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Analysis & Opinion
15.09.11 Losing The Cause
By Rosemary Griffin

Billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov left the Right Cause party in sensational fashion earlier today, after a coup within the party left him and his supporters isolated. Mid-way through the party’s congress in Moscow, the Head of the party’s Executive Committee Andrei Dunaev led a successful vote to oust Prokhorov from the leadership. The party did not immediately elect a successor, but Dunaev was named acting head of the party, and will now manage its election campaign, which the party still hopes will see it gain seven percent of the vote.

At a separate meeting following the vote, Prokhorov, who did not appear at the congress at all this week, confirmed that he had left the party, saying it had “discredited itself” on day one of the event. “I and my supporters will not take part in elections to the State Duma. I intend to meet with the president and prime minister to tell them what's happened,” RIA Novosti quoted Prokhorov as saying. He did not rule out continuing his political career, however, and could still stand for the presidency.

But with Prokhorov out of the race, analysts were skeptical of how well the Right Cause can now hope to perform in the December vote. Kiril Petrov, an analyst at Minchenko Consulting, was very pessimistic. “They have practically no chances now, zero,” he said. Pavel Salin, an analyst from the Center for Political Assessments, echoed this view. “Without Prokhorov, their chances are significantly worse, because they do not have an alternative leader who is as impressive,” he said. And the Right Cause has lost more than its leader’s charm and increasingly high profile, it has lost one of the fattest wallets in the country. “Prokhorov has huge financial resources, without this money the party’s prospects are significantly worse,” said Salin.

Forbes Magazine estimated Prokhorov’s wealth at $18 billion in March 2011, making him Russia’s third richest man. Shortly after his election as leader of the party, The New Times cited sources close to the billionaire as saying that he planned to spend $100 million on the Right Cause’s State Duma election campaign. “He could use those resources to buy influence in the media, to boost his campaign on television and on the Internet,” said Salin. And if Prokhorov’s Snob magazine, launched in 2008, is anything to go by, further forays into Russia’s media would certainly have boosted his exposure.

Since his election to head the party earlier this summer, Prokhorov had become a more and more prominent figure. He made headlines for a billboard campaign rolled out across the country, and last week snared a major league celebrity endorsement in the form of Alla Pugacheva, one of the Russian music industry’s most influential stars. This increasing visibility had started to make an impact on opinion polls, according to Salin. “Before he was fired, Prokhorov had pushed its [Right Cause] rating up from one percent to four percent. If he had continued at this rate, he could have reached the seven percent margin. I don’t think they’ll get five percent now,” he said. The threshold for winning seats in the State Duma is currently seven percent.

As to why Prokhorov was ousted, the media was quick to point to a feud with the Kremlin, particularly strategist and Kremlin First Deputy Chief of Staff Vladislav Surkov. “He broke the political rules, and that brought him into conflict with Surkov,” said Salin. “Rival parties [to United Russia] are forbidden from running strong candidates in the regions, because it takes votes away from United Russia. But Prokhorov did that. For example, in Kaliningrad, he signed up Konstantin Doroshok, a strong candidate who could be influential in elections.”

Doroshok’s role in the Right Cause may indeed have raised the Kremlin’s hackles. He has been involved in local politics in Kaliningrad since 2006 and was behind a number of large protests in the Baltic port city between 2008 and 2010. He also has links to opposition movement Solidarnost, as well as former Kaliningrad governor Grigory Boos, who was ousted in 2010. Doroshok signed up to run the Right Cause’s Kaliningrad regional branch earlier this summer.

Meanwhile Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s Liberal Democrat Party (LDPR), which won 8.14 percent of the vote in 2007 Duma elections, also held a party conference this week. According to quotes published on the LDPR Web site, flamboyant leader Zhirinovksy said the party was aiming for second place and 25 percent of the vote in December. The LDPR, which is currently Russia’s third largest party in the State Duma, will have to beat the Communist Party (KPRF) to come in second. This would be no mean feat, considering that the KPRF has performed strongly in elections since the collapse of the Soviet Union, placing second in all presidential elections in modern Russia.

Zhirinovsky’s party, built on nationalist policies and its leader’s flamboyant personality, is campaigning ahead of the December elections under the simple slogan “For Russians,” and it has confirmed at least one nationalist hero on its party list – Valery Budanov. Budanov, who will run for election in Moscow, is the son of murdered controversial Russian officer Yuri Budanov, who became a cause celebre among Russian nationalists after he was convicted of war crimes in Chechnya. Andrei Lugovoi, the main suspect in the poisoning of Alexei Litvinenko in Britain in 2006, will run for the LDPR in Irkutsk.
The source
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