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Russia’s ruling party self-purging to bring down popular discontent

February 22, 2013, 18:08 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila

The rules of the game in the upper echelons seem to be changing – this is a conclusion one can arrive after a number of lawmakers with the ruling United Russia party vacated Duma seats. Experts say the process of United Russia’s self-purge was sanctioned from the top with an eye of rotating the elites. Some even say it might culminate in the dissolution of the current parliament.

In the past three days, three United Russia faction members have vacated their seats in the lower parliament house. The most widely discussed was the case of Vladimir Pekhtin, the chairman of the Duma ethics commission, who was suspected of having an undeclared real estate in the United States worth several million U.S. dollars. His lead was followed by two more United Russia lawmakers, Anatoly Lomakin, number 79 in the 2012 Russian Forbes rating with a fortune of 1.2 billion U.S. dollars, and Vasily Tolstopyatov.

On Thursday, the Levada-Centre polling agency made public opinion poll results showing extremely low ratings of the State Duma. The Nezavisimaya Gazeta newspaper cites the centre’s director, Lev Gudkov, who believes that scandals are ruining the State Duma authority. “In the eyes of Russians, the State Duma has become a club of corruptionists scorning people’s interests. People believe that the current developments are not mere accidental episodes but rather an evidence of the decay of the powers that be,” he told the newspaper.

The leader of the Civil Force party, billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, has called to dissolve the State Duma. “I believe we must pool efforts to have the State Duma disbanded to appoint early parliamentary elections,” he said.

Many experts say Pekhtin’s move was “a signal to the elites.” This is how it was characterized by a presidential administration official. “Either you are immaculate and stay in power, or you have your foreign property and accounts and off power,” the Kremlin source told the Kommersant daily. This is what, the Kremlin believes, should be born in mind not only by lawmakers but also by government officials and regional leaders. “If society wants revamped and cleaner power, this demand should be satisfied. It is high time for each one to take his or her own decision,” the source said.

Few people have doubts that the recent developments in the State Duma were sanctioned by the Kremlin. Pekhtin’s decision is very much likely to have been taken in the presidential administration, according to political scientist Andrei Piontkovsky. “Every day, this or that bribe-taker is being sacrificed to people’s wrath. It looks like they are planning to re-brand and upgrade the upper echelons of power, maybe including early elections to the State Duma. So that the glittering in its immaculacy Popular Front will rise from the sea foam to take the place of the discredited party of “crooks and thieves,” he told the Novye Izvestia newspaper.

Rostislav Turovsky, an expert from the Centre of Political Information believes that this is all about a possible scenario of Duma dissolution or at least its overhaul. “A tendency towards overhauling the United Russia faction is clearly seen already now. The recent scandals prompt the authorities to think of either its complete replacement or replacement of some of its members,” he said.

According to Turovsky, early elections are not necessarily inevitable. “But steps are being taken to clear the way for such a possibility. So, if need be, Putin may use it,” he said.

“The principle ‘What the United Russia is allowed, its opponents are not’ is not working any longer,” the Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper cites Igor Bunin, the director general of the Centre of Political Technologies, as saying. “The Kremlin has opted for a new rule of the game: once exposed, off you go.” But, in his opinion, it is unlikely to end up in the Duma dissolution. “It will stay as an obedient instrument of the executive power. To lose it means to plunge into a political crisis,” he said.

Political scientist Alexei Makarkin is likewise skeptical about possible disbanding of the State Duma. “A new election campaign will add too many problems to President Putin,” he said.

Mikhail Delyagin, the director of the Institute of Globalization Problems, shared this point of view. “It is pointless to stir up this mire and venture new falsifications. In 2011, vote rigging gave rise to mass-scale protests. No one knows what will become of the new elections,” he noted.

On Friday, the State Duma is to consider in the first reading a presidential bill banning state servants to have shares of foreign companies and open accounts with foreign banks. According to the Public Opinion Fund, some 90 percent of the polled support this initiative.

“The rules have been changed: neither a seat in the legislative body, nor a ministerial office gives a carte blanche to be indiscriminate in lining one’s pockets or a license to violate all possible rules,” the Vedomosti newspaper stresses. “Top authorities feel that a major part of Putin’s conservative and paternalistic-minded supporters want a more equal and fair, to their mind, distribution of privileges and assets, they feel their discontent with glaring wealth of some officials and lawmakers.”

According to the newspaper, political managers have preferred to sacrifice some of the top personalities to bring down public discontent and demonstrate drive to fight against the new rich. Concurrently, the Kremlin gave a signal to the red tape and the executive branch serving them: be careful with your wealth, hid it better, be more modest.

In the mean time, no doubt that the corruption exposing campaign is to continue, with more Internet users joining in. “We have information about three lawmakers,” opposition activist Alexei Navalny told the Moskovsky Komsomolets. “We are one hundred percent sure they have real estate abroad. Lots of people go on digging up following the published directions.”


MOSCOW, February 22