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© RIA Novosti. Vladimir Astapkovich

Party law is ‘Surkov’s kiss’

by at 16/04/2012 21:14

President Dmitry Medvedev may have just passed a bill “liberalizing” registration rules for parties, but experts say that at its core, the law is anything but liberal.

The bill, dubbed a “farewell kiss from [Vladislav] Surkov,” the formerly powerful Kremlin ideologist who was transferred to a ministerial post in December, could actually become a bane for Russia’s struggling liberal groups as they try to become parties.

“This new ‘liberal’ law will in fact disrupt any strong liberal progress, and most liberal parties will have new rivals, which will weaken them and draw votes from them,” Yabloko head Sergei Mitrokhin told The Moscow News.

Now that parties of 500 people or less are allowed to register, the Justice Ministry has received about 130 applications from new contenders. The list continues to grow. And rather than unifying the liberals in one party that will have a chance for Duma representation, the new bill may only marginalize them further.

The reform, which divides candidates into regional groups, will harm parties that don’t have regional representation.

“A voter comes to a polling station and is faced with more than a hundred parties [to choose from],” Andrei Piontkovsky, a political expert and one of the leaders of Solidarnost movement, told The Moscow News. “If he can’t find a single familiar face, it will disrupt the election process completely.”

Financial threat

As the Justice Ministry piles through applications with names like “the Party of Love” and “the Party against All,” one liberal party with potential has yet to choose a name. Billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, who came in third during the presidential elections, has sorted through 13 potential names that include “New Party,” “Democratic Party of Russia,” and the “Yo-Party” – after Prokhorov’s Yo-Mobile hybrid car.

Prokhorov’s fledgling party – with its PR campaign run by Mikhailov and Partners, one of the most expensive agencies in the country – has drawn top businessmen like Artyom Bektemirov, co-partner of the 36,6 pharmacies, Svyaznoy owner Maxim Nogotkov, and former minister Alexander Pochinok.

And it will style its election process according to the U.S. primaries. So far, Prokhorov’s office has received some 6,000 applications from prospective regional leaders.

“We aim to launch the party in September or October in order to be in time for the regional elections and elections to legislative assemblies,” Yuliana Slashcheva, Mikhail Prokhorov’s advisor and the president of Mikhailov and Partners, told The Moscow News.

“I’m not sure the party will be oppositional, but it will certainly be liberal,” Slashcheva said.

Prokhorov, the only independent candidate in the race and who succeeded in gathering two million signatures within a month, has been widely suspected of having the Kremlin’s blessing, if not its outright backing. Some oppositionists see him as a financial threat to the liberal movement.

“Each oppositionist movement, like Yabloko or Solidarnost, used to have several strong regional headquarters, but now these forces will be under Prokhorov’s wing,” Piontkovsky said. “He can buy the entire regional opposition with a competitive salary of $1,000, all under the disguise of liberal values.”

Political analysts anticipate that up to 15 new liberal movements will be created in the near future, and the law will certainly be an advantage for them. Vladimir Ryzhkov’s Republican Party of Russia, which was closed in 2007 by the Supreme Court because its membership was lower than the required 50,000 people, is now being revived to take part in the regional elections this fall.

Ryzhkov’s party may even merge with the liberal Parnas, headed by Boris Nemtsov, which has yet to decide whether it wants to run in the elections as a separate party.

Some experts suspect parties will refuse to register simply out of protest.

“Some liberal parties stand strongly against political reform, calling it an imitation, and they would try not to register, just out of protest,” Sergei Markov, a Kremlin- friendly analyst and the vice president of the Plekhanov Russian University of Economics.

But according to Piontkovsky, whose Solidarnost movement does not plan to register, this is no protest at all. “We are not willing to play games with the government,” he said.

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