Time for the Liberal Parties To Join Forces

To Our Readers

The Moscow Times welcomes letters to the editor. Letters for publication should be signed and bear the signatory's address and telephone number.
Letters to the editor should be sent by fax to (7-495) 232-6529, by e-mail to oped@imedia.ru, or by post. The Moscow Times reserves the right to edit letters.

Email the Opinion Page Editor

Grigory Yavlinsky caught a few Yabloko supporters by surprise over the weekend when he abruptly stepped down as the party's leader after 15 years. But most saw the change coming even before the party opened the congress Saturday in the Moscow region.

Yabloko fared badly in the past two State Duma elections, failing to cross the threshold to get into the lower chamber. It also has performed poorly in regional legislative elections, with the exception of the Moscow City Duma, where it managed to form a tiny faction by joining forces with the Union of Right Forces.

Yavlinsky himself is so unpopular among voters that he trailed far behind many of the other candidates during several consecutive presidential elections. In the March presidential vote, for example, Yabloko decided to back Vladimir Bukovsky instead of Yavlinsky.

Despite these defeats and an overall decline in popularity of liberal values among voters, Yavlinsky would not agree to seriously pursue a merger with liberal-minded parties. In resigning, he has wisely outplayed the young party upstarts who had sought to oust him by arranging for his own protege, Moscow City Duma Deputy Sergei Mitrokhin, to succeed him. Mitrokhin won support from 75 of the 125 regional delegates gathered for the congress, while rival candidates Maxim Reznik, head of the party's St. Petersburg branch, got 24 and Karelian branch leader Vasily Popov got 20. Reznik and Yabloko youth leader Ilya Yashin have participated in Other Russia protests and called for radical action, much to the dismay of Yavlinsky and other moderates.

Mitrokhin is more of a moderate, although he is no stranger to street protests. He has been detained several times while protesting with ordinary Muscovites over the construction of new buildings in their courtyards.

While a moderate compared to Yashin, Mitrokhin has been less inclined than Yavlinsky to seek compromises with fellow liberal parties, including the Union of Right Forces, or SPS. In fact, SPS specifically asked Yabloko not to send Mitrokhin when the two parties were forming negotiating teams to discuss a possible unification before the 2007 State Duma elections, Kommersant reported Monday.

Acknowledging his reputation, Mitrokhin vowed to "soften his toughness" in his acceptance speech. Should he fail, there will always be the party's newly formed and powerful political committee, which includes Yavlinsky and several other longtime Yabloko top dogs, to bring him into line.

Hopefully, Yabloko will now be more open to the idea of uniting all the liberal democratic forces into one potent force capable of capturing the 10 percent to 15 percent of voters who share their values. The voices of these voters deserve to be heard and represented in federal decision making.