Yashin Says He's Ready To Replace Yavlinsky

Yabloko party youth movement leader Ilya Yashin on Wednesday called for sweeping changes in the party's structure, saying he is ready to step up and become its leader should the need arise.

After a miserable showing in Sunday's State Duma elections, where the liberal party garnered just 1.6 percent of vote, questions have been raised about Yabloko's future and that of current leader Grigory Yavlinsky.

"Yavlinsky chose the path of pure democracy. Going to the polls was his decision," Yashin said. "Although the decision was supported by the party, maybe it was a mistake."

He said Yabloko's presence on the ballot lent a degree of legitimacy to a voting process that has been roundly criticized as "not fair" by international observers.

The leadership offer from Yashin, 24, received a cool reception from party officials.

Maxim Reznik, head of the St. Petersburg party branch, said Yashin was "not ready" to lead Yabloko.

"He needs more political experience," Reznik said.

Alexei Melnikov, a member of Yabloko's federal council, said Yashin "was not popular enough to become leader of the party."

"I really hope that Yavlinsky stays," Melnikov said. "It would be bad for the party if he leaves."

Yashin, a vocal opponent of the Kremlin, has been active in organizing opposition rallies in Moscow and other cities. While he may not be the answer the party is looking for, it does seem to be looking for answers.

Yevgenia Dillendorf, Yavlinsky's spokeswoman, said the possibility of restructuring to attract a broader spectrum of liberals would be on top of the agenda at a party conference later this month. She said the time and place for the congress had yet to be established.

If there were other candidates with party backing for Yavlinsky's post, there would be a vote at that congress. Any change in leadership would be the first in the party's 14 years of existence.

Yashin said he would not run as a candidate if the party's St. Petersburg chapter succeeded in persuading Mikhail Amosov, a former mayoral candidate in the northern capital, to run.

Yashin praised Yavlinsky as a lawmaker and economist but said the current Kremlin-dominated climate would kill off Yabloko if Yavlinsky stayed at the helm.

"[Yavlinsky] is not a street leader," Yashin said. "Today, our party needs the kind of leader that can bring people onto the streets to fight against the system. This is absolutely necessary for Yabloko to survive."