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August 30, 2007

The opposition’s disarray is lucky for some


“They’ve had good luck with high oil prices, that’s all,” detractors from the current government say with a shrug, reluctant to acknowledge its achievements. But on other matters they remain divided - which is further good luck for the incumbent regime.

Russia has not had such a weak and disorderly opposition since the collapse of the Soviet Union. A recent conference in Moscow of Other Russia, an opposition coalition with no representation in parliament, showed once again that they cannot agree among themselves. It is yesterday’s news that the coalition has fallen apart.

Coalition leaders could not reach agreement on their presidential candidate. According to the initial arrangement, regional conferences of Other Russia throughout the country were supposed to make their own nominations for a subsequent congress made up of a thousand delegates, where one of them would be elected in a kind of a primary.

Former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov is rumoured to have objected to this arrangement because he could not be sure that he would be chosen.

Though he is convinced he is the only eligible opposition candidate, the meetings of a year ago came as an unpleasant surprise to him when Left and Right alike openly doubted he was the man to unite them. Now, Garry Kasparov, the chess champion, is sure that he will win the primary and consolidate the opposition.

The power struggle that started the tug-of-war between the two leaders was one of the main reasons why Other Russia fell apart.

In the meantime President Putin has not yet said whom he would like to see as his successor. The list of opposition candidates, however, is ballooning. In Russia, it is risky, not to say dangerous, to announce presidential ambitions a year before the ballot - the hopeful may perish in the dense atmosphere of the race. That is why the Kremlin will not name its own candidate. Besides, it isn’t yet sure what its choice will be, and it does not want a false start.

The opposition is in a different situation. They have nothing to lose. Not one of their candidates stands a chance of winning, and their nomination race makes only inside-page news. Russians are skeptical of the opposition.

Nevertheless, opposition candidates still might run for the presidency, and they need a candidate. He or she will certainly not be a strong rival to the Kremlin nominee, but at least they can publicise an alternative platform and show that Russia still has people with different points of view, even though they do not make up a majority.

Under these circumstances, who cares about approval ratings? It is unlikely that the opposition nominee will drop out before registration because the Kremlin, too, will gain by the presence of a rival candidate. Too strong to be wary of any competitor, its public image will improve if there is a proper contest at the polls. This will make the election look legitimate in the eyes of the nation and the world.

It is in the interests of both the Kremlin and the nation to go to next year’s presidential polls with a wide range of options across the entire political spectrum. But no one is in doubt about who will prevail.

by Valery vyzhutovich RG

Quotes from the press:

Kremlin has reduced the positions of two first deputy prime ministers - Sergei Ivanov and Dmitry Medvedev - seen as the most likely successors to Vladimir Putin. Now the “ordinary” vice premiers and first vice premiers have equal status.

by Nezavisimaya Gazeta

Russians are sorry that Putin is leaving power, but do not expect his departure to provoke catastrophic or radical change. The overwhelming majority of people believe that his successors will carry on his policies.

by Novye Izvestia

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