The liberals will drown each other but make the elections more edgy

Political analyst Leonid Radzikhovsky thinks this latest attempt at unification by right-wing politicians may only be successful if they go beyond words and finally organize, which is the weak spot of Russian liberals.

Four prominent opposition leaders are planning to unite and form a political party. They are former prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov, former deputy prime minister Boris Nemtsov, former deputy minister of Energy Vladimir Milov and former State Duma deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov. The primary aim of the coalition is to win seats in the 2011 parliamentary elections, after which its leaders plan to nominate a candidate to run for president in 2012.

RT: How good is the time now for the opposition to announce its consolidation?

Leonid Radzikhovksy 

- a psychologist and campaign expert

- served in the State Duma in the 1990s

- coordinated Duma campaigns in 1993, 1995, 1997, 1999 and 2003

- currently writes columns for the state-run newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta and the American Russian-language newspaper Yevreysky Mir (Jewish World)

Leonid Radzikhovskiy: The timing is good if the opposition wants to run in the 2011 parliamentary elections. Separately, they don’t have a hint of a chance.

RT: But they do if they unite?

LR: Joining forces is a necessary yet insufficient condition for them to get the required number of votes. First, they need to create a party. Our liberals are good at talking but not so good at organizing. Then, they need to get an approval from the Kremlin. Another question is whether they will be able to work together and actually achieve something, or there will be nothing besides self-advertisement and a couple of press conferences. Finally, there is the question of how much airtime and financing they will get. Will they be allowed to receive funding from Russian businesses or from abroad? The Kremlin may say they get their money from the CIA, or it may say they receive funds from legitimate sources.
Leonid Radzikhovsky

I think the electoral base of a party that's very critical of the United Russia, pro-Western, and liberal, could be more than the minimum 7% required to get into the Duma. That kind of voter, however, is lazy, passive, and very choosy. If the opposition could get half of its electorate to vote, they could get some 10%. But election campaigns are a matter of PR and particular techniques. Knowing the overall degree of chaos that reigns supreme in this area, especially in liberal circles, I doubt they will ever achieve such a result.

RT: Russia's Minister of Justice Aleksandr Konovalov has already said he sees no reason to deny registration to an opposition party.

LR: Formally, the Minister of Justice cannot respond otherwise to an initiative coming from Russian citizens. It's all about the bureaucratic procedure that starts after that, though. A party must have regional offices in a certain number of regions and have a certain number of members. The Ministry will then check to make sure the offices and members are not fake, and the results of those checks can be very different in today's bureaucratic mess. One can appeal to court, of course, but the proceedings may last until the election is over. As a rule, many parties have "cemetery votes" and incorrect documents.

RT: Are there any signs of "the four" reaching any sort of consensus with the current administration?

Why having an opposition party is good for Russian politics:

- People will be more interested in the elections

- Parliamentary parties will have to mobilize

- Liberal parties will have to mobilize

LR: That depends on who the administration plans to spice up this campaign. If the opposition party does get registered, it is obvious that both Nemtsov and Ryzhkov will fiercely criticize Putin, as well as Medvedev to a lesser degree. They are also going to bash the ruling United Russia. Chances are the administration might need just that. After all, if there is no conflict in a play, there is no action. A play without “bad guys” always flops with viewers. This is why “bad guys” may come in handy. If they are registered, the election campaign will go like this: they will bark at Putin, while others will bark at them. They will be the sort of whipping boys, which is good for them as well, as it attracts more attention. A party like that would give an edge to the entire campaign. Their worst enemy will be the Yabloko party, as this is a matter of survival for Yabloko, which currently monopolizes the liberal flank. If the party we are talking about appears, Yabloko's chances to get the 7% will vanish into thin air. As for Nemtsov's foursome, they will be attacking the United Russia. In the end, the liberals will drown each other, as usual, but the overall interest towards the elections will rise.

RT: Does this “four” (the four leading candidates to form the new coalition – RT) represent the diversity of Russian non-parliamentary opposition?

