The opposition party Fair Russia has decided to expel several high-ranking members who are taking part in the primaries organized by their rival United Russia.
Participation in the primaries will make it possible for some Fair Russia’s members to get on United Russia’s ticket in the December parliamentary elections, as many believe their own party’s chances seem to be waning.
Those who are taking part in the Popular Front’s primaries are likely to be expelled, State Duma deputy Oksana Dmitrieva told reporters. The final decision will be taken by the bureau of the presidium of the party’s central council. Among the main “candidates” to leave the party’s ranks are the deputy speaker of the Duma Aleksandr Babakov, Mikhail Starshinov, and Vasily Shestakov, among others.
But the biggest surprise came when former Duma deputy Yelena Vtorygina’s decided to join Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s Popular Front. The politician from the Arkhangelsk Region came under the spotlight several weeks ago after she gave up her seat in the parliament in favor of Fair Russia’s informal leader Sergey Mironov. Mironov, who has recently lost his post as chairman of the Federation Council, has been preparing for the transition from the upper house to the lower one.
Vtorygina does not want to leave Fair Russia voluntarily, but expects that the party will kick her out. However, the politician says her decision was not a betrayal, recalling that she handed over her “most important thing” – the Duma mandate – to the party’s leader.
Fair Russia is now incapable of providing opportunities for the development of region, Vtorygina stressed. “We, the opposition, have no such resources. The Popular Front gives you possibilities and the type of leverage one can only dream of.” Like many others, the former deputy may join the front without becoming a United Russia member.
“Picket referendum” for St. Petersburg
Mironov said Vtorygina’s departures were blows to the party, and it is still possible that others will follow suit. “Our party has taken an uncompromising position to oppose United Russia and the government, and many were frightened,” he told reporters.
But Mironov, who now heads a State Duma faction of 38 members, is certain that Fair Russia will preserve the backbone of the party. However, he backtracked from his previous, more conciliatory position, saying that “traitors” will be expelled.
One of them, Mikhail Starshinov, told Kommersant daily that the bureau of the party’s central council will hold a special meeting “to suppress the rebellious.”
Meanwhile, Fair Russia had already opened another front. On the one hand, it is opposing the way municipal elections are being conducted in two St. Petersburg’s counties. Governor Valentina Matvienko is expected to take a seat on one of the legislative bodies, a move that will catapult her to the upper house where she is bound to become speaker instead of Mironov. But the opposition party is also preparing to fight for Matvienko’s seat as governor when she steps down from the post.
Fair Russia will organize a series of events entitled “St. Petersburg will choose itself,” which Mironov described as “a picket referendum.” Both the party leader himself and Oksana Dmitrieva, the head of the city’s party branch, may become candidates in these improvised elections.
Mironov has also been preparing a legislative initiative to return to the direct elections of governors in Russia. It is necessary that the population name candidates for governors, he noted. “The picket referendum” will give people such an opportunity, Mironov stressed, adding that United Russia “has lost the moral right” to nominate candidates.