An interview with Union of Right Forces leader Nikita Belykh

Nikita Belykh: “Elections are gradually becoming meaningless. There might still be some suspense about outcomes in single-mandate districts, but at the federal level, where the next election will be entirely based on party lists, there won’t be any suspense for voters.”

Union of Right Forces (SPS) leader Nikita Belykh discusses his party’s expectations for the Duma election of 2007.

Question: Your campaign in the Perm territory targeted senior citizens. Weren’t you encroaching on an electoral field that isn’t yours?

Nikita Belykh: I don’t understand this idea of fields being “ours” or “not ours.” Our field is called “Russian voters” – not divided according to social groups. It’s inaccurate to say that SPS voters are affluent young people with college degrees, and no one else. So I’m opposed to any talk of one party encroaching on another party’s field.

Question: I can’t recall the SPS ever positioning itself as a party prepared to defend the rights of pensioners.

Nikita Belykh: Elections are gradually becoming meaningless. There might still be some suspense about outcomes in single-mandate districts, but at the federal level, where the next election will be entirely based on party lists, there won’t be any suspense for voters. Given that young people, business owners, and the intelligentsia have no incentives to vote, we had two options for our campaign. First: trying to awaken this part of the electorate and induce people to get out and vote. Second: working on those who are sure to vote anyway. Since the authorities haven’t made any efforts to increase interest in elections, and the opposition is split, we concentrated on the second option. Our policy program was entitled “Completing the Construction of Capitalism.” The message we tried to convey to voters was that if we want decent living standards, we need to finish the job of building capitalism in Russia. So far, capitalism in our country is rather selective. President Putin says that defense spending should be increased, in line with worldwide practice. But when it comes to increasing pensions, the state forgets about international standards.

Question: In the next round of regional elections, and the federal election of 2007, will the SPS use the same tactics it used in the Perm territory?

Nikita Belykh: We’ll act according to the situation. This doesn’t mean that the SPS will forget about its electorate or change its policies. In subsequent elections we will use communication mechanisms based on the specifics of any given region.

Question: But the Perm election was a special case – after all, you used to be the deputy governor of that region, and you still retain good contacts there.

Nikita Belykh: I’m now hearing it said that administrative resources were working for the SPS in Perm. To be honest, that’s the most idiotic assumption I’ve ever heard. Would any regional government cause trouble for itself by helping an opposition party?! Indeed, we didn’t encounter any interference, but only at the start. By the end of the campaign, in the final week, the mud-slinging had started – hundreds of thousands of anti-SPS leaflets were distributed around the Perm territory.

Question: So Governor Oleg Chirkunov had nothing to do with your party’s successful performance in this election?

Nikita Belykh: I understand what prompts political analysts to talk of administrative resources. Firstly, we’re not a leader-focused party – but in this election the whole campaign was focused on me, because I’m fairly well-known in the Perm territory. Secondly, my personal communication with voters is an answer to the continual squeals of our opponents about “your Chubais, Gaidar, and Nemtsov.” I’m not rejecting those people, but our party should not be judged that way – held accountable for everything to do with the electricity sector, Nemtsov’s white trousers, Khakamada’s actions. Thirdly, we decided against focusing our campaign on television and radio ads, and didn’t rely on billboards or banners either. That’s because it doesn’t make sense to rely on a campaigning mechanism which you don’t control, and which could be withdrawn at any moment.

Question: So how did you campaign? Did you rely entirely on communicating with voters in person?

Nikita Belykh: In effect, yes. We set up a broad campaign network and went back to door-to-door canvassing. I visited almost every city in the Perm territory, and this kind of work made the SPS stand out against the backdrop of other federal and regional politicians.

Question: The Kremlin still lacks a right-wing party. Is there any possibility of doing a deal? The SPS would agree to refrain from criticizing the Kremlin on acute issues, while the Kremlin wouldn’t prevent the SPS from being elected to the Duma.

Nikita Belykh: The Kremlin might as well split off a right wing from United Russia, or just declare United Russia a right-wing party. But if it’s a question of us speaking our minds on matters of principle, we could never compromise on that. In short, if anyone approached us and said, “Guys, you should support the principle of appointing regional leaders and mayors” – my response would be: “We’re not that kind of party.”

Question: What if they didn’t approach you directly? What if it was just a subtle hint?

Nikita Belykh: I believe that the SPS could get elected to the Duma in a free and fair election. But is such an election possible? That’s highly doubtful. Yet having some sort of agreement is no guarantee of making it into the Duma. As far as I’m aware, several parties had agreements with the Kremlin in 2003. Someone even congratulated someone. But everyone knows the outcome of that election.