Sergei Mironov lost his job as speaker of the Federation Council today when the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly voted 42-5 to remove him
as one of the city's representatives to the upper chamber.
His sacking was sparked by a series of critical public comments he made about the ruling United Russia party. He also drew fire for saying that his party, A Just Russia, would not support Putin's return to the presidency in 2012 if he is nominated by United Russia.
So this means that Mironov is finished and will just fade away into the political wilderness, right? Well, not exactly.
After the vote, Mironov said he would take a seat in the State Duma, which he is entitled to do because he led the party list of A Just Russia in the December 2007 parliamentary elections:
I will assume the mandate of State Duma lawmaker -- I have a legal right to do so -- and in the near future I will speak from the State Duma rostrum. So, gentlemen of the United Russia party, you are celebrating too early that you have deprived me of a podium.
The Mironov case is one of the stranger twists in what is shaping up to be another lively election season.
A longtime loyal ally of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Mironov held his speakership for the past 10 years. He founded A Just Russia in 2007 with the Putin's blessing as a pro-Kremlin center-left party, a move widely seen as part of a strategy to co-opt discontent on the left and establish an obedient domesticated opposition.
But in then, he started acting -- and the operative word here is "acting" -- sort of like an actual opposition figure. In October 2009, A Just Russia joined the Communists and Vladimir Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democrats, two other "opposition" parties tolerated by the Kremlin, in a walkout from the State Duma
to protest falsification in local elections that month (in which United Russia won an overwhelming majority of seats).
Throughout 2010 and into this year, MIronov became increasingly critical of United Russia. He even criticized the government's 2010 budget
, sparking the first calls for him to step down.
Mironov says he and his party are gearing up for the December 2011 State Duma elections.
"If somebody assumed that I am leaving the [A Just Russia] party - they are wrong - it is a simple reshuffling of forces ahead of the decisive battle that we are facing in December," he said in remarks reported by RIA-Novosti
In his press conference
today, Medvedev curiously interrupted the proceedings to announce Mironov's sacking (which he reportedly read on his iPad). Asked later by journalists to comment, Medvedev said it would benefit both United Russia and A Just Russia.
"Many countries take decades to develop their parliaments and this is what we are doing," Medvedev said
The remark appears curious devoid of context. But in context, it makes perfect sense.
Back in 2009, Mironov supported a plan, floated by Deputy Kremlin Chief of Staff Vladislav Surkov and hotly opposed by United Russia, to establish a tightly controlled multi-party system
similar to the ones that existed in some Soviet satellites like Communist-era Czechoslovakia and East Germany.
State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov, a leading member of United Russia, vocally fought the idea -- which would reduce the party's clout -- and it seemed to lose traction.
But given the events of the past week or so, it might just be poised to make a comeback.
Billionaire oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov's decision
to head up the Kremlin-friendly center-right "opposition" party Right Cause could -- possibly -- turn them into a player and get them into the next Duma.
Mironov's expulsion could -- conceivably -- boost his stature as an outsider fighting the system (as contrived as that is) among disaffected voters on the left. This would boost A Just Russia's chances to make it back into the Duma in December without the taint of being a Kremlin lackey.
If both A Just Russia and Right Cause make it into parliament they will provide a convenient left and right flank to a still-dominant United Russia (with the Communists and the Liberal Democrats occupying the left and right extremes). And then -- voila! -- Surkov's tightly controlled fake multiparty system is a reality.
And then everybody joins Putin's new All-Russian National Front
and lives happily ever after!
-- Brian Whitmore