9 July 2003, Volume 3, Number 27
IT'S MAKE OR BREAK TIME FOR YABLOKOBy Francesca Mereu
Although many analysts predicted that this year's election season would be boring, that was never going to be the case for the liberal Yabloko party. The stakes in the 7 December State Duma race are simply too high. The party has been losing one percentage point in each State Duma election since 1993. That year, the party got nearly 8 percent of the vote. In 1995, the party polled 7 percent, and in 1999, it received less than 6 percent. Therefore, some analysts have questioned whether the party will surpass the 5 percent barrier required to pick up party-list seats in the next Duma.
Last week, the race became even more interesting for Yabloko when one of its main financial sponsors, Mikhail Khodorkovskii, the head of Yukos, Russia's second-largest oil producer, was questioned by prosecutors in Moscow in connection with an inquiry into a 1994 privatization deal. That inquiry has already resulted in the arrest of Khodorkovskii's longtime business partner, Platon Lebedev.
Khodorkovskii has been financing Yabloko since 1999. He has also publicly acknowledged providing money to the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS), and a Yukos board member is also believed to be financing the Communist Party. However, analysts agree that the events around Yukos are unlikely to discredit Yabloko in the run-up to the Duma elections, since the two entities are not really linked in the minds of voters. Yabloko Deputy Chairman Sergei Mitrokhin told RFE/RL that Khodorkovskii is not going to stop his financing as a result of the prosecutors' inquiries.
Center for Political Forecasting Director Valerii Fedorov said that the investigations have brought it home to Khodorkovskii that it is impossible in Russia to trust those in power. "For this reason Khodorkovskii will now invest more in Yabloko, to see the party stronger and able to offer a real alternative to the pro-Kremlin parties," Fedorov said. Andrei Ryabov, a political analyst with the Carnegie Moscow Center, said that if an oligarch like Khodorkovskii -- who has transformed Yukos into the most transparent and well-managed Russian company -- is investing in Yabloko, that "it means the party has good prospects."
Yabloko, like the Communist Party, has a stable core of supporters, and its challenge in the coming months will not be to find a new financial sponsor but to expand its political base. Yabloko's voters mostly live in major cities with more than 1 million inhabitants. The bulk of the party's electorate comprises well-educated people who are oriented toward democratic and free-market values, but who did not manage to achieve financial success in the past decade. In addition to these supporters, Yabloko voters also include successful businesspeople, entrepreneurs, and independent professionals who are well-integrated in the new economic and political system and earn medium- to low-level incomes.
The common thread of the Yabloko electorate is its opposition to the way economic reforms have been carried out over the past 10 years. Experts believe the people who have always voted for Yabloko are likely to keep on voting for them during the next elections as well. A poll conducted in June by the All-Russia Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM) showed Yabloko at 8 percent. The pollsters surveyed 1,600 people in 40 regions. But such surveys never show the party's support growing beyond 8 percent.
According to Mitrokhin, the party is well aware that it needs to enlarge its electorate, and it has been attempting to do so for the past three years via a two-pronged effort. First, the party has attempted to define its ideology more precisely in order to differentiate itself from SPS, which is one of its main competitors. "We are a social-liberal party, and we want social liberalism -- that is liberalism for everyone -- plus social security," Mitrokhin said. "SPS is more oriented to reaching liberalism only for the monopolists and their employees."
Earlier this year, Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii was offered second place on a combined Yabloko/SPS electoral party list for the Duma elections. In addition, SPS held out the prospect of Yavlinskii becoming the only "democratic" candidate in the presidential election in March 2004. SPS leaders argued that by merging the two parties, they could unite their supporters and create a powerful democratic coalition in the next Duma. But Yabloko would not agree. Mitrokhin said the ideological differences between the two parties were too fundamental. Yabloko, for example, has voted against important and controversial reforms such as housing reforms and energy-sector privatization, while SPS supported them.
According to Mitrokhin, a second attempt by Yabloko to broaden its political base has been the launching of important political initiatives such as monitoring the communal-housing and public-utilities reforms by collecting complaints regarding services such as water and elevators. In addition, Yabloko, in an alliance with the Communists, sought last month to pass a vote of no confidence in the government over its unpopular domestic policies, including it communal-housing reform.
