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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Glazyev May Be Party's Savior or Spoiler

Chart the Communists' popularity ratings over the past decade and the result will be nearly a straight line. With State Duma elections just six months away and the Kremlin-backed United Russia party nipping at its heels in the opinion polls, the Communist Party is under pressure to breathe some new life into its support base.

Now there seems to be one man who can help them do it. The big question is on what terms.

Duma Deputy Sergei Glazyev -- a Communist-affiliated economist who has been chalking up some surprising political victories -- has shown that he can reach beyond the party's traditional electorate and tap into a new group of voters.

"I think Glazyev's function is ... to enlarge the electoral potential of the Communist Party," said Dmitry Orlov, deputy director of the Center for Political Technologies. "He is able to attract not only the Communist electorate, but also leftists, those who vote 'against all' and large groups of voters who do not stand to gain from the oligarchic structure of the Russian economy. And there are many people who think this way."

Although Glazyev, 42, has been in politics for some time, he has managed to stand apart from the forces typically blamed for the country's woes -- both his inert Communist allies and the democratizing "young reformers" of the 1990s.

This point was driven home when Glazyev -- a member of the Communists' Duma faction but not a member of the party -- won a surprising third place in the hotly contested gubernatorial elections in Krasnoyarsk last September. While the two front-runners, both linked to powerful industrial conglomerates, took 27.6 percent and 25.2 percent, respectively, Glazyev managed to earn 21.4 percent of the vote. Later, he complained that the election had been skewed against him, but the results stood.

Glazyev's success was especially noteworthy since the Communists' ceiling in the region had been about 15 percent of the vote, said Vladimir Pribylovsky, head of the Panorama political think tank. Pribylovsky added that a union with Glazyev -- whose economic program preaches financial independence and industrial growth -- could boost the Communists' share at the polls by as much as nine percentage points by attracting crucial protest voters who would never support the Communists themselves.

Such figures could prove significant considering the party's small advantage over United Russia, a mere five percentage points, according to the latest figures from the VTsIOM polling agency. A May survey of 1,600 respondents showed that 28 percent of those who plan to vote in December's elections will cast their ballots for the Communists, while 23 percent will support United Russia, up from 21 percent a month earlier. The margin of error was 3 1/2 points.

But Glazyev's popularity is a double-edged sword. Although he is likely to expand the Communists' support base, the party's old guard is wary of embracing a rising star who could eclipse them.

If party leader Gennady Zyuganov, who has come in second in the past two presidential elections, takes a back seat ahead of the 2008 race, Glazyev would be a serious opponent for those in power, Orlov said.

For the time being, however, Glazyev lacks the political clout to strike out on his own. In a recent VTsIOM survey where respondents were asked which of three left-wing leaders they would want to see as president, Glazyev came in third with 11 percent versus 25 percent for Zyuganov and 16 percent for Duma Speaker Gennady Seleznyov.

As a result, Glazyev and the Communists are carefully negotiating the terms of their alliance.

Last month, Glazyev chaired a conference aimed at uniting left-wing groups into a coalition capable of giving United Russia a run for its money. But the meeting of sundry communists, socialists and other "popular patriotic" movements did not yield any conclusive decisions.

"For the moment, we are still working on how to create a united coalition," Glazyev said in a brief interview last week, adding that something more definitive should come out of the Communist Party plenary meeting scheduled for June 28.

One of the key dilemmas is what role the Communists will play in such a coalition -- flagship or simply one partner among many?

For Glazyev, the ideal would be a single electoral bloc that includes the Communists but does not center around them. Under the law, such a bloc can include up to three organizations including at least one political party.

The Communists, on the contrary, would like to serve as the umbrella for the coalition, as they did in the 1999 elections when a number of groups from the Popular-Patriotic Union -- an opposition movement co-chaired by Zyuganov and Glazyev -- ran for Duma seats under the slogan "CPRF for victory."

Party secretary Oleg Kulikov said the Communist faction comprises many people from various political organizations and this faction is the "coalition we are talking about." He even hinted that Glazyev's efforts to form a different type of coalition did the party more harm than good. "He has quite a burning enthusiasm," Kulikov said.

Kulikov added that Glazyev would likely be running for re-election on the Communist ticket, although a decision on whether he would get one of the coveted top spots on the party's list would be made only in September. However, Glazyev said his party affiliation was not yet set in stone, especially in light of his May 31 election as a co-chairman of the Russian Regions party.

The solution that seems to be the most promising for both sides is to work in tandem.

"Zyuganov's function is to hold on to the old electorate, the traditional electorate, and Glazyev's function is to enlarge the new one," said Orlov. "I think he can reach an agreement with Zyuganov. And this would be dangerous for the Kremlin."

"[Glazyev] is a very clever person and he knows that if he creates a separatist coalition now, he has little chance of overcoming the 5 percent threshold" necessary to enter the Duma, Pribylovsky said. "Glazyev knows about his promising political future and he is waiting for his chance. I think they will find some kind of agreement."