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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

United in Opposition, Divided on Candidate

MTMikhail Kasyanov
With the presidential election less than a year away and two pro-Kremlin candidates' unofficial campaigns in full swing, the liberal opposition remains as divided as ever over whom to support.

Until recently, key figures in opposition coalition The Other Russia had been floating the idea of holding informal primaries to pick the strongest person to challenge the candidate designated by President Vladimir Putin as his successor.

But this Saturday, supporters of former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov will officially endorse his candidacy -- raising the specter that he and other opposition leaders will end up running independently and ruining whatever slim chances the opposition had of winning the March election.

Kasyanov assessed his chances of becoming the next president as "very high." "If I make it into the second round of the election, I will win 100 percent," Kasyanov said in a telephone interview.

But he isn't the only opposition hopeful. "Of course I am hoping to win. Otherwise I would not have volunteered," said Viktor Gerashchenko, the former Central Bank chief and current Yukos chairman.

A third candidate, Soviet-era dissident Vladimir Bukovsky, was less sure but still determined to run. "It is highly improbable that I will be registered," Bukovsky said by telephone from Cambridge, where he has lived for years. Under Russian law, a presidential candidate must have lived in Russia for at least 10 years.

In all, four people have announced plans to run for president. The fourth is Vladimir Zhirinovsky, head of the Liberal Democratic Party, which tends to toe the Kremlin line.

For an opposition leader to have a chance at winning, he would have to run unrivaled, several candidates and political analysts said. The popularity ratings of opposition leaders are falling, from an average of 11 percent in January to 6 percent in May, according to the Levada Center. First Deputy Prime Ministers Dmitry Medvedev and Sergei Ivanov -- both seen as competing to be Putin's designated successor -- received more than 30 percent each in May.

Garry Kasparov
"If the goal of the opposition is a real political fight, then they should elect one candidate," said Dmitry Oreshkin, a public relations consultant with Mercator, a think tank. "If they just want to create a long-lasting PR effect, they may try to register many candidates."

About 900 delegates from 60 regions are expected to gather at noon Saturday in Moscow's Kosmos Hotel to nominate Kasyanov on behalf of his political movement, the Russian People's Democratic Union. Also invited to the conference is a veritable who's who list of the opposition: former chess champion Garry Kasparov; Eduard Limonov, a founder of the banned National Bolshevik Party; Vladimir Ryzhkov, leader of the Republican Party, which has been ordered disbanded by the Supreme Court; Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky; Union of Right Forces co-founder Boris Nemtsov; and Gerashchenko.

Viktor Gerashchenko
While opposition leaders officially voice support for a common candidate, they seem to be at odds over who that might be and how and when to select the candidate.

While Kasyanov is pushing ahead with his own bid, Kasparov and Limonov said this week that they would not run, Obshchaya Gazeta reported.

Ryzhkov said by telephone that he also had no desire to run as the common candidate. "What we see happening now is wrong. Instead of nominating a common candidate, everyone is nominating himself," he said. "As a result, everyone will fight against one another."

Asked who The Other Russia might support as a common candidate, Ryzhkov said he had no idea. Kasyanov said no candidacies had been discussed.

Kasparov suggested in a telephone interview that the coalition might support Kasyanov or Gerashchenko.

As for the method of selecting a united candidate, leaders of The Other Russia did not have a united opinion either.

Kasparov said nationwide primaries, such as those held in the United States, would be an "ideal option" but "almost impossible" to carry out given the limited resources of the opposition. He said "different methods" were currently being discussed, without elaborating.

Ryzhkov suggested bringing delegates representing the populations of their home regions to Moscow for a large opposition nomination conference.
Vladimir Bukovsky
Kasyanov said he did not think the method was important.

Asked when The Other Russia would come up with a common candidate, Ryzhkov said probably never, Kasparov said by fall, and Kasyanov sidestepped the question.

Gerashchenko, speaking by telephone, said the opposition's participation in the election would be useless without a common candidate, and that if the opposition did not support him, he would withdraw.

Gerashchenko said multiple candidacies would benefit the Kremlin. "The Kremlin will be trying to achieve that by all means," he said. "It will say [to each opposition group]: If you want to get into the State Duma, propose your own candidate for president."

Bukovsky, who was deported from the Soviet Union in 1976, said his first step toward being registered as a candidate would be to seek permission to return to Russia.

"The opposition in Russia has fallen apart. ... I offer a clear democratic alternative for Russian society," he said.

A number of political analysts, including Oreshkin, Stanislav Belkovsky and Alexander Konovalov, president of the Institute of Strategic Studies and Analysis, expressed doubt that Bukovsky would be able to garner public support, saying few people remembered him.

Self-exiled businessman Boris Berezovsky was quoted in the Financial Times on Thursday as saying that he was funding The Other Russia. Berezovsky, who has said he wants to topple Putin's government, on Thursday denied making the statement. Kasparov denied that the group had accepted Berezovsky's money, telling Ekho Moskvy radio, "There isn't a single piece of evidence confirming any connection between The Other Russia and Berezovsky."