The pro-Kremlin United Russia party has been taking
blow after a blow to its reputation, as several of its high-ranking members
have been accused of plagiarizing their postgraduate degree theses; others have
been discovered to possess undeclared, high-end property abroad, the sources of
money for which raise serious questions.
According to a survey by the national pollster Levada
Center, the proportion of Russians adhering to to the famous opposition slogan,
“United Russia is a party of crooks and thieves,” has risen from 31 percent to
52 percent in the past two years.
Many followers of United Russia run as independent
candidates in local elections, rather than be nominated by the party. Take, for
example, the acting mayor of Moscow, Sergei Sobyanin, who has been a United
Russia member since 2002.
Between 12 and 16 percent of those who support Putin
do not vote for United Russia.
It is precisely this group of voters – loyal to Putin
but averse to United Russia – that is being targeted by the Russian Popular
Front set up by Putin in May 2011.
Popular Front is a coalition of organizations,
unions, social and political institutions, which includes, for all intents and
purposes, United Russia.
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“If you are for Putin, you are for the Front” – this
succinct slogan on the People’s Front billboard captures the very essence of
“The administration is now aiming to put together a
new platform for Putin to run, possibly, for his fourth term, and to create a
banner providing him with a background against which he could campaign,” said political
expert Boris Makarenko.
Over the two years since its inception, some 2,000
organizations have joined the Front, including one of Russia’s biggest employers,
Russian Railways, the organization of small and medium-sized businesses, Opora Russia,
and the association of big businesses, the Union of Industrialists and
In April 2013, the State Duma’s third biggest party, Just
Russia, announced it was open to collaboration with the Popular Front.
Until recently, companies and organizations were free
to join the Popular Front without securing the consent of all their employees.
However, the Popular Front Congress, which was held in the Manege Exhibition
Hall on June 12 (the official Russia Day holiday), resolved that accession will
now be considered on an individual basis only.
Despite its impressive membership, a poll conducted by
the Levada Center in May revealed that 42 percent of Russians had never heard
of the Front, while 39 percent more “had heard something, but did not really
know what it meant.”
“In contemporary Russia, the more active people are
politically, the more critical they tend to be of the current government,”
political expert Mikhail Vinogradov said.
“So what the Popular Front sets out
to be its voter base is actually a group of apolitical people who do not really
care about the Front’s activities, but can set their feet down and say they are
for stability and against change of power when it comes to it.”
The Front’s Charter clearly states that its aim is to
promote “unity and mutual trust, collaboration and civil solidarity in the name
of Russia’s historical success, freedom, prosperity, welfare and security.”
According to its leader, Vladimir Putin, the Front is
“meant to become a broad popular movement allowing all the people of Russia to
set their own – the people’s – tasks, see them carried out and push forward the
problems that stall in the swamp of red tape.”
In his address to the Popular Front Congress,
Putin did not attempt to sum up the results of the organization’s two years of
activities. In fact, no Front members have been noted for any large-scale
“I am one of those who rallied in the regions against
urban infill, prevented construction of tower blocks in schoolyards and in the
yards of existing high-rise buildings,” Olga Timofeyeva, a TV journalist from the
southern city of Stavropol and co-chairman of the Popular Front, said in an
interview on the Dozhd channel.
“We have stopped many development projects and
turned the sites into children’s playgrounds.”
The Popular Front is set to create public monitoring centers
to keep track of human rights protection, the quality of healthcare, education
and culture, family and child protection, problems in the utilities sector,
environmental issues, development of business and entrepreneurship, development
of voluntary projects, immigration matters and road surface quality.
“As a guest attending the Popular Front Congress, I
can say it is an institution for political elite, and the political elite at
the Congress definitely perceived it as such,” said Boris Makarenko.
In his address to the Congress, Putin called on his
supporters to participate in elections. A quarter of deputies elected to the
State Duma in December 2011 already represent the Front.
These include Olga Batalina,
who proactively lobbied for a ban on adoption of Russian children by Americans.
Russian pundits: United Russia’s future in limbo
Putin discusses fundamental issues of Russia’s development at the People’s Front conference
The Kremlin seek to impose more electoral restrictions
The current parliament was elected by proportional
representation, with votes cast for political parties only. A bill is now being
drafted to elect half of the Duma deputies in single-member constituencies.
“United Russia members will be elected through the
party-list vote, while other government pre-approved candidates will run on
behalf of the Popular Front in single-member constituencies,” said Makarenko.
“It will be made clear to voters ahead of the election that the Front’s
candidates are linked to the government and actually support Putin.”
It would be a mistake now to assume that the Front has
come to replace United Russia in the short run, political expert Stanislav
Belkovsky believes. “The Popular Front is not yet intended to become a party,
because there can be only one ruling party,” Belkovsky said.
“Vladimir Putin is
essentially a conservative-minded politician, and he will never move to destroy
a system that works – even if it does so poorly – for the sake of what might be
a good system but has yet to prove its efficacy.”