Party Crashers

(This piece originally appeared on Russia Beyond the Headlines)

The refusal by the Russian Ministry of Justice to register an opposition People’s Freedom Party, known as PARNAS, didn’t come as a surprise.  Everyone, including the party’s four co-chairmen – Mikhail Kasyanov, Vladimir Milov, Boris Nemtsov, and Vladimir Ryzhkov – called this decision “expected.”  And expected it was indeed: the current law on political parties makes it virtually impossible for any new entity to get registered without explicit support from the Kremlin.  Since 2009, only one political party, the authority-friendly Right Cause, has managed to win registration; applications by seven others have been denied by the Ministry of Justice.

Of all registration requirements, the most draconian is the one establishing a 45,000-member threshold.  In today’s Russia, the demand for political parties is completely saturated, and no party, except for those already represented in the Duma, can muster this number of cardholders.  It's possible to successfully run an unofficial political movement with 10,000-20,000 core activists, but when such a movement decides to register as a party, it faces a daunting challenge of swelling the membership numbers to the magic 45,000.  Enter the "signature collectors," a peculiar breed of political technologists whose job is to find ordinary citizens who would allow their names and personal data to be included in party lists.  Naturally, the collectors are being paid for their services: according to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, a collector receives between 70 and 100 rubles ($2.50-$3.50) for each signature.  They regularly cheat on their clients by filling signature lists with faked names (taken, for example, from different databases).

This is exactly what happened to the PARNAS list after collectors got their hands on it: a “random” check conducted by the Ministry of Justice has revealed that 82 signatures on the list belonged to deceased people, minors and even inmates.  (The PARNAS leaders immediately suggested that unqualified signatures had appeared on the list as a result of a deliberate provocation by the Russian security services.)  Another problem in the registration papers pointed out by the ministry officials was with the party’s charter that allegedly didn’t allow for rotation of its leadership – in violation with the federal law on political parties.  These two factors – unqualified signatures and faulty charter — were quoted by the Ministry as reasons for the registration denial. 

The legal basis for such a decision isn’t clear, to say the very least.  The original PARNAS list included 46,148 signatures.  However damaging to the credibility of the party the 82 unqualified signatures might be, they don’t necessarily prove that the party has indeed failed to overcome the 45,000 member threshold.  A “random” check is an indicator, not a proof.  And something is outright fishy with the charter claim: Articles 26 and 34 of the PARNAS charter posted to the party’s website clearly spell out annual rotation of the federal and regional political councils.  Either officials from the Ministry of Justice who reviewed the application can’t read basic Russian, or – for those with an eye for conspiracy — these articles were modified on-line after the original application had been submitted.

It appears that the decision not to register the party was not only “expected” by the PARNAS leadership; it was actually their desired outcome.  Ignoring demands by the regional party activists to continue the fight, The Magnificent Four have flatly refused to appeal the decision in court or reapply for registration.  (“It is impossible to try to work with this regime within the bounds of the law,” said Ryzhkov.)  Instead, they promised to “move their actions onto the streets” and called for the boycott of the December Duma elections, which, two months before their official announcement, Ryzhkov & Co. already call “illegitimate.”

If somewhat awkwardly, President Medvedev tried to extend a helping hand to the “united liberals” by suggesting that the party could eventually be registered if it got rid of the “dead souls.”  This suggestion didn’t go well with the defenders of people’s freedom: Ryzhkov called Medvedev’s advice “sophisticated mockery and farce” and pointed out that if the president cared about PARNAS, he could simply “call the Minister of Justice, Mr. Konovalov, and instruct him to register our party.” 

What a remarkable statement!  After years of professing passion for Russia's need to combat lawlessness, Ryzhkov turns out to have no problem with the president executing the notorious “telephone law”– if the outcome of this call suits Ryzhkov’s interests.  

The position of the PARNAS leadership is blessed with certain logic: they might have failed to draw a roadmap to success, but they have succeeded in developing a strategy for failure.  As it happened with virtually every “united liberal” project before, PARNAS is already being shaken by internal squabbles.  The animosity between Milov and Nemtsov over who would be a better candidate for the 2012 presidential election has broken into the open; sensing tensions at the federal level, regional party activists begin heading to the exit.  The party registration would not have prevented its inevitable collapse.  In contrast, the denial of registration may speed up the party’s degradation in the regions, but it will also give its leaders a new lease on life by solidifying their status as political martyrs in the West.  Worse, the decision not to register PARNAS will be met with joy by the Russophobes all over the world — as a new incentive to trash President Medvedev’s modernization agenda.

The consensus among the “opposition” is that the campaign against PARNAS was orchestrated by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in an attempt to reduce the “electoral risks” for his United Russia party.  This is ridiculous.  United Russia’s voters and potential voters for PARNAS live in completely different universes and would never consider voting “across.”  The only real beneficiary of eliminating PARNAS from the electoral field is the Right Cause, a rising star in the perennially boring Russian political galaxy.  The lavish attention that President Medvedev showered on the party's newly minted leader, Mikhail Prokhorov, implies that the Kremlin has some long-term interest in having the Right Cause enter the Duma in December.

