Mironov returns to take reins at Fair Russia party

Mironov returns to take reins at Fair Russia party
Former presidential candidate Sergey Mironov has been re-elected to lead Russia’s third-biggest party, Fair Russia, after voluntarily resigning leadership two years ago.

Out of the 427 votes cast at the party congress in Moscow, 396 backed the 60-year-old politician, who replaced his handpicked successor and childhood friend Nikolay Levichev. In turn, Levichev was chosen to head the party’s Duma faction, a post he himself held until two years ago when he passed it over to Mironov, meaning the leaders have now swapped jobs twice.

“I am ready for the role,” Mironov told the assembled delegates in his closing speech.

“Or to use simpler language – you know what I am like – I am going to roll up my sleeves and work up a sweat.”

Mironov is assuming control of the party that is enjoying a substantial parliamentary presence, but struggling with internal divisions, an identity crisis and a credibility gap among much of the electorate.

The party, which holds 14 percent of the seats in parliament following the 2011 election, was created in 2006, on the ashes of several smaller pro-Kremlin movements. The charismatic but little-known Mironov, who was the deputy chief of Vladimir Putin’s campaign team ahead of his first election in 2000, was elected as its public face.

Politically, Fair Russia has always walked a tightrope. On the one hand it espouses social-democratic ideals that contrast with much government policy and exploits anti-government sentiment in its campaigns, on the other it professes a cast-iron loyalty to Vladimir Putin, and almost always votes together with the majority United Russia party. As Putin’s second term in office was coming to an end in 2008, Mironov lobbied for the constitution to be changed to allow the president to stay on.

In the face of vigorous street protests that have overshadowed the mild line of Fair Russia for the past two years, the choice between being a pro-Kremlin venting mechanism and a principled opposition party has grown more pressing.

In September’s Moscow mayoral elections, Levichev came last and gained less than 3 percent of the vote.

Earlier this year, some of the more independent minded party members spoke at anti-Putin rallies and formed a splinter group, promising “genuine opposition” to the government.

Oksana Dmitriyeva (RIA Novosti / Vladimir Fedorenko)

But Mironov’s victory is likely to signal the end for the party’s more openly rebellious wing. Just as he was receiving his overwhelming backing, another of the party’s erstwhile leaders, Oksana Dmitrieva, who recently called Levichev out for “appeasement”, failed to get a place on Fair Russia’s central council.

Regardless of the policies Fair Russia will pursue, the return of the media-friendly Mironov - who has reportedly recently healed a widely-discussed rift with Vladimir Putin - instead of the bland Levichev, should buoy the movement in the medium term, as it prepares for a series of regional elections next year.