ROAR: United Russia may use “soft power” against rival party’s head for critics

The ruling United Russia and Fair Russia parties are still at loggerheads, despite the coalition agreement they signed to stop a political quarrel.

Sergey Mironov, speaker of the Federation Council, the upper house of the parliament, has criticized “the monopoly of the United Russia party on power,” stressing that such a situation was not permissible.

Speaking at a meeting in St. Petersburg on April 25, Mironov, who also heads the Fair Russia party, said: “There is a lot of bureaucratic arbitrariness, there is a lot of one party’s monopoly. We have gathered here to protest against United Russia’s arbitrariness.”

Mironov has criticized the ruling United Russia in the past, but in February the two parties signed a coalition agreement, which many expected to be the end of the row.

However, during the meeting of the Fair Russia’s Central Council in early April, Mironov called on the party’s members not to form any contacts with United Russia during future regional election campaigns.

Fair Russia had assumed the task of building “new socialism,” Mironov said, stressing that it has no right to support the rival party’s candidates. The speaker’s party positions itself as oriented to solve social issues.

The party will not accept any support from governors, but it will try to increase political influence during elections at the municipal and local levels, the Federation Council speaker said.

Mironov has always been considered Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s ally. But in early February in a televised interview, he criticized the Russian government headed by Putin for its handling the crisis and a new budget plan. He added that he did not fully share Putin’s policy.

Many United Russia senior members then demanded that Mironov be dismissed as the upper house’s speaker. Many analysts thought that the conflict between Mironov and United Russia was over when a coalition agreement was signed on February 9 by the two parties’ organizations to stop the quarrel between them.

Mironov made it clear, however, that despite this move, his party would remain in opposition to the ruling party. Vyacheslav Volodin, one of the leaders of the United Party, warned that the party will demand Mironov’s resignation again if he “violates the agreement.”

Some observers stressed that by signing the document with United Russia, Mironov could have suffered “an image defeat.” However, he did not stop his criticism of United Russia. The latest statement should not be considered as something extraordinary in the Russian politics, believes Vyacheslav Nikonov, president of the Polity foundation.

“There will always be disagreements between the two parties,” Nikonov told Ekho Moskvy radio. “They are congenial and fight for the same electorate,” he said, adding that there are constant disagreements between them.

Mironov and Fair Russia have to gain voters’ support in the parliamentary and regional elections, and they “naturally have to draw a serious distinction between them and United Russia,” the analyst said.

At the same time, a response from some members of United Russia against Mironov is possible, Nikonov stressed.

Some observers agree that United Russia will be able to take serious steps against Fair Russia’s leader. “Mironov may lose levers of influence in the upper house,” Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily said, adding that his main rivals may use new forms of “soft power” against him.

United Russia has decided to continue to exert pressure on Mironov, the paper said. Next year, he may lose his authority as the speaker to influence appointments and dismissals of members of the Federation Council, it added.

Mironov’s political competitors may use this circumstance and withdraw from the upper house all members loyal to him and create an informal faction of United Russia, the paper said.

Starting in January 2011, a new order for forming the Federation Council will be effective, the daily reported. The upper house of the parliament will be comprised of deputies of regional and municipal parliaments. Now each region sends two people to the Federation Council, from executive and legislative organs of power.

Another novelty stipulates that the speaker will not have the authority to influence appointments and dismissals, the paper noted. Now candidacies for appointment as members of the upper house should be confirmed by the Federation Council. “In other words, they have to be agreed with speaker Mironov,” the paper said.

In 2011, he may become “just a speaker,” after a law initiated by the president becomes effective, the paper said. This creates some opportunities for United Russia members, some of whom have already threatened to introduce factions in the upper house. However, the draft bill has not yet been submitted to the State Duma, the lower house.

According to Mironov, the Federation Council should be above party differences, the paper noted. But United Russia, which has a majority in all regional parliaments, is able to withdraw members of the upper house loyal to Mironov, it added.

After signing an agreement with him, United Russia party has confirmed the “expediency” of his remaining a speaker, Mironov said. It is also important that the two parties have expressed their readiness to work together while solving the personnel issues,” Mironov told Reporter newspaper published in Saratov Region.

Speaking about his relations with Putin, Mironov described him as a man who “is not afraid of criticism.” In addition, Putin is “the leader, but not a member of United Russia,” he stressed.

“The premier has headed this party, which has so many members, and he manages it competently,” the speaker told the paper. “In my view, it is very positive at this stage of our society’s development.”

“As for the criticism, our party has not rejected it, we are continuing to criticize, but each our critical statement is constructive,” he stressed, adding that Fair Russia proposes alternative ways of solving particular problems. “That was the case with the budget, anti-crisis plan and a number of statements concerning social issues,” he said.

The latest developments show that the conflict between United Russia and Fair Russia that took place in autumn and winter has not been overcome, even despite reconciliation and signing a coalition agreement, believes Dmitry Badovsky, deputy director of the Social Systems Institute.

“In winter, United Russia members wanted to dismiss Mironov himself, but did not manage to do it,” the analyst told Nezavisimaya Gazeta. However, the issue of strengthening control over the upper house has remained on their agenda,” he noted. And the new law will present them with certain opportunities for it, he said.

Sergey Borisov,
Russian Opinion and Analysis Review, RT