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A Just Russia party expels oppositionists hoping to mend relations with authorities

March 14, 2013, 15:45 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila

The left-of-center A Just Russia party, after a long period of staying in opposition or semi-opposition, has ultimately opted for a good relationship with the authorities. On Wednesday the party expelled the most charismatic and popular oppositional politicians, participants in the non-systemic opposition Gennady and Dmitry Gudkov.

State Duma member Dmitry Gudkov and his father Gennady Gudkov, stripped of his State Duma mandate in September 2012, were expelled from the party practically unanimously after they refused to leave the Coordinating Council of the Opposition, which unites out-of-parliament opposition politicians. The party’s leadership, including Duma faction leader Sergei Mironov, demanded the Gudkovs should leave the CCO back one month ago.

The Gudkovs, who proved utterly unprepared for the expulsion, were also criticized for some other faults. For instance, Dmitry Gudkov came under fire for his recent trip to the United States, where he participated in a conference organized by the Pavel Khodorkovsky Fund.

As a result, both father and son were expelled for actions harming and discrediting the party.

While Sergei Mironov remained the Federation Council’s speaker, his relations as the party’s leader with the authorities were quite loyal. However, when he was dismissed in 2011, Mironov took ever more liberties criticizing the authorities, and his party became increasingly oppositional. Mironov and many other party members even dared participate in protest demonstrations.

At the 2011 State Duma elections the list of A Just Russia candidates contained quite a few popular oppositional politicians, who, according to some experts, helped the party perform pretty well, in particular, in large cities. A Just Russia placed third to have received 13.24 percent of the voters. As experts said, the real rating was far lower, but in those elections the party got support from many people who, while not sharing its ideology, decided to back it for the sole reason they did not like United Russia.

But then A Just Russia encountered problems. A number of its members, who had campaigned for a moderate relationship with the Kremlin, began to walk out. Among them was the party’s sponsor, State Duma Deputy Speaker Alexander Babakov. Former members of A Just Russia – eight of the 64 faction members, created an independent group of legislators.

Then the parties Rodina and Party of Pensioners decided to quit. In 2006 both had joined Mironov’s Party of Life to establish A Just Russia. Now they have left to label the A Just Russia a “political Frankenstein.”

A Just Russia began to lose not only sponsors, who once joined a respectable pro-government party, but also its rank-and-file members. Over fourteen months the number of the party’s members shrank from 370,000 to 330,000. A Just Russia candidates began to face major problems in the local elections.

Then the party’s leadership made its choice. Gennady and Dmitry Gudkov fell victim. Experts have been warning that the party may pay dearly for that.

A Just Russia has distanced itself from protest sentiment and lost its brightest figures,” the first deputy director of the Center for Political Technologies, Boris Makarenko, has told ITAR-TASS. “It should have tried to save face, but in the end it has spoiled it.”

Makarenko warns that A Just Russia has turned the wrong way, because it has rid itself of politicians of wide acclaim. But its moderate, balanced program has drawn hitherto hesitant voters. In the meantime, it is outstanding personalities to whom any party owes its political appeal.”

Now, says Makarenko, other parties, for instance, Mikhail Prokhorov’s Civil Platform, may contest this role.

“By distancing itself from figures that enjoy support from the protest electorate the party’s leadership discredits itself in the opinion of this group of voters,” the daily Kommersant quotes political scientist Alexander Kynev as saying. “If forced to make a choice, the protest-minded people will vote for the Communists, Yabloko, Prokhorov or somebody else.” The strategy the A Just Russia leadership has chosen will lead it nowhere,” the expert says.

“Mironov is under pressure. If he does not distance himself from the protest movement, then the party will be ruined,” Dmitry Gudkov said to explain the position of the party’s leader.

Gudkov believes that after he and his son have been expelled from A Just Russia, the party will lose a considerable share of its electorate.

“The latest developments will strip A Just Russia of a large part of its electoral base and support. Too bad. It took so much effort to build up both,” Gennady Gudkov said. “Clearly, a large part of the protest electorate will now make a U-turn and start looking for a different political party, a different political force, which would be defending their point of view,” he said.