September 17, 2007
Yavlinsky Says Party Still Has a Shot at Duma
By David Nowak
MOSKOVSKY, Moscow Region -- Yabloko announced Sunday that leader Grigory Yavlinsky would top its federal list for December State Duma elections, and Yavlinsky told party faithful that a spot in the next Duma was within the party's reach.
Polls suggest that the party will struggle to reach the 7 percent barrier necessary to win seats. But Yavlinsky, who said earlier this year that he would also run in the March presidential election, spoke confidently about Yabloko's chances at a party conference held Saturday and Sunday.
Analysts, however, said Yabloko would have to ensure that all of its core voters went to the polls to have a chance.
"People always ask me, 'Do we have a real chance?'" Yavlinsky said in concluding his address to around 150 party delegates Sunday, when the results of Saturday's votes were announced. "I tell them we do, but only if we are honest and competent."
In a conference venue where Yabloko youth party members dressed in white sweatshirts and held apples -- a reference to the party's name in Russian -- Yavlinsky stressed that the party had to stick to its traditional policies.
He said openness and honesty would help it survive and lambasted the Kremlin for wielding more power than it should be permitted to wield in a democracy.
"The authorities are not trying to solve relevant problems but are intent on maintaining their power at any cost," he said.
After the speech, Yavlinsky said the slide in the party's popularity since the mid 1990s was a direct result of "less fair elections."
"We will see," he said, when asked whether the party would make it to the 7 percent mark. "Being in opposition in this country is next to impossible. If we don't make it over the barrier, life will go on."
Sergei Kovalyov, a Soviet-era dissident and human rights activist, was voted to the second spot on the party's federal list, while State Duma deputy and party chairman Sergei Ivanenko grabbed the third spot.
Sergei Mitrokhin and Alexei Arbatov, both of whom are party first deputy chairmen, were picked to top lists in strategically important Moscow city districts.
The party is hoping to halt a slide in electoral fortunes. In 1995, it won 45 seats and just under 7 percent of the vote, but in 2003 it garnered just 4.3 percent of the vote and a mere four seats.
Party leaders at the conference said the difficulties it faced had an upside.
"The whole system is against us," Arbatov said ahead of the conference on Friday. "It makes us stronger."
But the switch to the 7 percent minimum for representation and the elimination of single-seat districts -- changes that have been introduced since 2003 -- are bound to make getting into the next Duma even more difficult.
All four of the seats the party currently holds came in single-seat constituencies, and failing to win any seats this time could threaten its chances of survival.
"Yabloko will not die," said Vladimir Pribylovsky, head of the Panorama think tank.
"The opportunities to voice criticism are forever shrinking," he said. "But Kremlin advisers realize that there has to be room for the opposition to let off steam."
Pribylovsky said he thought 3 percent of the vote was a reasonable expectation, but that it was not out of the question for the party to make it past the 7 percent barrier if it managed to get all of its regular supporters to go to the polls.
"They have a small, but solid, electorate," he said. "The question is, how many of their voters will actually vote?"