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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Troubled LDPR Expected to Survive

A dark cloud is hanging over Vladimir Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democratic Party just three months before State Duma elections.

One of its billionaire benefactors has jumped ship, while a second has disappeared and is wanted by the Prosecutor General's Office, analysts say. In addition, Zhirinovsky's right-hand man has left, and Alexei Mitrofanov, the party's second most prominent member, announced last week that he was moving to A Just Russia, a pro-Kremlin party.

The developments would spell certain doom for any other political party. But Zhirinovsky and the LDPR have been inseparable in people's minds since he founded the party in the waning days of the Soviet Union. This means that the LDPR is all but assured of winning seats in the Duma in December, analysts said.

The LDPR is a one-man party whose fortunes are totally dependent on its leader, said Masha Lipman, an analyst with the Carnegie Moscow Center. Zhirinovsky, who has been involved in brawls and fistfights in the Duma, is an exceptionally talented politician who can reach out to the crowd, she said.

"This man is an ingenious political showman," said Sergei Markov, the Kremlin-connected head of the Institute for Political Research.

A survey published Friday found that the LDPR was on track to clear the 7 percent threshold to claim seats in the Duma elections. The survey by state-run polling center VTsIOM indicated that the LDPR would win 8.8 percent of the vote, or 48 of the Duma's 450 seats. The party, which won 12 percent of the vote in the last Duma elections in 2003, has 29 seats after Mitrofanov's defection.

Markov predicted that the LDPR would garner 10 percent to 11 percent of the vote from a loyal electorate that has been voting for Zhirinovsky for 15 years. "They are very dedicated and unlikely to change their mind," he said.

More than half of the LDPR's electorate is under 35 and nearly 70 percent is male, according to a recent survey by the Association of Regional Sociology Centers.

Zhirinovsky founded the LDPR back in 1989, and his boisterous and often virulent nationalistic style has helped him win seats in every Duma since 1993. The party styles itself as opposition but backs the Kremlin on key legislation.

With Mitrofanov's announced departure, speculation is swirling in political circles that Zhirinovsky's zenith has passed. Zhirinovsky, who intends to run for president next year, declined to comment for this report.

Mitrofanov said last week that he had decided to join A Just Russia because no meaningful opposition could be done from within the country's erstwhile opposition parties. A Just Russia was founded earlier this year and is headed by Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov, who ran for president in 2004 to, as he said at the time, support President Vladimir Putin's candidacy.

Oleg Malyshkin, a former bodyguard of Zhirinovsky who ran as the LDPR's presidential candidate in 2004, left in April. He was ostensibly expelled for refusing to participate in regional elections the previous month.

Billionaire businessman Suleiman Kerimov left the party ranks at the same time and applied to join United Russia, the pro-Kremlin party that dominates the current Duma. The Dagestani businessman, whom Forbes Russia ranks as Russia's seventh-richest person with $12.8 billion, also was ostensibly kicked out because he had refused to participate in regional elections.

Observers see it otherwise. "Those who have a chance to go somewhere else are grabbing it," said Andrei Ryabov, an analyst at the Gorbachev Fund.

He said the LDPR still might make it in the Duma but would probably not obtain any powerful posts. Zhirinovsky is a Duma deputy speaker. All the Duma committee posts, however, are chaired by United Russia deputies.

Kerimov's departure hurt the party considerably more than Mitrofanov's ever could because it meant an end to his financial support, Markov said.

Another serious blow, he said, came when former Russneft head Mikhail Gutseriyev fled the country last month after being charged with illegal entrepreneurship and tax evasion in a politically tinged case. He said the Ingush oil billionaire had been a major benefactor to Zhirinovsky's party.

LDPR officials had no immediate comment about their party sponsors Friday.

Even without the two billionaires, Zhirinovsky will still be able to bankroll his election campaign, Markov said. "There will be enough money," he said.

But the ride won't last forever, Lipman said. "Everything is in the Kremlin's hands."

She noted, however, that Zhirinovsky, who is regularly lambasted by Western media for his nationalistic rhetoric, was actually doing the country some good by neutralizing a potentially disturbing protest vote. "He attracts that sort of electorate that would otherwise not go to the polls," she said.

Markov said this was much appreciated by the Kremlin. "He is a stabilizing element in the system who collects votes both from the Communist and the nationalistic opposition."

The LDPR, meanwhile, kicked off its campaign Saturday as the election season officially opened. The party's slogan carries its trademark patriotic ring: "What's good for Russians is good for all."