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Russia Gets a New Political Party

  • Lisa McAdams

Three small pro-Kremlin parties have announced a merger they say will create an opposing political force to United Russia, the country's dominant political power backed by the Kremlin. But political analysts are questioning the validity of the new party, saying it appears to be another project masterminded by the Kremlin to maintain its tight grip on power.

Russia's government-controlled media hailed this week's formation of a new opposition political party in Russia, but questions are being asked about whether the people really got a new political party.

Many Kremlin-watchers are trying to make sense of the announcement of a merger by three small political parties long-aligned with the Kremlin - the Party of Life, the Motherland Party (Rodina) and the Pensioners Party.

In announcing the merger, the leader of the Party of Life and Federation Council speaker, Sergei Mironov, said that in opposing United Russia the new party would oppose the idea of a monopolizing political force.

United Russia's spokesman, Leonid Goryainov, dismissed that goal, saying declaring a merger does not mean anything.

The leader of the largest opposition group in parliament, Gennady Zyuganov of the Communists, said his party would expose, what he called, "a contrived creation".

A number of analysts, including Masha Lipman of Moscow's Carnegie Center, are equally skeptical of the new yet-to-be-named party.

"The Kremlin has increasingly controlled Russian political life and there is nothing new about it," she said. "Back in 1999, the Kremlin created a party, then merged it with its most bitter rival after the parliamentary election of '99. That is how Yedinaya Rossiya (United Russia) was formed and since then the Kremlin has masterminded quite a few projects, acting like a sculptor who molds political parties out of modeling clay. It has created parties, marginalized parties, picked up remains of abandoned projects and merged them with others."

Ms. Lipman tells VOA there are several theories circulating as to why the Kremlin would back this merger at this time, including one that suggests the Kremlin wants to create a two-party system before parliamentary elections in 2007. But Lipman says a second, and more likely scenario, is that this merger represents a Kremlin-controlled competition of two groups of loyalists.

"The other theory has it that the emergence of a new project is a product of the feud and competition within the Kremlin of different Kremlin factions (i.e.) of yet another Kremlin faction seeking to put together a, quote-unquote, project for itself," she said.

Lipman points out that the new party's first real political test is not far off, with Russia slated to hold a series of local and regional legislative elections this October.

According to Lipman, the results at the polls should give some indications about the long-term future prospects of the new alliance.

But she says the first task will be to see how much support, if any, the new alliance can count on from the Russian people, whom she says remain largely indifferent to politics.

"People in Russia are not blind or stupid," she said. "They see that the political process in Russia has become a scene of manipulation. That state politics has become so manipulative that the election results are largely pre-ordained. And when people see this in Russia, as in any country, they lose interest in the elections."

According to a recent poll, about 50 percent of the Russian population either responds that they have no interest in political parties, or that they have yet to pick a party affiliation. But President Putin's popularity rating remains an impressive 78 percent, making him the most popular politician in Russia.

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