Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Communists Miss Chance Over Budget

Despite the drama the Communists and their allies in the State Duma have managed to create by exploiting the budget debate, they are missing a golden opportunity to establish their credentials as a serious party of constructive, efficient honest opposition.

In using all their constitutional powers to delay the budget, the Communists have failed to impress. They have just grumbled in a general way that the economic situation in the country is bad without taking the government to task on anything specific.

They say they want a more realistic and professional budget which is more pro-people, but they carefully avoid outlining what their ideal budget would be.

Being vague on the details of one's election promises is a time honored tactic for opposition parties in many democracies. It offers the promise of a change of course without alienating people who might lose by a change of course.

But the presidential elections proved that this strategy is just not good enough if the Communists ever want to win real power. Russian voters are suspicious of a return to the planned economy, and they want to be offered a fairly clear vision of what the Communists and the opposition now stand for.

Some in the party would like to print money to finance higher state spending, but none dare say so openly, because they know they would lay themselves open to the charge of triggering a return to the hyperinflation of 1992 to 1995.

A more clever approach for the opposition would be to accept the government's rhetoric on inflation and the deficit but argue that the budget is skewed to the rich. The Duma should be exposing the costs of corruption in the economy. It should be forcing the government to honor its commitments to social programs by cutting favors to its friends.

The opposition could win a place for itself in the hearts of the people as a defender of honesty against corruption, the poor against the rich, and the people against the Kremlin. But the opposition seems to be obsessed with viewing itself as a government-in-exile waiting for the moment when the current regime will crumble and the people will welcome them back. It that context, it sees the budget as an opportunity to destabilize the government or, failing that, to claim the scalps of a few hated ministers like Anatoly Chubais.

With President Boris Yeltsin's health returning, this strategy just will not work. The Communist Party should start the process of refashioning itself into a real social-democratic party, albeit a national-patriotic one, with a coherent economic vision. That will win it much more support with voters -- and help the country at the same time.