LR: Certainly, they don’t. Limonov and his outlawed nationalist organization is still a significant force. It is officially banned, but nevertheless it exists as an extremely consolidated de facto organization. For example, Limonov and his people are the main participants in demonstrations held on the 31st day of each month (to support the right to organize unauthorized rallies without permission from the city authorities –RT). Boris Nemtsov and Yashin represent a weaker opposition. They are just “allies of the moment”. Neither Kasyanov nor Nemtsov has such a strong and consolidated organization as the NBP. The so-called “non-systemic” opposition unites bandit and Nazi groups, anti-fascists, anarchists and opposition leaders like Garry Kasparov and Valeria Novodvorskaya.

RT: Does the Nemtsov-Kasyanov group want the Limonov party to join them?

LR: Nemtsov and Kasyanov do not share Limonov’s political views. They are radically opposite. InWhat liberals need to do for the elections:  

- Go beyond slogans and organize

- Distance themselves from Limonov’s extremists

- Find sources of financing

fact, they are stronger antagonists to Limonov than they are to Vladimir Putin and the United Russia party. But Limonov saddled these two people at demonstrations held on the 31st day of the month and has actually turned them into his hostages in relations with the West. It would be good for Limonov to put a halter on them at elections but that would be totally useless for Nemtsov and Kasyanov. Staging joint rallies is one thing, but going for elections as one united party is different.

RT: Have they selected the best lineup to suit the interests of the ‘four’?

LR: Yes, of course, if we speak about their views and possible position. This is a rather homogeneous group. However, such mergers would immediately raise a question who is the boss. There are too many generals and very few soldiers.

RT: How much do these people need US support?

LR: They have good relations with many American politicians. But I don’t think that today anybody in the United States believes that these people can become a serious political force. I think that there are fewer Americans who believe in that than members of our own administration. I also think that at the moment Russia’s present rulers who will continue to stay in power are suiting the United States. If the Americans believed that right wing liberals stood a chance in Russia, they would have given them all-round support, because that would have been in the interests of the US.

RT: Is there a probability that these people could be used to organize an “Orange Revolution” in Russia?

Why liberals are unlikely to win:

- “too many generals, not enough soldiers” (a big number of leaders and a shortage of ground-level activists)

- their supporters don’t bother to vote

- liberal groups are often unable to work out a common approach

- no charismatic figures

- people have bad memories from the Yeltsin era when liberals ran the country

LR:I don’t think that any Orange Revolution is possible in Russia at the moment. First of all, there is no organization that could head this revolution. No matter how many people keep sitting down at one table, they will never become an organization. Ukraine had a powerful “orange party” and not just resigned Prime Ministers Viktor Yushchenko and Yulia Timoshenko. There were strong parties and independent television channels. The country was literally split in two. Nothing of the kind can be seen in Russia today. Although the population doesn’t have very strong feelings for United Russia, as a ruling party it will definitely gain at least 20% of the votes. United Russia is the best promoted party in the Russian regions. We should also add government bureaucrats and their families, the military and public servants (teaches, doctors and social workers) as well as pocket businesses – all of them will vote for United Russia, although without any great enthusiasm. So, United Russia actually has 40% of the votes in its pocket.

An Orange Revolution needs a powerful organization, charismatic leaders and a population that would be weary and annoyed by the ruling party and would cherish hopes for a better alternative. A very small layer of Russian society associates their hopes of a better future with Kasyanov, Nemtsov and Ryzhkov. Most Russians feel quite the opposite. The trio awakens recollections of the 1990s when most people in Russia lived much worse then today. Kasyanov is a big and pretentious businessman. So he is less capable of raising crowds to a rebellion than Viktor Yushchenko.

Moreover, I would say that even if the ruling authorities were caught in some great turmoil, nationalists and populists would have been much more successful than the liberals. In emergency situations, the popularity of nationalist and populist leaders grows fast.

Nadezhda Kevorkova, RT