If the decision to block PARNAS’ registration was made on the assumption that this will help the Right Cause, then the Kremlin has made a mistake.  Prokhorov is a big boy and can stand up for himself.  It would be much better for the credibility of Right Cause and Prokhorov personally – and for the future of true liberalism in Russia, for that matter – if the party won Duma seats by competing with PARNAS in the elections.  Using a metaphor befitting the owner of the New Jersey Nets, Prokhorov could finish up the game by a winning three-pointer.  Instead, with PARNAS removed from the court, he can now impress the crowd only by an unopposed dunk.    

About Eugene Ivanov

Eugene Ivanov is a PMI-certified Innovation Management Consultant who helps organizations increase the efficiency of their internal and external innovation programs.
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25 Responses to Party Crashers

  1. Vladimir says:

    сплошная глупость! 10 лет назад я думал – это шанс. Сейчас в них не верю ответь, если …

  2. Thanks Eugene, for noting some pertinent particulars that appear inconvenient for some:
    Give that man some more RT, Valdai and WRF appearance time.

  3. Appreciate the Nets hyperlink Eugene.
    This brought back memories:
    Long Island lost the Nets years ago and now might lose the Islanders:
    Wondering if either the NBA or Russian government have any clause(s) restricting Prokhorov from entering the political scene, while still owning the Nets? Assume not, seeing how how such a matter has yet to be raised.

  4. Eugene Ivanov says:

    Thanks Mike,
    On a number of occasions, Prokhorov was asked about his business empire in light of his new political life. His responses could be interpreted as a promise to get rid of his holdings should they come in conflict with his political activities. He never mentioned Nets specifically though.

  5. Thanks for the follow-up Eugene.
    Berlusconi suddenly comes to mind. At last notice, he still owns AC Milan, in addition to possibly (would’ve to check) still having some media stakes.
    Politics is influential in other areas besides governments. Sports leagues can be fickle. Major League Baseball (MLB) has recently experienced troubled ownership situations in LA (Dodgers) and NY (Mets). According to one sports media source, MLB isn’t keen on NBA Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban; even though he’s a wealthy and successful owner of a professional sports franchise.

  6. sewa mobil says:

    Nice article, thanks for the information.

  7. Poppy says:

    “Wondering if either the NBA or Russian government have any clause(s) restricting Prokhorov from entering the political scene, while still owning the Nets? Assume not, seeing how how such a matter has yet to be raised”
    OMFG, why the hell SHOULD they?
    Come on, folks, let’s face it: Russia is a free country, there’s no prohibition on basketball or soccer club ownership.
    Ask Abramovitsch, say Chelsea.
    Red Socks or StLouis Cardinals, anybody?

  8. Hi Poppy,
    While not necessarily agreeing with such a restriction, I nevertheless raised that particular on the premise that it can and (in some other instances) has been raised.
    The classic argument includes taking attention away from either of the involved situations (government and non-government), as well as the potential for a conflict of interest at some point in time.
    A hypothetical example on the latter (granted, a not so likely occurrence): at some point in time, the NBA decides it would like to have a team in Russia. Prokhorov is keen on having the Nets in that role. His Russian government and Net ownership ties can give an unfair advantage over other bids.

  9. Poppy says:

    Hi Mike,
    thanks for your prompt and let me equalize by sharing with you MY concern.
    I suspect Prokhorou bought NBA team just to have a drink having peers around.
    Sometimes, you know…
    Oh this mysterious Russian soul.

  10. Hi back Poppy,
    He likes basketball and is wealthy.
    Folks with lots of money have an easier time living out their preferred desires.

  11. Eugene says:

    Poppy, Mike-
    Interesring twist. I wonder what will happen — completely hypothetical at this point! — if Prokhorov becomes Russia’s prime minister. Then his ownership of the Nets could turn out to be quite awkward.

  12. Poppy says:

    Your question is easy to deal with: judo, that replaced tennis in turn, shall be pushed out by the basketball.
    I would only add that if he becomes a PM I grant my vote to Medvedev for presidency just for fun.

  13. Eugene says:


  14. Poppy and Eugene,
    On the periphery, keeping in mind some prominent former athletes in Russian politics.
    On a professional league coming down on someone for having a business venture:
    Albeit with different circumstances from what has been discussed at this thread.
    Was reminded of that instance from the excellent documentary on the history of the American Football League, which periodically airs on the NFL Network.

