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Navalny’s election as People’s Alliance leader fuels uncertainty inside opposition

November 18, 2013, 16:34 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila
Alexei Navalny

Alexei Navalny

© ITAR-TASS/Denis Vyshynsky

MOSCOW, November 18. /ITAR-TASS/. Russia’s high-profile opposition leader and blogger Aleksey Navalny has taken the lead of the liberal party People’s Alliance, which has twice been denied registration for technical reasons.

Many experts who call Navalny an eclectic and populist politician wonder whether criminal cases against him will hamper his further political career and how his election may impact on the general mood inside the opposition camp, where People’s Alliance may become a direct competitor of such parties as the Republican Party of Russia - RPR-Parnas, and big business tycoon Mikhail Prokhorov’s Civic Platform.

Navalny has said his party will seek registration at the Ministry of Justice again, though he does not exclude the risk the application may be rejected again. In that case, he said, there will still remain opportunities to act in the political field even for an unregistered party.

Meanwhile, the criminal cases against Navalny may become an obstacle in the way of his political career. In one of them, known as the ‘Kirovles Affair’, he was convicted and faced a five-year jail term for embezzlement. The sentence was later suspended and Navalny was able to run in Moscow’s mayoral elections on September 8 to place second. However, the sentence stripped him of the right to run in any elections in the following five years.

The party’s congress took place amid an upsurge in investigation into other charges, this time involving the Yves Rocher. Navalny and his brother Oleg are suspected of defrauding cosmetics manufacturer of 26 million rubles.

Navalny rejects all accusations. He calls both cases politically motivated. Also, he argues that his suspended term in the Kirovles affair will not prevent him from heading the party.

The program of People’s Alliance is, in fact, Navalny’s platform in last autumn’s Moscow mayoral election campaign. It carries a certain nationalist tinge that previously provoked sharp criticism in the liberal opposition ranks. The People’s Alliance suggests eliminating disparities in financing Russian regions and instituting a visa regime in relations with countries in Central Asia.

Navalny keeps putting the emphasis on the nationalities issue. When asked about the nationalist Russian Marches ahead of the election, he said: “Let them rally, if they want. Once we profess the freedom of assembly for everybody, let us provide the freedom of assembly for everybody.” The politician was also scornful about ideology, saying “we do not need a collection of dogmas.”

The Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily quotes the deputy director of the Centre for Political Technologies, Boris Makarenko, as saying: “Navalny is a talented man in general and is a talented public personality in particular. He has a keen feel for how to woo the public at large, and he is also very good in retaining this popularity.”

However, Makarenko said Navalny is not a particularly good negotiator and often fails to build relations with both opponents and potential allies. His image is spoiled by a string of scandals.

“At the end of the election campaign he was as lonely as he had been at the beginning. He is cynical and unable to conceal it. Other politicians are cynics, too, yet they conceal it far better,” Makarenko believes.

The director general of the Centre for Political Information Aleksey Mukhin predicts a series of bitter conflicts between Navalny and other opposition leaders: “The main reproach against him is first he was keen to take part in all events of the Opposition Coordination Centre, but then suddenly proclaimed himself the sole true leader and started to work aloof.”

In the mayoral elections Navalny was a candidate from RPR Parnas. Now his People’s Alliance looks as that party’s potential competitor.

“Navalny’s views differ from ours on the nationalities issue, migration and foreign policy,” a co-chairman of RPR Parnas, Vladimir Ryzhkov told Itar-Tass, adding disagreements “are serious, sometimes even fundamental.”

“Yet we are ready to form coalitions on different occasions, including elections to the Moscow City Duma (city legislature). We believe we should not compete in the field of the opposition, but consolidate our efforts,” Ryzhkov added.

The president of the Institute of National Strategy, Mikhail Remizov, sees Navalny as “an omnivorous, eclectic politician.”

“He should try to occupy the niche of civilized nationalism, which is still vacant in Russia, but his supporters do not accept this,” Remizov told Itar-Tass. He believes Prokhorov’s party is Navalny’s arch rival.

Meanwhile, the Civic Platform says any speculations about possible cooperation with the People’s Alliance in Moscow Duma elections will be premature at least until Navalny’s party obtains registration.

A survey by the Russian polling and sociological research organization Levada-Center has found 54% of the polled Russians know Navalny, in contrast to 37% in March 2013; 43% are neutral about the opposition leader and only 6% respect him.