Opposition hears Soviet-era echoes in United Russia congress

RIA Novosti / Vladimir Vyatkin
The parliamentary opposition has blasted Sunday’s United Russia convention for attacks on opponents, the use of state television for election lobbying and for reviving the spirit of Soviet-era Communist Party congresses.

At the grand convention on Sunday, the ruling party’s 10,000 delegates voted unanimously to endorse Vladimir Putin’s candidacy in forthcoming presidential elections. Both United Russia leader Vladimir Putin and incumbent President Dmitry Medvedev made extended speeches on the current situation in the country as well as on future plans.

The convention and the speeches drew harsh criticism from the parliamentary opposition.

The first deputy chairman of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, Ivan Melnikov, said the United Russia convention was not a political event but rather a ritual-propaganda one. “They do not have a single argument in their favor, but for the dusty phrase that life was worse in the 90s. However they forgot to mention that oil was trading for 10 to 15 dollars a barrel, whereas over the past 10 years it has been selling for 100 dollars,” Melnikov told the press.

Melnikov, who is also a professor at Moscow State University, went on to say that the authorities, rather than using the profits from the high oil price to benefit the people, had instead used it to service the interests of large capital and bureaucracy.

Melnikov also criticized United Russia’s decision to nominate Putin as its candidate for the presidency. He insisted his criticism was made not as a Communist politician, but rather as an impartial arbiter, sayingchoosing someone fresh could boost people’s mood and thus United Russia’s rating.

Igor Lebedev, the head of the Liberal Democratic Party faction in the lower house, said voting at the Sunday convention was a proxy for the presidential election itself, making it possible to cancel the March 4 poll altogether.

Lebedev also sharply criticized United Russia’s anti-opposition rhetoric saying that the opposition was powerless to affect life in the country as it had neither the people nor the means to promote any changes. “We have only 40 deputies and this is not enough to start any initiative. We do not have representatives in the executive. United Russia, could you share some power with us?” Lebedev said.

The leader of the Liberal Democratic Party (and Igor Lebedev’s father), Vladimir Zhirinovsky, went further, likening the United Russia convention to a CPSU (Communist Party of the Soviet Union) congress. “The CPSU had 28 congresses in total and what we saw today might as well have been the 29th,” Zhirinovsky told reporters after the convention ended.

The deputy chairman of the Fair Russia faction, Gennadiy Gudkov, also saw parallels with a CPSU congress and said that the live broadcast of the event on national television channels was a blatant violation of election law and was effectively a two-hour propaganda piece persuading voters to support United Russia. “I did not expect such cheekiness from United Russia,” Gudkov said.

The head of the Yabloko party, Sergey Mitrokhin, said that all United Russia statements were empty rhetoric and wishful thinking. “Hardly anyone would believe that United Russia is fighting for social equality.  This is yet more ephemeral rhetoric that has no bearing on reality,” Mitrokhin said