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11.04.2013

Will the Popular Front become the ruling party in Russia?

In late March, Rostov-on-Don hosted the first convention of the Russian Popular Front, attended by President Vladimir Putin. The convention renewed public interest in the meaning of the Popular Front and its future prospects – topics that divide expert opinion.

Valdaiclub.com interview with Yevgeny Minchenko, political scientist, President of Minchenko Consulting Communication Group.

What is the front’s political status at the moment? Have its initial moves been successful?

During its formation, the Popular Front successfully met the challenge of repositioning not so much United Russia as Vladimir Putin himself, who ran in the latest presidential campaign as a non-partisan candidate rather than the ruling party’s nominee.

The Popular Front’s first moves weren’t meant as real reaction, but rather to show what the front was capable of. In my opinion, the government has not shown a serious intention of turning the Popular Front into something more than United Russia’s backup. The ruling party retains its status as the main electoral vehicle, while the front is more of a public platform. It represents a number of parties. Patriots of Russia is one of the most active. It did well in the latest elections in North Ossetia.

Many analysts predicted that the front would soon morph into a replica of the ruling party. After some officials of the presidential executive office suspended their membership in United Russia, this prospect seemed possible. Do you think it is realistic?

I don’t think the aim is to turn the front into an alternative to United Russia. The party still enjoys high approval numbers. In all probability its brand will gradually fade away, but it is hard to say now how long this process will take. Before the Duma elections, they may adopt a law allowing blocs to participate. In this case, the Popular Front, representing United Russia and other parties, could participate.

Has the convention in Rostov-on-Don altered the trajectory of the front’s development? What should we expect from its founding convention in June?

The slogans heard at this convention testify to the Popular Front’s attempts to gradually oust A Just Russia from the party landscape. I think this party will soon join the front. To experiment with the party landscape, the authorities are using the Civil Platform, Mikhail Prokhorov’s right-wing liberal project. The convention in Rostov-on-Don registered a leftward tilt in the ruling party. However, it will be able to pursue this line only if the economy remains stable, allowing it to spend huge amounts of money on social programs and the implementation of the president’s directives of last May calling for higher salaries for public sector employees. However, the ruling party will hardly be able to maintain this intense social populism for a long time.

I don’t think the front’s founding convention in June will change the trajectory of its development. I believe the front will retain its status as a platform for different political forces.

How might Putin’s Popular Front affect the fate of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who is also the ruling party leader?

I don’t see big risks for Dmitry Medvedev, although he is trying currently to build up party support by holding joint meetings of the Government and United Russia. It is clear that the party does not exert much influence on economic decision-making and is merely pretending to take part in the process. Medvedev’s political fate depends on entirely different factors, such as the economy. If a crisis strikes, his government may fall victim to it. If the economy remains stable, he has a real chance to stay in his post until the end of Putin’s presidential term.

A few days ago, an article in the Christian Science Monitor quoted an opinion that Putin has adapted his Popular Front scheme from the former East Germany. Are there grounds for such an assertion? How can the front change the national political system?

I don’t share the opinion about the front following an East German model. Ideally, the government will work to create a two-party system – a host of small parties and two dominant ones that would transfer power back and forth without risking any cardinal changes in policy.

I think the front’s influence on the national political system will be limited to the Duma passing a law to allow blocs to take part in parliamentary elections. But this move entails a serious risk – patriotic blocs may emerge in the regions and win the elections, leaving behind both the front and United Russia. This is likely to happen considering that, throughout its time in power, the ruling party has lost elections only twice, but in both cases to patriotic blocs – Sakhalin and the Kuriles are Our Homeland and We Support the Development of the Amur Region.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.

 Valdai International Discussion Club