  15. Poppy says:

    I guess you do not mean Kabaejva and Howrkinna as MP?
    To hell all these tall man throwing balls and shorts waving their bats, they’re not sexy enough for politics.
    Speaking of the athlets in general I personally grant my heart to the new female 16x-world champion in what they call ‘syncron swimming’.
    First and foremost, I love women in the pool. Second, I love women wet.
    Third and not least, I am keen to learn what the hell she is syncronising herself with, when swimming solo. Can in be the inflatable man?
    Oh my, she might even have a built-in waterproof WiFi and I am eager to discover it, she’d look just fine syncronised with my iPhone.
    Think future, think different!

  16. Poppy,
    Put mildly, we share the same aesthetic preference. I’ll leave it at that. I don’t want to encourage Eugene’s blog into being something noticeably different from its qualitatively well intentioned focus.
    Like it or not, sports and politcs as well as sex periodically mix with each other. The issue is to what degree and how.
    Aleksandr Karelin is another prominent former Russian athlete who entered the political ring. At last notice, I understand that Slava Fetisov is relatively close to Putin.
    It’s a safe bet to surmise that some other former great Russia athletes will become politically involved.

  17. Poppy says:

    Mike, dude,
    One hardly can think of more athleftism in politics –

  18. Oy, yoy, yoy, yoy Poppy.
    An advocacy I expressed is challenged with this reference:

    Enough! (at least for now)

  19. Mark says:

    By all indications your implication that failure is more a boon to PARNAS than success is well-founded. Nemtsov, for one, seems to like public demonstrations and can’t get enough of them. Takin’ it to the streets if he were able to run and lost miserably would be difficult, so the victim’s mantle suits him much better.
    Hey, western countries who can’t stop sobbing about the injustice of the Russian electoral system – here’s a proposal. I’ll do my best to persuade the Kremlin to rewrite the rules and permit a party led by Nemtsov to run (the others aren’t worthy of consideration). But if he loses, one of the countries (chosen at random by a hat draw) who acted as his vociferous cheerleaders has to take Nemtsov as president for one full term. You’ll probably need a constitutional amendment, but if the USA wins the draw it’ll be easier, since they were already considering such a move to allow Ahnuld to run. Whaddya say – have we got a deal? Let me know so I can start workin’ the phones.

  20. Eugene says:

    Your proposal sounds…interesting.
    Honestly, I can see why you, as Canadian, may…eh…dislike us, Americans. But to THIS extent? As to wish Nemtsov being our PRESIDENT? Unbelievable!
    What if we hold Nemtsov until 2016 and in the meantime, elect him to a smaller public office, the one, say, of a stray dog catcher in, say, Tennessee. If you agree to work phones simultaneously with the Kremlin and the Tennessee Veterinarian Board, we got a deal.
    (I have my doubts about the Tennessee part of the deal though.)

  21. Mark says:

    Actually, every time I visit the USA (I just returned from California last Wednesday), I am reminded how fond I am of America and Americans in general. I can’t stand the national foreign policy, and there’s a good deal of the political establishment that I regard with amused contempt, but you’d have to look pretty hard to find a finer bunch of people overall – the military ethos is particularly striking. As a Canadian on active service, I am mostly treated just as I would be as an American with respect to the generous regard offered by Americans to their military. The archetypical “Ugly American” who makes an ass of himself in a foreign country is long remembered as if everyone in America were just like him (the same as any loud, boorish fool from any country is remembered as a negative example), but almost without exception Americans in America are warm, welcoming and ready to laugh with you. And I loved California at first sight, back in the mid- 80’s. I know San Diego nearly well enough now to give tourists directions.
    Because of the high regard in which I hold the American people (except when they vote for somebody who is thick as a Vermont pine to lead the country), your offer to keep Boris Nemtsov busy for longer in exchange for a room-temperature-IQ job will be given serious consideration.
    Obviously you are not a gambler – he could just as easily wind up running France. And in that case, he would actually outshine the current leader. Don’t fancy your chances?

  22. Eugene Ivanov says:

    France is one of the three countries in the world I love the most — and used to call home, however temporary. (You can easily guess the other two.) I don’t want to treat the French in this cruel way, either. Besides, even for the French the mess that Nemtsov had created in his private life will be too much.

  23. Poppy says:

    In this life everybody is working hard to earn his/her bob using the most developed organ.
    The one having brain uses his head and is in marketing or BD. The one having hands – is in craftman(woman)ship.
    Nemtsou is not an exception anyway.
    Let’s hope his offsprings have a chance.

  24. Mark says:

    Gee…you’re hard to please.
    Nope – Boris Nemtsov must absolutely not be ever put in charge of a resource-rich country. And it has to be a western country, because (a) they’re his biggest cheerleaders, and I’d like to see if that remained the case once a risk that he might be THEIR leader was introduced, and (b) the western corporatists would have Nemtsov talked around to asset-stripping any non-western country in about 3 seconds.

  25. Poppy says:

    Mark, you probably are right.
    The trash belongs to the garbage dump.

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