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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Lessons for the Liberals

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The results of the Dec. 7 State Duma elections can only be assessed as a complete failure for Union of Right Forces, as well as for Yabloko -- not to mention the other smaller democratic parties. In short, we failed to get over the 5 percent threshold for representation in the Duma.

Political scientists will no doubt ponder the causes of the flop for weeks and months to come, but at least two factors are already clear.

First is the regime of "managed democracy" or, putting it more bluntly, the complete annihilation of public politics in Russia and the absence of a serious alternative to President Vladimir Putin. Add to this the complete mobilization of "administrative resources" from enlisting governors and mayors en masse to work for United Russia (with tough targets set for each region in ensuring support) to the use of national television as a means of brainwashing the electorate.

Second is that public opinion in the country has clearly moved to the left politically. This trend has objective causes, but it was also encouraged by the authorities unleashing their campaign against the oligarchs and the creation of the Rodina bloc, which took upon itself chief responsibility for promoting the "confiscate and redistribute" theme.

Of course, part of the responsibility for the defeat must lie fair and square on the shoulders of the leaders of the democratic parties -- primarily SPS and Yabloko. I believe that the SPS campaign strategy was wrong. The alternative was a tough campaign based on an anti-bureaucratic platform, focusing not on TV exposure, but on working with voters in the regions. This plan, however, was curtailed by the arrival of Alfred Kokh as head of the campaign staff and Anatoly Chubais as No. 3 on the party list. In addition, I think that Grigory Yavlinsky lost a lot of votes by his demonstrative loyalty to Putin, and that both SPS and Yabloko lost a lot as a result of the squabbling with each other.

What lessons should those that consider themselves liberals and democrats draw from the elections?

First, we must not give up. However you look at it, 6 million people voted for the values that we uphold. We cannot allow millions of voters, who share the values of democracy, freedom and a market economy -- as well as the goal of a European path of development for the country -- to remain unrepresented in government and parliament. We cannot allow the main players on the Russian political stage to be the party of bureaucrats, the left and the "national patriots."

Second, we need to overcome the personal ambitions of individual party leaders and join forces. Negotiations must be conducted to unite democratic forces -- first and foremost, SPS and Yabloko. New leaders need to be brought to the fore.

Turning to the issue of what will happen in the foreseeable future, the main outcome of the parliamentary elections is that there is now one politician in the country who is responsible for everything: the president. The Duma and Federation Council are controlled by the Kremlin, and there is not a single political party or political leader capable of independent political action.

I do not want to engage in guessing what Putin will do, but rather will limit myself to outlining certain things that the president cannot fail to understand and take into account.

It is quite clear that there can be no serious discussion about doubling GDP and tackling poverty in the framework of a market economy unless the state guarantees property rights and freedom for business.

It is also abundantly clear that there can be no serious crackdown on corruption or reining in of Russia's monstrous bureaucracy whatsoever if one relies on the selfsame bureaucracy and not on the institutions of civil society. And it is manifestly apparent that it is extremely difficult to preserve genuine institutions of civil society, including independent political parties, in a "managed democracy" and in the absence of genuine political competition.

I honestly hope that Putin is aware of all this. In any case, all will become clear in the course of the upcoming presidential campaign and during the formation of a new government after the presidential election.

If the campaign is similar in style to the 2000 presidential campaign, with the president failing to take a clear position and instead choosing to campaign as "Putin -- president of all Russians irrespective of political affiliation;" if the president refuses to participate in serious discussion on key issues; and if the new government is formed along clan lines -- then Putin will become hostage to the bureaucracy. That is the path to authoritarianism, economic stagnation, growth of corruption and the further fusion of business and the state at all levels.

I hope this does not come to pass. I hope that Putin turns to the right and that taxes continue to be lowered, that independent media will once again thrive, that elections will allow real competition and offer real alternatives for the development of the country, and that the bureaucracy understands it should serve the public rather than manipulate it through by means of television.

There is a chance that this could happen. The problem is that everything now depends on one man.

Boris Nadezhdin, deputy head of the Union of Right Forces, contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.