Liberal Opposition Will Meet in Search of Unity

Representatives of the fractured liberal opposition will meet next month to discuss the creation of a broad liberal alliance and the development of a coordinated political platform, opposition leaders said Friday.

Around 150 participants are expected at the March 22 conference in St. Petersburg, including members of Yabloko, the Union of Right Forces, Vladimir Ryzhkov's disbanded Republican Party, Garry Kasparov's United Civil Front, Mikhail Kasyanov's Russian People's Democratic Union and several human rights activists, said Maxim Reznik, head of Yabloko's St. Petersburg branch.

The liberal camp has been plagued by bickering and infighting and has drifted largely into irrelevance as President Vladimir Putin consolidated power during his two terms in office.

If adopted, the joint platform between the various factions would be advertised to voters as an alternative to Putin's political course, which First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev is expected to continue after his likely election in the March 2 presidential election, Reznik said.

Nikita Belykh, head of Union of Right Forces, or SPS, said his party would propose ideas on economic, education and domestic policy.

"We have to find out to what extent this corresponds to the views of other participants," Belykh said.

The goal is to hammer out "a meaningful democratic platform that we would be able to offer voters," Reznik said.

Both Belykh and Reznik said the creation a united opposition movement, coalition or party is possible, but that this is not the ultimate goal of the conference.

In addition to Belykh and Reznik, organizers of the conference include Kasparov, SPS co-founder Boris Nemtsov, Yabloko youth group leader Ilya Yashin, and Lev Ponomaryov, head of the For Human Rights movement, Reznik said.

Meanwhile, SPS is calling on Russians to boycott the upcoming presidential election, Belykh said, despite the fact that senior party official Boris Nadezhdin told a party meeting Thursday that he might vote for Medvedev, Putin's preferred successor.