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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Disunion Threatens Russia's Choice

Russia's Choice, the star-studded electoral bloc most favored to win the Dec. 12 elections, is being pulled apart by personal ambitions and is unlikely to survive whole into the new parliament, leading members said Friday.

With just a week to go before polling day, leaders of Russia's Choice have begun to fight in public. Questioned on Friday, party officials did nothing to hide the discord.

"There is a threat that our bloc will crumble", said Alexei Surkov, a member of the bloc's executive committee.

"Russia's Choice is a collection of individuals who all consider themselves leaders", said Mikhail Shneider, another executive committee member. "The conflicts may linger on inside parliament and break the bloc into two fractions".

The infighting could render the widely predicted election success of Russia's Choice an empty one in parliament, where rivalries within the party and with other reformist blocs could undermine their strength.

Arkady Murashov, also on the bloc's executive committee, said Friday that the four reformist coalitions would soon meet to try to agree to single, joint candidates, in directly elected constituencies. Several similar attempts at agreement have already failed.

Russia's Choice has not even been able to unite its own candidates. In the provinces, rivalries between government candidates and those of Democratic Russia - the faction that forms the base for the bloc - could affect the vote itself.

Shneider said that in many constituencies - where candidates run independently and not on party lists - Democratic Russia and Russia's Choice supporters were running against each other.

Fissures in the top ranks of Russia's Choice became visible after First Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Shumeiko sent a request to the Central Election Commission on Monday to exclude two opposition parties from the ballot. The request was rejected Thursday. But Shumeiko's tactic drew fire from candidates in his own party, including First Deputy Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar, Yeltsin aide Gennady Burbulis and top candidate Sergei Yushenkov.

On Thursday Shumeiko suggested a purge inside the party. "In my view, there are some people who should be excluded from the bloc", he told Reuters.

Burbulis, in an interview published in Nezavisimaya Gazeta on Tuesday, lashed out at some of his party colleagues as well by calling them "trash".

Shneider said the sizeable Democratic Russia faction may leave Russia's Choice soon after votes are counted. "There are no ideological differences", he said. "There is a power struggle".

When Russia's Choice was founded in October, Surkov said, the party "had nothing but a movement set up on the basis of Democratic Russia", the party that backed President Boris Yeltsin and has a network in the provinces.

But the spotlight has been on the government officials who head the party, Surkov said, adding: "There is the impression that the founders of the movement have been pushed aside".

This has caused resentment in the regions, where some Democratic Russia workers and candidates feel abandoned.

In Samara, for instance, Democratic Russia organizer Andrei Yeryomin runs for Russia's Choice, but has received no campaign funds and feels no allegiance.

"Maybe we shouldn't have joined up with them", he said.

According to Fyodor Shelov-Kovadayev, once active in Democratic Russia but now running independently, Democratic Russia lacks independent leaders to compete in a struggle between Burbulis, First Deputy Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar and Yeltsin aide Mikhail Poltoranin, Shelov-Kovadayev said.

Some bloc leaders are also criticizing Yeltsin, in an attempt to shake the image of a government party, which is based on the fact that 12 of its top 20 candidates are government officials.