Former PM Kasyanov becomes only leader of PARNAS party, voices presidential plans

Mikhail Kasyanov.(RIA Novosti / Alexandr Kryazhev)
Russian opposition figure and former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov has become the sole leader of the freshly-renamed PARNAS party and does not exclude his participation in the nearest presidential race.

At a Sunday congress the party’s activists voted to change its name from RPR-PARNAS into simply PARNAS. They also decided to abolish the previous structure with several co-chairs into a simple leadership of one person and elected 57-year-old former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov as their leader.

The omitted RPR part in the party name stood for Republican Party of Russia – one of the oldest political parties in the country with a moderate rightist platform. The Republican Party lost its registration in 2007 after Russia introduced tighter rules for political organizations, but it was the first to re-register when the rules were made easier again in 2012. During this registration the Republican Party sealed an alliance with the Party of People’s Freedom or PARNAS – an association of opposition groups that had failed to get legal representation by themselves even under new regulations.

In February this year, RPR founder and longtime leader Vladimir Ryzhkov accused the two other co-chairs of the bloc – Mikhail Kasyanov and Boris Nemtsov – of hijacking the project and left, together with a number of key allies who also represented the Republican Party. Two weeks after these events, Nemtsov was shot dead in an apparent contract hit, leaving Kasyanov as the sole leader of the organization.

The Sunday congress brought this de facto situation into line with the internal rules of the party.

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However, in press statements made after the congress, Kasyanov said he did not exclude that in the future PARNAS could get new co-chairmen, such as former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky and the head of the unregistered Party of Progress Aleksey Navalny.

In April, PARNAS and Navalny’s Party of Progress announced that they were forming joint lists of candidates for the forthcoming municipal, regional and federal parliamentary elections and invited “all people of good will” for participation. Mikhail Khodorkovsky praised this decision in press comments and promised support for the candidates from his own group, Open Russia.

When Kasyanov was elected the head of PARNAS on Sunday, the congress also voted to make a senior Open Russia activist Vladimir Kara-Murza deputy chairman.

Kasyanov also told reporters that he did not exclude his participation in the 2018 presidential elections, albeit with some reluctance.

I have no presidential ambitions but if the coalition decides so, I am ready to perform this function” the politician was quoted as saying by Interfax.

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Kasyanov chaired the Russian government between 2000 and 2004 when he was dismissed by President Vladimir Putin along with the rest of the cabinet. When Putin announced this decision, he said that he considered the work of the government satisfactory, but the reshuffle was necessary to emphasize the newly-chosen course of independent development of the nation.

Soon after his dismissal, several MPs accused Kasyanov of corruption, in particular of illegally acquiring a state-owned country home. The case made it to the court and eventually Kasyanov was forced to return the property.

Kasyanov already attempted to run for the presidency in 2008, but the Central Elections Commission rejected his application on the grounds that many of the collected supporters’ signatures had been forged or collected improperly.