The End of Political Parties in Putin’s Russia
Russia lost not one but three political parties last week. With none to spare, it was not a loss civil society in Russia could afford to incur. We view it as yet another sign of the apocalypse, and when combined with the Kremlin’s growing threat to bring back KGB spy Vladimir Putin as “president” for life, a truly terrifying one. We urge the leaders of the Western democracies to realize that the political situtation in Russia today has reached a tipping point, and to take immediate and drastic action before they see a fully-realized neo-Soviet monstrosity materialize once again before their gaping eyes.
First, the opposition SPS Party (Союз Правых Сил, Soyuz Pravych Sil, or “Union of Right Forces”) founded by former Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtov formally dissolved, with part of the party going over the Kremlin’s side and the other part migratating towards other opposition groups. Prominent liberals like Nemtsov himself and Yegor Gaidar had been defecting from the party for months, and writing on Robert Amsterdam’s blog, Oleg Kozlovksy stated:
At the end of the day, the liquidation of SPS may be a good thing. It’s true that this party had many true democrats and liberals but these people haven’t disappeared. On the contrary, now you can easily tell them from the others, who had nothing to do with liberalism but participated in the same party. The latter will join a new Kremlin’s pseudo-democratic party Right Deed, the first will join the opposition Solidarity movement or other opposition organizations. It is sad, however, that the only way to cure schizophrenia was decapitation.
Then the Agrarian Party was absorbed by the Kremlin as well. SPS will operate as what Kozlovsky calls a “puppet party” called Right Cause, while the Agrarians will be dissolved entirely and become part of United Russia, the Kremlin’s party of power. A third political party, Civilian Power, already quite pro-Kremlin but something of a wild card, joined SPS in forming the new Kremlin puppet.
In 2007, eight parties managed to collect at least 1% of the vote for Duma. The Agrarians were the fifth-highest vote getters in 2007, but were not among the four to pass the 7% threshold and be allocated actual seats in the body. Civilian Power and SPS were seventh and eighth vote-getters respectively. Together, SPS, Civilian Power and the Agrarians collected 3 million votes in 2007. Though they had won over 30 seats in 1999, by 2007 between them SPS and the Agrarians had held only 5 seats in the Duma, and in 2007 they were totally excluded.
Three of the four parties that passed the 7% threshold in 2007 were staunchly, sycophantically pro-Kremlin groups, with United Russia itself taking 65% of the vote and 70% of the allocated seats, rendering the other two largely superfluous. The only “opposition” party left in the Duma today is the Communist Party, which holds 12.5% of the seats and cast the only votes against “President” Medvedev’s recent proposal to extend the presidential term in office. SPS was the #8 vote-getter, lowest among the eight parties collecting at least 1% of the vote.
Given the neo-Soviet domination that the Kremlin already has over the Duma as a result of the 2007 “electgions,” why is the Kremlin so concerned about such seemingly insignficant entities that it must move to liquidate them? Here’s why.
Less than 64% of eligible Russians went to the polls for the December 2007 Duma ballot, and the Kremlin collected just over 64% of those votes for its party of power. That means United Russia has the mandate of only 41% of the eligible voters in the country, and that clearly makes the Kremlin a bit skittish. Combine that reality with Russia’s recent economic downturn and the continued, dogmatic presence of the Communist Party in the Duma, and it becomes easier to understand why the KGB functionaries who prowl the Kremlin want to get rid of as much organized opposition as they can, as fast as they can.
After its total failure in the 2007 poll, SPS was pushed to the verge of bankruptcy, having been forced to sell its headquarters to raise funds for campaign expenditures. Though not winning any seats in the Duma, a party that garners at least 3% of the vote is paid a bounty in federal funds for each vote received, and SPS failed to pass that barrier as well. Interestingly, not one of the parties that appeared on the ballot but failed to win seats in the Duma passed the 3% barrier either, a clear indication that the Kremlin’s manipulation of the outcome was systemmatic and intense. The net result is that not only didn’t the Kremlin have to contend with any opposition votes in the Duma, except from the Communists, but it didn’t have to fund any liberal political activity outside the Duma’s walls either.
So as of this week, other than the Communists, only one of the eight parties that got more than 1% of the vote in the 2007 election and are not strongly pro-Kremlin still exist, namely Grigori Yavlinsky’s Yabloko party. But it too was excluded from government funding, and though it won 45 seats in the 1995 Duma it dropped to less than half that number in the next election, just 4 in 2003 and total exclusion last year. Yabloko is now trying to spearhead the creation of a new entity known as “Solidarity” (inspired by the Polish opposition group which drove out the Communists) in order to collect the flotsam and jetsam of the 2007 debacle and hammer it into some form of viable opposition. “We will be one of the only political movements in Russia to stand in defence of the constitution,” said Ilya Yashin, who heads the Yabloko youth wing. They hope to galvanize in opposition Medvedev’s apparent plan to bring Vladimir Putin back to power as “president” for life.
The forces of democracy and civilization in the West must get behind the Solidarity movement, the very last gasp of opposition in Russia. And getting behind it means demanding that Solidarity be led by serious contenders for power, not pretenders like Garry Kasparov or Grigori Yavlinsky. It’s fine for Kasparov to play a role and to keep writing tough op-eds in the Western press. But its time for a new generation of leaders, like Vladimir Ryzhkov and Oleg Kozlovsky, to step forward and take power from the doddering relics of the failed past. For them to do so, they must clearly see that they will be firmly supported by the West, just as was done for the Solidarity movement in Poland. If the West allows political parties to go the way of the dodo in Russia, and allows a proud KGB spy to take power as president for life, then the transition to a neo-Soviet state will have been completed and the West will face another long cold war with Russia, and another spectacular collapse of Russian society, before there will be another hope of peace.