Analyst Ryabov said these initiatives are likely to attract more votes for the party. "People are now very concerned about everyday problems, rather than about foreign policy or amendments to the constitution, and Yabloko is doing a good job in this direction," he said. According to a VTsIOM poll conducted in April, more than 50 percent of respondents said their life is going to get worse after the communal-housing and energy-sector reforms.
But to make truly significant inroads among voters, Yabloko also needs more support from the national news media, which in many cases can be characterized as hostile to the party. Ryabov said the reasons for such hostility are linked to the fact that for a long time, the Moscow-based media have been strongly influenced by SPS and its strong anti-Communist and anti-social-policy stance. To them, Yabloko, with its flexible programs, is seen as a kind of traitor. "Yabloko was able to find compromises with the Communists. They spoke against [many of] the reformers of [former President Boris] Yeltsin's era, even if at the time, things were seen in black and white...and there was no place for flexible positions," he said. Russian newspapers concentrate their coverage mostly on the personality of Yavlinskii, who is portrayed as a talker and as a leader afraid of taking responsibility, rather than on reporting about the party's concrete programs, analysts concluded.
For the time being, most experts agree that Yabloko will easily attract 7 percent-8 percent of the vote, and they do not exclude that this year the party might even break out of its traditional 7 percent rut. "It is difficult to say for sure," Ryabov noted. "So far, there is a lot of dynamism in the pre-election process this year." And, predictions that the 2003 race would be boring might have been premature.
Francesca Mereu is a freelance correspondent based in Moscow.
PARTY REGISTER KEEPS GROWING.Despite the passage in 2001 of the law on political parties, which was designed in part to reduce Russia's plethora of political parties, more than three dozen parties are now registered with the Justice Ministry, as the table below illustrates (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 29 January and 10 December 2001). But party-registration documents do not tell the whole story. According to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 13 January, political parties maintain several lists of party members: one for the media and public consumption, one for internal use, and one for the Justice Ministry, the totals of which are listed below. With almost 40,000 members, Gennadii Raikov's People's Party would appear to be one of Russia's most popular parties. However, it never rises above 1 percent in public-opinion polls. At the same time, the Communist Party, which has always done the best in State Duma elections, ranks only fifth in terms of registered members on the Justice Ministry rolls. JAC
REGISTERED POLITICAL PARTIESName of party_____________Leader(s)________________# of members
Agrarian Party of Russia____Mikhail Lapshin______________41,477
People's Party______________Gennadii Raikov____________39,293
Unified Russia___________Boris Gryzlov__________________19,579
Liberal Democratic Party___Vladimir Zhirinovskii___________19,098
Communist Party of Russia___Gennadii Zyuganov___________19,013
Russian Party of Pensioners___Sergei Atroshenko____________18,415
Peace and Unity Party________Sazhi Umalatova_____________16,465
Party of Social Justice____Larisa Babukh, Maria Lazutova______14,941
___________________Mikhail Karpenko, Anatolii Sidorenko
____________Boris Tomaev, Anatolii Shabanov, Vladimir Shadrikov
Russian Communist Workers Party-
Russian Party of Communists____Anatolii Kruchkov_________14.056
Russian Party of Workers'
Green Party_______________Anatolii Panfilov_____________13,195
Russian Network Party in_____Aleksandr Ryabkin____________13,105
Support of Small and Medium Business
Russian Party of Peace___Iosif Kobzon, Vladimir Medvedev_____12,701
Social Democratic Party
of Russia_________________Mikhail Gorbachev____________12,671
Democratic Party of Russia___Mikhail Prusak______________12,086
Freedom and People Power Party__Viktor Cherepkov__________12,007
Liberal Russia_____Viktor Pokhmelkin, Boris Zolotukhin______11,889
Russian Party of Stability_____Vladimir Sokolov_____________11,780
Russian Party of Life_______Sergei Mironov_______________11,642
Russian Citizens Party___Zaur Abdula-Zade, Sergei Lavrov_____11,500
__________Iraklii Meretsidi, Akhmed Nureev, Nadezhda Cherbokhova
Conceptual Party of Unity____Konstantin Petrov______________11,500
People's Republican Party______Vladimir Kushnerenko_________11,500
Socialist Unified Party of
