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Russia: Failure To Unite Compromises Center-Right Chances

Consultations that have been going on for several weeks in Russia aimed at creating a center-right coalition collapsed over the weekend. Analysts predict the failure will deprive the Kremlin of direct leverage in upcoming Duma elections.

Moscow, 24 August 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Difficult consultations to create a center-right coalition boasting four former prime ministers collapsed on Saturday. The aim of an alliance between politically weak reform-inclined parties and Kremlin loyalists was to join forces in order to win the 5 percent of votes necessary to be represented in the next Duma.

Former Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin, whom public opinion polls show as a popular figure, was supposed to consolidate these forces, otherwise divided by the personal ambitions of their leaders and antagonistic political platforms.

But Stepashin announced on Saturday that he would not run for a Duma seat as a list candidate for the planned center-right coalition. He decided instead to run on his own in his hometown of St. Petersburg.

Meanwhile, former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin refused to cooperate with the more right-wing parties.

Initial hopes were for a coalition including most of the so-called "young reformers" of the "Right Cause" movement, including former Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar and former Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov, along with a movement led by former Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko and the "Our Home Russia" bloc led by Chernomyrdin.

According to Kirienko, Chernomyrdin did not want to place himself in third position on the electoral list. Chernomyrdin also reportedly rejected Gaidar's participation.

The daily Nezavisimaya gazeta reported that "Our Home Russia" was afraid to compromise itself with politicians who are held responsible for Russia's economic woes. Chernomyrdin's government was fired by President Boris Yeltsin several months before last year's financial collapse, which came with Kirienko in the prime minister's post.

Gaidar was replaced by Chernomyrdin in 1992 after his shock therapy unleashed inflation. His poll ratings are running as low as Kirienko's.

Vladimir Ryzhkov, head of the "Our Home Russia" Duma faction, tells RFE/RL that most party members "have an allergy" to many of the leaders of "Right Cause," particularly to the chairman of the energy monopoly UES, Anatoly Chubais.

Yevgeny Volk, political analyst at the Moscow-based Heritage Fund, tells RFE/RL that the whole idea of a center-right bloc had little chance of success. According to Volk, "Our Home Russia" and the "Right Cause" coalition are "antagonistic by nature," since the former represents the local and central bureaucracy and the latter represents people with strong pro-reform views.

This failed attempt at coalition building was widely seen as a desperate strategy of weak parties. Indeed, Nemtsov recently told RFE/RL that its failure would leave the parties with dwindling electoral chances.

"Each one [of the leaders] understands, at least in the depth of his heart, that getting into the Duma will be very difficult. Let's remember the fate of [Gaidar's] Democratic Choice of Russia. When it was the party of power, it got enough votes during elections to get into the Duma [in 1993]. However when Democratic Choice lost its status of party of power, it simply didn't get into the Duma in 1995. That same fate is awaiting Our Home Russia if [they] go alone."

The failure also reduces the Kremlin's opportunities to find a lever in the next Duma against its two main enemies, the communists and Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov's "Fatherland-All Russia" bloc.

Analysts say the Kremlin looked upon the center-right bloc as a political base that would save the existing political status quo. A Duma dominated by Luzhkov's party, by communists, and to a lesser extent by Grigory Yavlinsky's reformist hard-line opposition could end up being even more uncontrollable than the present lower house where "Our Home Russia" is the second largest group.

Pavel Bunich, a Chernomyrdin ally, told the daily "Novye Izvestya" that "the executive branch presently finds itself without any party on which it could rely for support. Nothing like this has happened before. Naturally it makes the Kremlin and the White House nervous."

Yevgeny Volk agrees. He tells RFE/RL that with the failure at coalition building, the Kremlin doesn't have the time to launch a new strategy. Volk says it looks increasingly likely that the Kremlin will not have much weight with any effective party or bloc competing in the December Duma elections.

Arriving in St. Petersburg yesterday to launch his own campaign, Stepashin explained that the failure of the center-right coalition was not a tragedy. He said it "just shows that you can't associate people that dont fit together." But he said there will be a real chance to associate those that represent the right-center in different factions once Duma elections have taken place.