An interview with Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov

Sergei Mironov: “United Russia is hastening to make election conditions as easy as possible for itself. Sooner or later, they’ll reap what they are sowing now. The move to abolish the turnout threshold is premature.”

A five-party merger was announced yesterday. The People’s Party, the Russia’s Renaissance Party, the Social Justice Party, Patriots of Russia, and the Social-Democratic Party of Russia intend to merge into a single center-left party. Many experts maintain that this party is being created as a counterweight to Just Russia (Spravedlivaya Rossiya), which has become a significant player on the political stage. Just Russia’s leader, Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mikhailovich Mironov, discusses his party and its situation.

Question: Can the regional elections be considered a reference point for your new political force?

Sergei Mironov: It’s very tempting to paraphrase a well-known saying: the event that the SRs talked about so much has finally happened. We’re being called the SRs, as an acronym of our party’s title. We held our unification congress on October 28. We are now at the stage of getting our party’s charter legally registered. Were the October 8 election results some sort of reference point? I think the starting point of the party’s history was the news conference held on August 29, when the leaders of three parties announced unification plans. The subsequent regional elections demonstrated the viability of the new political alliance. The three parties got a combined result that averaged 22% of the vote across the regions – this speaks for itself.

Question: Ever since those elections, the numerous army of state officials and bureaucrats – the “political elite” – has started wavering between United Russia and Just Russia. Do you expect these people to join your ranks?

Sergei Mironov: The idea of a split within the elites is very popular right now in the United Russia party and the presidential administration. The elites are said to be in confusion, wondering where to go, whom to believe, whom to support. But the issue is a complete fabrication. There’s no split at all, let alone any confusion. If anyone’s confused, it’s the United Russia leaders and perhaps some of their Kremlin handlers. Nothing more. A real multi-party system will enable not only voters, but also participants in the political process to make a conscious choice.

We often talk of Russian parties having European counterparts. Well, Just Russia’s counterpart would be a socialist rather than social-democratic party. The Socialist International includes various forces. Some are purely socialist parties – such as the French Socialist Party, which is closer to us. Not closer in terms of socialism, which all of our country has experienced, but on the ideas of social justice. The socialization of all areas of activity, so to speak. Well, with the formation of our party, regional elites have gained a real choice: now they can decide whom to join and whom to support. Do we expect them to do so? None of the current regional leaders will join our party in the near future. None of the current leaders, I stress. But once Just Russia starts winning regional legislature elections, we’ll be able to nominate governor candidates, and then we’ll soon have our own regional leaders.

Question: United Russia is proposing to abolish the minimal threshold for voter turnout. Will this initiative have an impact on your party-building efforts?

Sergei Mironov: All these moves to change electoral laws will come back to bite United Russia, sooner or later. Politicians should be consistent. Two years ago, I addressed the Federation Council and called on my colleagues to vote in favor of the electoral legislation amendments being made at the time. I said we should pass those amendments, if only because they would abolish early voting. We supported that initiative. But this year, United Russia has suddenly proposed amendments that would bring back early voting.

And now the second point: abolishing the turnout threshold. It fits in with the pattern: United Russia adjusting legislation to suit itself. Why? It’s very simple: the higher the turnout, the lower United Russia’s percentage of the vote. The lower the turnout, the higher United Russia’s percentage. United Russia is hastening to make election conditions as easy as possible for itself. Sooner or later, they’ll reap what they are sowing now. The move to abolish the turnout threshold is premature.

Question: You say you’re not expecting any current regional leaders to join your party. But any party needs some sort of regional support base. In Samara, for example, your candidate has been elected mayor. Does this indicate that Just Russia will be seeking support in Russia’s largest cities?

Sergei Mironov: The October 8 regional elections confirmed our conclusions: Russian voters haven’t really reached the point of voting for parties. They vote for individuals. If popular individuals link their political careers to particular parties, those parties get votes. United Russia’s leaders are naive to believe that United Russia itself is getting 45% of the vote in elections. Those votes are cast for President Vladimir Putin, with some of his reflected light falling on United Russia. But the president isn’t the only example. There are a great many popular regional leaders who joined United Russia out of necessity. We’ll be seeking popular people at the federal and regional level. But we want individuals, not titles. United Russia would love it if we became something like the Kremlin’s second party, or a Kremlin project. But that won’t work.

Question: Can you name five slogans that you’ll take into the next election campaign?

Sergei Mironov: We have five ideas – many more than five, actually. But delivering them as concise, comprehensible slogans will take some work.

Question: All right then, tell us at least one of your ideas.

Sergei Mironov: The first idea – and this will be the first point in our policy program – is the need for income reform. We need realistic, decent pay rates for our citizens, because labor in Russia is undervalued. We have two plans for legislative reform in this area. First: eliminating the MROT (minimum monthly wage) as a legal and financial concept; and introducing hourly rates – that is, a minimal rate for any form of labor, which must not be less than a certain sum. There will be some coefficients, of course, according to industry, region, and skills. The second point entails reforming pension laws completely. The current system is unfair.

Raising pensions by 200-250% rather than 6%, and raising the wages of most Russian citizens, especially state-sector workers, will lead to increased demand for Russian goods that are competitive on price and quality. This will lead to production growth. And so this chain will start to work.

Question: Whom will Just Russia support in the presidential election?

Sergei Mironov: Our party will continue preparing for the Duma election throughout 2007. That’s a very important test for us. And in the presidential election, we’ll consider the whole list of candidates.

Question: Will Sergei Mironov be on that list?

Sergei Mironov: Mironov will not be on that list. I’m not planning to run. Our party will study the whole list, paying particular attention to the candidate who is endorsed by President Vladimir Putin. I’m sure there will be a candidate who will continue President Putin’s policy course. That will be our criterion for choosing which candidate to support: continuity.