Russia (Spiritual Heritage)____Aleksei Podberezkin____________11,363
Party of Russia_____________Igor Rodionov________________11,272
National Patriotic Forces______Shmidt Dzoblaev_____________11,038
of the Russian Federation
Union Party_______________not yet elected________________10,984
Eurasia Party_____________Aleksandr Dugin_______________10,794
Russian Party of Labor_______Sergei Khramov______________10,759
Entrepreneurship Party________Ivan Grachev______________10,771
Party of National Rebirth______Sergei Baburin______________10,728
Republican Party of Russia_____Vladimir Lysenko____________10,721
Conservative Party of Russia_____Lev Ubozhko______________10,630
Creation Party______________Mikhail Moiseev______________10,167
Eurasia Party-Union of Patriots
of Russia_________________Abdul-Vakhed Niyazov___________n/a
International Russia___________Omar Begov_________________n/a
For Holy Rus________________Sergei Popov_________________n/a
Russian Unified Industrial_______Yelena Panina________________n/a
Source: Russian Justice Ministry at http://party.scli.ru/perechen.htm
COMINGS & GOINGSDECEASED: State Duma Deputy and investigative journalist Yurii Shchekochikhin (Yabloko), died on the night of 2-3 July after suffering an "acute allergic reaction." Yabloko spokeswoman Yevgeniya Dillendorf said that the results of an autopsy conducted on 4 July will be known in 10-30 days and "will show whether Shchekochikhin was poisoned."
OUT: Deputy Energy Minister Valentin Shelepov has been released from his position at his own request, grani.ru reported on 8 July, citing Interfax. Shelepov was a former deputy natural resources minister and a former deputy general director of LUKoil-Zapsib.
POLITICAL CALENDAR7-10 July: Jalal Talabani, the secretary-general of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, will visit Russia
13-16 July: Great Britain's Prince Charles will visit Russia
14 July: Deadline set by President Vladimir Putin for the regions to bring their laws into compliance with federal regulations
14 July: Federal law on basic guarantees of electoral rights will come into effect, requiring that half the mandates in regional legislatures be elected from party lists
15 July: Government will consider draft bill on mineral resources, Prime-TASS reported on 28 May
15 July: Deadline for new company, Russian Railways, to be registered
1 August: Deadline for Russian peacekeeping troops to be withdrawn from Kosova
12 August: Third anniversary of the sinking of the "Kursk" nuclear submarine
13 August: Air-traffic controllers will hold a national protest action
15 August: Date by which Duma should approve new map of single-mandate districts; if it fails to do so, the Central Election Commission will have the right to confirm the map
17 August: Karachaevo-Cherkessia will hold presidential elections
Late August: Campaign for 7 December State Duma elections officially begins
September: Second Russian-U.S. Commercial Energy Summit will take place in Moscow
September: State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev's Party for Russia's Revival will hold a congress in Moscow
1 September: Date by which government commission is expected to have drafted 2004 budget
7 September: Sverdlovsk, Novgorod, and Omsk oblasts will hold gubernatorial elections
7 September: Murmansk will hold mayoral elections
10 September: Special party congress for Communist Party of Russia
14 September: Volgograd will hold mayoral elections
21 September: St. Petersburg and Leningrad and Tomsk oblasts will hold gubernatorial elections
23 September: The first European-Pacific Ocean Conference will take place in Vladivostok devoted to improving dialogue among intellectuals in European countries and the Pacific region, regions.ru reported on 6 March
24 September: Federation Council will hold its opening session after summer recess
30 September-2 October: The Second All-Russian Sociological Congress will take place at Moscow State University
1 October: Thirty-three percent salary hike for budget-sector workers will go into effect, pending the passage of legislation being revised by a conciliation commission
5 October: Presidential election to be held in Chechnya
6 October: British court to consider Russia's request to extradite tycoon Boris Berezovskii
October: President Putin and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder will meet in Yekaterinburg, Novyi region reported on 14 April
23-26 October: First anniversary of the Moscow-theater hostage crisis
25-26 October: Russian Forum on the development of civil society will be held in Nizhnii Novgorod
29 October: 85th anniversary of the founding of the Komsomol
7 December: State Duma elections will be held.