Putin’s Popular Front is only rebranding for the ruling party - ex-speaker

Sergey Mironov (Photo from http://www.mironov.ru)
Former chairman of the upper house Sergey Mironov believes the All-Russia Popular Front has only been created to boost United Russia’s chances in the upcoming elections.

­Mironov sharply criticized the prime minister’s initiative to create the front while he spoke in the State Duma on Tuesday for the first time. The former speaker is considered Putin’s close ally, though he is known as a long-time critic of the ruling party’s policies.

United Russia initiated Mironov’s recall from the Federation Council in May. The former speaker moved to the lower house after a deputy from his Fair Russia party, Yelena Vtorygina, abandoned her seat for him.

“Now the rebranding of United Russia has been completed and they are gearing up for the elections under the banner of the Popular Front,” Mironov, who now heads one faction of Fair Russia, said at the Duma session. This is an attempt to disguise United Russia under a [broader] banner of party and non-party members, he said.

Mironov said that more than half of Russians “believe themselves to be poor people and have no faith in their future.” Only abandoning the monopoly of a one party system rather than “pushing people to different fronts” can save the country from “destructive upheavals,” the politician warned. The country needs political competition, he added.

Bureaucrats have become the ruling clan in the post-Soviet Russia, Mironov said, adding that the state has been “replaced with a corporation” that works for itself. “The gap between the two Russias – one of the rich and the other of the poor – is terrible,” he stressed, saying the gulf is only increasing.

Later on Tuesday, Mironov voiced another tenet of his party’s platform aimed at fighting social inequality. He proposed that only the president and the prime minister should have flashing lights on their cars, and other officials should be denied this privilege.

As Mironov’s party positions itself as a socially-oriented one, rivals accuse it of populism. Members of the Communist Party and the Liberal Democratic Party said Fair Russia was an artificial project created to siphon off votes from them.

However, Mironov and his followers seem to have concentrated their efforts on the fight against the ruling party. In response, United Russia’s deputies in St. Petersburg have accused him of breaching agreements between the two parties on “fair play” and recalled him from the upper house.

Mironov’s place in the Federation Council, now vacant, is likely to go to St. Petersburg governor Valentina Matvienko. President Dmitry Medvedev last week supported the initiative of several regional leaders to appoint her to the third- highest ranking post in the state. Mironov had fiercely criticized Matvienko for her work as the governor and said the party should fight to oust her.