mentioned at the press conference. “The rumors came as a surprise to us as well,” said a party activist close to Sergei Mironov, off the record. Apparently, both Ivanov and Mironov were away from Moscow when the rumors were started – perhaps by ill-wishers from a rival camp, perhaps by PR consultants tasked with distracting public attention from Ivanov’s move to shut down three more military education institutions.

Mironov promised that the new alliance will make its decision regarding a presidential candidate after a “relevant left” faction is formed in the next Duma.