The Russian Justice Ministry today once again refused to register the Russian Popular Democratic Union, the opposition political movement of former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov. The rejection of the movement has become something of a tradition in Russia -- the party was first refused registration in 2006, and Kasyanov himself was barred by the Central Election Commission in 2007 from running for president against Dmitry Medvedev.
The ministry's excuse for denying registration this time was the use of the word "union" in the party's name, something that didn't bother it back in 2006 or 2007 or when it registered the Union of Rightist Forces. A "union" is one thing, the agency said, while a political movement is something else entirely. The reasoning rings even more hollow when one recalls that Kasyanov's earlier efforts to register parties named People For Democracy and Justice were also rejected.
Despite the Kremlin's domination of the political landscape in Russia, it remains vigilantly on guard against any threat and seems particularly concerned with the charismatic and competent Kasyanov. He served as Vladimir Putin's prime minister for nearly all of Putin's first term and enacted the tax and customs reforms that jump-started Russia's post-1998 economic recovery. He also created the economic reserves that the Kremlin is now tapping vigorously to mitigate the current financial crisis.
The ministry's decision will make it impossible for Kasyanov to pursue his stated strategy of focusing on local elections. In July he told RIA Novosti the party would concentrate on local, grassroots actions as a way of setting the stage for its entry onto the national political scene.
While the wheels were spinning within the Justice Ministry, Medvedev was addressing police, telling them to be on guard against anyone who would use the economic woes to destabilize the country. "We have a stable state.... We do not need a return to the 1990s when everything was boiling and seething," Medvedev told a meeting of senior officials, according to Reuters. "The law enforcement agencies should keep track of what is happening."
In an interview with RFE/RL in July 2006, Kasyanov warned that an economic crisis brought on by a possible fall in global energy prices could produce a political crisis for Russia's government, whose legitimacy is weak because of the grossly manipulated elections that brought it to power. Ultimately, the need to avert such a crisis may prove more pressing for the Kremlin than its stated goals of rooting out "legal nihilism" and corruption.
-- Robert Coalson