MOSCOW (Tatyana Stanovaya, for RIA Novosti)
-- The Republican Party of Russia (RPR) recently held a conference devoted to the liberal opposition's positive action plan, and appealed to all democrats to unite around the program and start working on a uniform list with a view to taking part in the 2007 parliamentary elections.
RPR leader Vladimir Ryzhkov said Monday that he is absolutely certain that the list will be produced, and that the person who heads it will have a good chance to win the future presidential elections.
But Ryzhkov's right-wing colleagues do not share his optimism at all. Experience shows that the more persistent right-wing forces are in a bid to unite, the more numerous they become.
In recent years, the right opposition has made quite an effort to unite, using the Committee 2008 as a go-between. The Committee's founders promised to work hard to bring together the Union of Right Forces (SPS) and Yabloko. But Yabloko did not wish to unite with Chubais's party and put forward unacceptable terms. For its part, the SPS did not want to get swallowed up by Yabloko. Ryzhkov and Garry Kasparov used this stalemate for their own objectives. They decided to propose a new project of a new party to be led by new leaders, a position they both wanted to occupy.
But the new law on parties does not allow electoral blocs to take part in elections. If parties form an association, one has to disband itself and join the other. Neither the SPS nor Yabloko were prepared to accept this.
The Ryzhkov-Kasparov pairing did not last long either, as they quarreled over the Republican Party. Ryzhkov suggested uniting as a party, preserving its brand and activists, while Kasparov wanted to oust the activists and divide the party between Ryzhkov's and his own supporters. But this is something that the RPR leaders could not accept. Eventually, Ryzhkov alone joined RPR leader Vladimir Lysenko, while Kasparov set up the United Civil Front (UCF).
But right-wingers understand that they will not be able to get any seats in the Duma in 2007 unless they unite, especially since parties now need 7% of the vote to get in under the new proportional system. For this reason, efforts to sell the project to the right have not been given up.
It was Ryzhkov who came up with what may be qualified as a new idea. He suggested that right-wing forces should unite around a program rather than a party.
This is not a bad idea. If a program appeals to the voters, the demand will be there. And demand calls for supply. A united democratic party could fit in quite well. But the effort produced the opposite effect. There is no program yet, the demand for the current right-wing forces remains low, while Ryzhkov came up with another proposal: Let all parties disband themselves and join the Republican Party.
It didn't take his liberal colleagues long to get to the core of the matter. Yabloko accused Ryzhkov of "looting" and declared that it had its own "positive program" and a party for unification. Leader Grigory Yavlinsky said that he does not understand why his 85,000-strong party should join one that is less well known. Irina Khakamada, leader of Our Choice, has agreed to take part jointly only in regional elections at this point. The SPS supported this idea.
Meanwhile, Yavlinsky labeled RPR's tactics of negotiations with other parties' regional branches about unification from below as an attempt to entice new members. There are indeed reasons for concern: The republicans do not have such ramified regional networks as Yabloko or the SPS, and joint participation in regional elections is a good PR instrument for them.
Different parties and political projects have different political tactics for their struggle against the "regime." The main goal of Kasparov's UCF is to "destroy the Putin regime." Its leaders believe that organized protest, including street demonstrations, is the most effective weapon in this struggle. For its part, the SPS still hopes to become a right-wing partner of the powers that be, and is not always ready to go all the way in criticizing the president.
Yavlinksy also said that only a constructive opposition could be strong enough. Both he and Khakamada are increasingly leaning towards social democracy. Khakamada said recently that they can no longer be called rightist, because the only rightist party today is United Russia. "So Ryzhkov, myself and others are social democrats, or at least social liberals, but not rightist in any event," she emphasized. But far from all liberals are ready to turn into social democrats, and those who are ready, often oppose tough confrontation with the authorities.
Thus, the democrats fall into several categories: adamant liberals (Kasparov), constructive liberals (SPS), constructive social democrats (Yabloko) and adamant social democrats (Khakamada). All of them will not only have to find a single ideological niche and choose an acceptable method of political struggle, but also decide who will have to disband in the final analysis.
Tatyana Stanovaya is a leading expert at the Center for Political Technologies