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All-Russia People’s Front that Vladimir Putin, then the Prime Minister, set up last year as an instrument for participation in election campaigns is trying to distance itself from the ruling United Russia party, whose electoral ticket its members used to get seats in the State Duma.
United Russia’s popularity is dwindling, and the popularity of the Front is diminishing, too, although the leaders of the latter claim this reduction is only temporary.
Experts call the Front a mothballed alternative to the power-wielding party, which is currently chaired by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. It may come in handy if United Russia’s popularity ratings fall all too low.
At the moment, the Front is heading for a considerable reshuffle. The chairman of its staff, MP Vyacheslav Lysakov said recently the time has come for dissociation with United Russia.
“Non-partisan individuals will take the helm at our regional divisions,” he said.
He indicated that a decision had been taken at meetings between Putin and the Front leaders to formalize the Front as a legal entity. Front members are expected to gather for a congress in November or December, after which the organization will be registered as a public movement at the Justice Ministry.
Acquisition of legal independence will go hand-in-hand with relieving the Front from party supervision.
A resetting of the Front’s regional divisions, the backbone of which will consist of the individuals unaffiliated with political parties, will be an important task in terms of renovation over the next few months. Along with it, United Russia activists and members of other political parties will have an opportunity to participate in the Front’s activities in the capacity of experts.
On the face of it, the objectives set forth for the renovation of the Front will remain unchanged, Lysakov said. They include imposition of a self-styled popular control in all spheres of life, the drafting of lawmaking agendas at the regional level, and assistance to municipal agencies in the solution of local problems.
In the meantime, the MPs who got Duma seats on the United Russia party ticket have decided to dissociate themselves from the party in the lawmaking procedures, too. The Front will come up with more radical legislative initiatives from now on, they said.
The first document of this kind – a much-spoken-of bill prohibiting public officials to have financial assets abroad – has already emerged. Lysakov assured that this is just the beginning and that the ‘Frontliners’ are working on new high-profile bills.
They are engaged in these legislative chores without forming a separate group within the United Russia faction. One of the ‘Frontliners’ in the Duma, Valery Trapeznikov assured the Izvestia daily there is no conflict within the party but the Front will simply put forward more radical initiatives prompted by rank-and-file Russians.
A well-informed source close to the Presidential Administration, whom the Nezavissimaya Gazeta daily asked about the degree to which United Russia under Dmitry Medvedev’s chairmanship is a power-wielding party, said the following: “That’s like a pyramid. Medvedev and United Russia form its foundation but the All-Russia People’s Front and Putin stand above it.”
Igor Yurgens, the director of the Institute for the Studies of Contemporary Development told Nezavissimaya Gazeta he is confident that the Front’s ambitions are fuelled by the latest image-related losses United Russia has suffered. He believes the Kremlin is taking account of a growing grassroots negativism towards United Russia.
“People continue trusting Putin and yet they’d like something more decent than United Russia,” Yurgens said. “A silent rebuffing of that party can be seen just everywhere.”
“I visited the Caucasus recently,” he went on. “I can tell you I heard many scornful things about the party structure even from its ardent members. But now they’ll have an alternative.”
Nikolai Petrov of the Moscow Carnegie Center describes the People’s Front as a mothballed alternative rather than an actively unfolding project. “The All-Russia People’s Front is an umbrella, and it’s absolutely clear why it has appeared,” he said.
Petrov believes there are no definitive decisions yet as to what should be done with this umbrella. “There’s only the confidence of the power-wielding quarters that Putin must have an organizational structure of some kind in his hands. He has given up United Russia but he is quite content with the People’s Front in this sense.”
Petrov does not rule out that the Front may play a major role as early as this autumn if the party’s popularity falls especially low and a rebranding of the party as such will be needed.
The problem, however, is that the Front has a much lower ranking on the popularity chart than United Russia. A poll taken by Levada Center suggests that only 4% of those polled trust it unconditionally, while the result reported back in February suggested the respective figure was 22%.
Experts link this loss of popularity to the fact that the Front practically disappeared from public view after the March presidential election.
“Along with a decline of popular trust, the number respondents saying they felt uncertain about it or had no answer made a hike from 6% in February to 32% in August,” the Levada Center sociologist Denis Volkov told the RBC daily. After the election campaign had come to an end, people started forgetting the Front. Although did play a certain role in the course of the elections, the voters just don’t understand what it should exist for in the future.
“The Front is nowhere in sight in the format of the current political agenda and hence its trustworthiness in society’s eyes is declining,” says Yevgeny Minchenko, the director of the Center for Political Technologies.
“In February, it played the role of a support frame in Putin’s election race and now this self-styled ‘armored train’ has been sidetracked,” he said making an allusion to a poem, which the classical Soviet revolutionary poet Mikhail Svetlov wrote in the 1930’s. A stanza in that poem titled ‘Kakhovka’ reads: “We’re peaceful people but our armored train is kept operation-ready on a sidetrack.”
Vyacheslav Lysakov guarantees a return to the previous levels of support by the end of autumn.
“We’ll be showing up in the course of autumn /regional/ elections, we’ll get a registration and do a resetting within our own structure, and the part of our supporters who lost us out of sight will see us regularly again,” he said. “And that’s how trust will return to us.”
Moscow, August 31