« | Home | »

Two-Party Politics, Russian Style

Tags: | |

For quite a while now the Kremlin has been preoccupied with creating and managing a loyal ‘opposition’ to itself. Credit for the idea seems to go to Vladislav Surkov, the president’s first deputy chief of staff under both Putin and Dmitry Medvedev. In 2006 Surkov met with Sergei Mironov, the leader of a small centre-left party and chairman of the Federation Council, Russia’s upper house. Surkov spoke of the need for a two-party system: ‘Society needs “the second leg” to shift on to, when the first one gets stiff.’ The second leg took the form of A Just Russia, created from the merger of several smaller parties to attract the votes of ‘the left with strong nationalist inclinations’. United Russia was to remain the dominant leg, of course.

A Just Russia seemed to offer enough distance from United Russia to attract several smaller centre-left parties, some Communists and some Greens. But it gave Putin its full support while he was president. Mironov even suggested changing the constitution to increase the presidential term to seven years and to allow Putin to serve three terms. When it became clear that Putin wouldn’t do this, A Just Russia loyally got behind Medvedev.

But then Mironov started to take his role as the leader of the opposition a bit too seriously. ‘Information that we, and I personally, support Vladimir Putin in everything is outdated,’ he said on TV. ‘The United Russia Party is opposed to us, ideologically unacceptable to us, and has a dubious conservative agenda.’ The leaders of United Russia demanded that Mironov resign as chairman of the Federation Council.

After ‘consultations’ between the leaders of the two parties, Mironov was allowed to keep his position but had to sign an agreement stating that his party would support Medvedev and Putin’s ‘strategic course’. In February, however, he said that A Just Russia would not support United Russia’s candidate in the next presidential election. Within weeks he had lost both his position in the Federation Council and the leadership of his party.

Around this time Putin suddenly announced the formation of the All-Russia People’s Front, an amorphous organisation without a programme, structure or staff, but unambiguously loyal to the prime minister. That was enough to attract not only United Russia, but many trade unions, NGOs and ordinary citizens. It looked as if the ruling elite had lost the plot: there would be no two-party system and the new organisation would monopolise the political arena. But soon it became clear that the game is still on – only the players have changed.

Putin knows that United Russia is losing its appeal. It is too corrupt, too ineffective and too uncaring about the needs of the people. It is going down in the opinion polls, dragging its leader with it. In March, Putin’s popularity fell to 69 per cent – a figure to be envied by many Western politicians, but a huge drop for the Russian prime minister. A Just Russia was gaining support, and to give a space to an opposition party on the left, even a fake one, was getting too dangerous.

The All-Russia People’s Front is meant to ‘revitalise’ United Russia. The association with all those trade unions and NGOs will bring it ‘closer to the people’, pulling it slightly to the left. This leaves a space on the right for the new liberal opposition that has just been formed out of the moribund Right Cause Party under the leadership of Mikhail Prokhorov, a former owner of Norilsk Nickel and one of the richest men in Russia. Medvedev has received Prokhorov and spoken approvingly of the new project. It will, of course, be no more a real opposition than A Just Russia. Prokhorov does not even want to use the word ‘opposition’, to avoid any association with marginalised opposition parties that did not get the Kremlin’s nod. It’s even possible that in time Medvedev will become leader of the Right Cause.

Thus the lobster quadrille of Russian two-party politics.

Comment on this post

Log in or register to post a comment.


  • Recent Posts

    RSS – posts

  • Contributors

  • Recent Comments

    • mideastzebra on Swedish-Israeli Tensions: Avigdor Liberman was not foreign minister November 2015.
    • lars hakanson on Exit Cameron: Europe will for good reason rejoice when the UK elects to leave. The country has over the years provided nothing but obstacles to European integration...
    • Michael Schuller on Immigration Scandals: The Home Office is keen to be seen to be acting tough on immigration, although I'm not sure that the wider project has anything to do with real number...
    • Geoff Roberts on What happened in Cologne?: The most surprising thing about the events in Cologne (and the most disturbing) is that some 600 incidents of theft, harrasment and rape were reported...
    • EmilyEmily on What happened in Cologne?: The author's argument is straightforward: Sexual violence is one beast; fears about migrants is another - let's not confuse the two. Alfalfa's poin...

    RSS – comments

  • Contact

  • Blog Archive

  • From the LRB Archive

    Chris Lehmann: The Candidates
    18 June 2015

    ‘Every one of the Republican candidates can be described as a full-blown adult failure. These are people who, in most cases, have been granted virtually every imaginable advantage on the road to success, and managed nevertheless to foul things up along the way.’

    Hugh Pennington:
    The Problem with Biodiversity
    10 May 2007

    ‘As a medical microbiologist, for example, I have spent my career fighting biodiversity: my ultimate aim has been to cause the extinction of harmful microbes, an objective shared by veterinary and plant pathologists. But despite more than a hundred years of concentrated effort, supported by solid science, smallpox has been the only success.’

    Jeremy Harding: At the Mexican Border
    20 October 2011

    ‘The battle against illegal migration is a domestic version of America’s interventions overseas, with many of the same trappings: big manpower commitments, militarisation, pursuit, detection, rendition, loss of life. The Mexican border was already the focus of attention before 9/11; it is now a fixation that shows no signs of abating.’

    James Meek: When the Floods Came
    31 July 2008

    ‘Last July, a few days after the floods arrived, with 350,000 people still cut off from the first necessity of life, Severn Trent held its annual general meeting. It announced profits of £325 million, and confirmed a dividend for shareholders of £143 million. Not long afterwards the company, with the consent of the water regulator Ofwat, announced that it wouldn’t be compensating customers: all would be charged as if they had had running water, even when they hadn’t.’

Advertisement Advertisement