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Analysis & Opinion
30.05.11 Right Turn On Red
By Svetlana Kononova

Mikhail Prokhorov, the third richest man in Russia and the 39th richest man in the world according to Forbes, said he will head the Right Cause party and promised to take it up to second place in terms of representation in the State Duma. But his ambitious plan is questionable: does Russia really have enough voters who support a free-market economy, liberalism and democracy, to try to change the country’s political landscape and compete with United Russia’s monopoly? Can this right-wing electorate be consolidated and will it trust Prokhorov?

The Right Cause was established in 2009 by a merger of what was left of the Union of Right Forces, Civilian Power and the Democratic Party of Russia. Although the party claims that liberalism, a free market and protecting the interests of the middle-class are its main objectives, it has a reputation as a pro-Kremlin project. At present, the Right Cause has about 65,000 members and 77 branches. It is not represented in the State Duma but has representatives in the local government establishments. The current leaders of the Right Cause are politician Leonid Gozman, journalist Georgy Bovt and businessman Boris Titov. The most famous members of the party’s High Council are the “father” of liberal reforms in Russia Anatoly Chubais, billionaire David Yakobashvili and the Head of the Institute for Contemporary Development (INSOR) Igor Yurgens.

But experts are mostly skeptical of Prokhorov’s political ambitions and the prospects of the Right Cause in the upcoming parliamentary elections in December. “The electorate of right-wing parties – both ‘ideological’ (dedicated liberals) and social (the middle class), is very limited in Russia. It cannot exceed more that ten percent of the voting population. Theoretically, this is enough to get into the Duma, but it would be difficult to consolidate even these voters. Firstly, such people tend to be individualists, which makes it difficult for them to join forces. Secondly, there is no convincing and constructive program that would offer an alternative to the policy pursued by the current authorities. This is why the conservative part of the right-wing electorate votes for the United Russia now,” said Anatoly Vakulenko, an analyst at Finam investment holding.

Alexander Zakharov, the president of, holds a similar pessimistic view. “There is not a social class in Russia that would support a politician with ideas ‘a la Prokhorov.’ And the authorities do everything for such a class not to appear,” he said. “Some people – entrepreneurs and representatives of innovative sectors of the economy – might share Prokhorov’s ideas. But his opponents are the bureaucrats, the oligarchs whose business is raw material export and the majority of the county’s population, which is addicted to the paternalism of a ‘social state,’” he added. A poll conducted by found that 16 percent of respondents would vote for Prokhorov in the parliamentary elections, while 84 percent said they would not.

The Public Opinion Research Foundation (VTsIOM), a Russian NGO that conducts sociological research, has published the results of another survey. This one found that eight percent of respondents like Mikhail Prokhorov, nine percent – don’t like him, and 59 percent don’t know anything about him. “The respondents who have a positive attitude toward Prokhorov are well-educated professionals or top and middle-level managers with relatively high incomes. They travel abroad. They are familiar with high tech. They are active users of the Internet. Most of them are aged 25 to 44 and live in the big cities,” said Ekaterina Sedykh, the director of the “Dominants” project at VTsIOM. “This audience describes Prokhorov as a ‘smart, well-educated, energetic and successful businessmen who has achieved a lot.’ These people believe he deserves to be trusted,” she added. “On the other hand, a negative attitude toward Prokhorov might be explained by the misunderstanding of his proposals to reform the Labor Code and the general negative attitude toward wealthy people in Russia.”

The poll also found that as the leader of Right Cause, Prokhorov would receive a surprisingly high level of support from those who like him. While three fourths of all the respondents don’t know whether it would be good or bad if Prokhorov led the Right Cause party, 67 percent of those who have a positive attitude toward him supported this idea. “This speaks to the fact that the success of the project greatly depends on Prokhorov’s personality,” Sedykh said. The other unexpected finding of the survey is the relatively high potential of the Right Cause. The respondents believe that ten percent of Russians would vote for the Right Cause if the elections were to be held next Sunday. At the same time, the present real electorate of the party accounts for about one percent of the voting population.

Vakulenko believes that the biggest achievement that Prokhorov could hope for would be third place in the State Duma, behind United Russia and the communists, but even this is very unlikely. “It’s possible that this project was initiated by those close to the Kremlin to siphon off votes from the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR). Vladimir Zhirinovsky is too old and too boring. Part of his ‘protesting audience’ who used to vote for the LDPR could now vote for the communists. Prokhorov might try to attract this electorate by pretending to be opposed to the authorities,” he said.

Ilya Yashin, one of the leaders of the Solidarnost opposition movement, also believes that the Right Cause is a Kremlin project. “But the Kremlin’s and Prokhorov’s plans might differ. Prokhorov may want to create a strong political force under the Kremlin’s auspices, which would protect the interests of big business in the Parliament. And the authorities need a pre-election intrigue to attract voters to the polling stations in December,” he said. “So the Right Cause may have been ‘assigned’ to play the part of the main opponent to the Popular Front created by Vladimir Putin. The party headed by a billionaire Prokhorov is the ideal target for Putin’s Popular Front. The traditional attitude toward billionaires and oligarchs in Russia is skeptical. Moreover, Prokhorov is notorious for his initiative to implement a 60-hour work week and limit workers’ rights. Undoubtedly, this irritates a large number of Russian citizens,” Yashin added.

Vakulenko believes that Prokhorov doesn’t have enough time to prepare for the elections properly. “Prokhorov should have started preparing for the elections much earlier. His money can not fully compensate for the lack of time. Even if he flooded the whole country with expensive pre-election leaflets, this is not enough to succeed. But the administrative support might be helpful, especially considering that some regional governors – Alexander Khloponin, Dmitry Zelenin, Nikita Belykh – have similar political views,” he said. Yashin also doubts that the Right Cause will succeed in the upcoming elections. “Currently a third of Russians are in an oppositionist mood. But these people probably won’t come to the polls. Only an independent party could win their votes, not a pro-Kremlin political project,” he said.
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