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A Just Russia party loses strength

October 30, 2012, 16:30 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila

MOSCOW, October 30 (Itar-Tass) — A Just Russia, which the Kremlin had conceived as an alternative ruling party to draw votes away from the Communists on the left flank, became increasingly oppositional of late. Now it has begun to fall apart. The party led by the former speaker of the Federation Council, Sergei Mironov, did have a variety of problems on other occasions in the past. But now the experts say that it is on the brink of leaving the “premier league” of the veteran parliamentary parties, largely because a number of its members taking seats in the State Duma were actively involved in street protests. True, the leadership of the party has already distanced itself from them and possibly, as some analysts speculate, will earn the authorities’ forgiveness. As a matter of fact, A Just Russia is faced with a stark choice – either going marginal or cooperating with the Kremlin.

The leader of the Rodina party, Alexei Zhuravlyov, and head of the Pensioners’ Party, Igor Zotov, on Monday put their signatures to an agreement on their organizations’ walkout from the group of A Just Russia co-founders. The cooperation agreement by these two parties and Sergei Mironov’s Party of Life was concluded back in 2006. At a special news conference Zotov tore apart a copy of the agreement on the establishment of A Just Russia in front of television cameras.

Zhuravlyov and Zotov claimed that A Just Russia was a “political Frankenstein” – a collection of assorted pieces that had failed to become one whole. They said they felt insulted right from the beginning. Two few of their people were allowed to join A Just Russia leadership bodies, they complained.

Although this decision entails no legal effects, the demarche by former fellow party members reflects a general trend – A Just Russia has seen an exodus of sponsors, Duma members and rank-and-file for quite a long time.

Alexei Zhuralvyov made no secret of the fact that the much-publicized divorce with A Just Russia had a political significance. It happened alongside massive withdrawal from the party of legislators elected on the A Just Russia ticket to the State Duma last December. Eight of the 64 faction members have joined the group of so-called “independents,” and the number of these may grow further.

The outflow from A Just Russia began after Sergei Mironov in May 2011 was revoked from the seat of the Federation Council Speaker and Vladimir Putin declared the creation of an All-Russia People’s Front. “The most influential members hurried to quit the party already then,” recalls political analyst Mikhail Tulsky. “State Duma member Alexander Babakov was one of the first ones to have done that,” Kommersant quotes Tulsky as saying. A number of other business-related legislators followed suit.

And in May 2012 five legislators supported Dmitry Medvedev’s nomination for the post of prime minister in defiance of a different decision by the party’s leadership. Then they formed the backbone of a group of “independent” legislators who are now acting in concert with United Russia.

Experts say that the exodus of legislators makes very nervous the sponsors who “a while ago were joining a respectable pro-authorities party.”

A Just Russia has lost not only people with money, but also its most active members. Over the past fourteen months the party’s membership has shrunk from 370,000 to 330,000. The head of the democracy and civil society promotion fund, Konstantin Kostin, believes that A Just Russia is about to leave the “premier league” of the veteran parliamentary parties.

In the Duma 2011 elections A Just Russia collected extra votes of those people who did not share its ideology, but decided to vote against United Russia, says sociologist Leonty Byzov. He estimates the party’s real rating at 3.5%-4% - which is below the State Duma qualification hurdle, and Sergei Mironov lacks the courage to “burn the bridges” and go into opposition.

Last Saturday the party’s leadership, oscillating between staying "within the system" and going into outright opposition, declared that it had made up its mind. Sergei Mironov told the party conference he was critical of the protest activity by some A Just Russia members (high-profile opposition politicians father and son Gudkov and Ilya Ponomaryov). Mironov said it was the party’s association with the street protest movement that resulted in its candidates’ failure in the October regional elections. “Each member of the party is to make a very simple choice for oneself who is worth being with – a party working on the social-democratic program or with those dreaming of a liberal revanche or just wish to start turmoil,” Mironov said. “If someone has problems with making a choice, then our party will have to decide who is worthy of being its member.”

Experts say that all these events - another attack against A Just Russia, the latter’s refusal to cooperate with the radical Opposition, and the split inside the A Just Russia faction in the State Duma - are certainly related with each other.

A source close to the Kremlin has told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that in this way A Just Russia is being returned to the mission for which the party was created six years ago – splitting the Communist electorate and converting a certain part of it into potential supporters of a second, alternative ruling party.

As a source close to the presidential staff has told the daily, A Just Russia “followed an incomprehensible policy for a whole year and now a campaign to correct mistakes is in progress inside the party.” If A Just Russia confesses its mistakes, then it will be able to stay in politics further on.

The divorce with Rodina and the Pensioners’ Party is part and parcel of the campaign against A Just Russia in retaliation for its support for street protests, Kommersant quotes political scientist Mikhail Vinogradov as saying. “It is very strange the pressures are continuing. Mironov has already distanced himself from the street Opposition. A Just Russia will be drifting ever farther away from the protesters, and then, possibility, it will be forgiven.”

“It looks like a new political party project is cooking. The A Just Russia is about to be replaced with something else,” says Yabloko’s leader Sergei Mitrokhin. “All these demarches are not the legislators’ own initiative. They have been acting on instructions. One should remember that A Just Russia is a party grown in the Kremlin’s test-tube. Conceived as the Communist Party’s spoiler, it was not very successful in that capacity, though.”