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Russian opposition activist establishes social-democratic party

December 16, 2013, 16:33 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila
© ITAR-TASS/Denis Vyshinkskiy

MOSCOW, December 16. /ITAR-TASS/. Eager participant in protest rallies, former deputy of the lower house of parliament (the State Duma) Gennady Gudkov, has taken the lead of a newly-founded party called Social Democrats of Russia. This is far from the first attempt to set up a social-democratic party in Russia, and many experts suspect it may prove as fruitless as all of the previous ones. Their vision of the new organization’s electoral prospects are very bleak.

At the founding congress last Sunday Gudkov was elected leader of the party, while a veteran of the Ministry of Internal Affairs’ crack troops, Vice-President of the National Academy for Anti-Corruption Studies and Research, Aleksey Burnavtsev, was appointed its chairman.

The political council incorporates State Duma deputies Ilya Ponomaryov and Dmitry Gudkov. Last March Gennady Gudkov and his son Dmitry were expelled from the party A Just Russia for what was described as actions that allegedly “damaged the party’s political interests and reputation” - in fact, for their radical opposition activities. Ponomaryov left the party last autumn.

The Gudkovs and Ponomaryov were among the most easily recognizable activists of the protest rallies that took place in Moscow over the last two years. Gennady Gudkov, a former KGB officer turned owner of a private bodyguard and security agency, was re-elected to the State Duma several times. He has walked all the way from a loyalist to a fervent opposition activist.

The newly-elected leader of the newly-established party told journalists that successful performance in the 2016 election was the main aim of the Social Democrats of Russia. The politician hopes the party would collect “at least 20-25 percent of the votes in the parliamentary election.” He added he was in favour of a coalition, mentioning the Communists, the democratic party Yabloko, the green party and Aleksey Navalny’s People’s Alliance as possible allies.

Registration documents are to be filed at the Ministry of Justice next year, following yet-to-be held constituent conferences of the party’s regional branches.

Meanwhile, most analysts are rather skeptical about the new social democratic initiative.

Gudkov’s project “has no electoral potency,” spin-doctor Konstantin Kalachev told the Kommersant daily. He described the new party as “an underdog doomed to fail.” He said, “social democratic parties as a whole are unable to survive in Russia.” “There is a sad trend indicating that all such parties set up since the early 1990s have failed,” he recalled.

Indeed, there has been no really successful social democratic project in modern Russian history. During the 1990s the country saw several attempts at establishing a social democratic party, but all without an exception failed in the elections and vanished from the political landscape, like the Russian United Social Democratic Party founded by ex-USSR President Mikhail Gorbachev in 2000.

It is only ‘A Just Russia’ founded in 2006 by the ex-speaker of the Federation Council, Sergey Mironov, on the social democratic basis that has been relatively successful. Initially presenting itself as a shadow alternative to ruling party, in 2011 it shifted itself into “constructive opposition.” In the December 2011 State Duma election A Just Russia finished third with over 13 percent of the votes. It was outperformed only by United Russia and the Communists. Many attributed its success to the fact the party enticed a chunk of opposition votes in big cities, not least of all reasons being its ballot lists included some famous oppositioners.

However, this year the party has de facto come back to the anti-liberal platform, including that in lawmaking, and therefore faced a warning of expulsion from the Socialist International it has been affiliated with since last year.

“It is yet unclear whether Gudkov’s party has any serious prospects,” the director-general of the National Strategy Council, Valery Khomyakov, told Itar-Tass. “Until now any attempt to create a social democratic party has resulted in an electoral defeat. Mironov’s party was successful in the election because people voted not for it but against the others.”

The party’s success will depend on a number of factors, the political scientists believes - primarily on who will represent it in the regions, as well as whether the party clinches an efficient coalition. Gudkov Sr.’s plan to gain 25 percent of the votes, Khomyakov believes, is “nothing but wishful thinking,” as in the September 2013 election of the Moscow Region’s governor Gudkov got less than 4.5 percent of the votes.

Either way, Khomyakov thinks, the new party is a severe blow to A Just Russia, some of whose members, especially those in the regions, may defect to Gudkov’s party.

The director-general of the Center for Political Information, Aleksey Mukhin, quoted by REGNUM agency, also doubts the new party’s future. He believes the Communists will refuse to cooperate, while the ecological party may have a different agenda.

“The Communist party prefers to stay aloof from the others. As long as it has such an important resource as [its leader] Gennady Zyuganov, I think they will not agree to any close alliance. On the part of Gudkov this is rather a bluff. As for the ecologists, an alliance with them may be possible, the more so there have been examples of their joint activities, but much will depend on whether Gudkov and the ecologists have any goals in common. Such an alliance has very slim chances of being efficient.