17:39 24/10/2012 OPINION

Just-elected Coordinating Council to lend legitimacy to Russian Opposition

By Itar-Tass World Service writer Lyudmila Alexandrova

MOSCOW, October 24 (Itar-Tass) — The protest movement in Russia has now got its own coordination body, expected to draft a unified strategy of the Opposition and to organize rallies. The Opposition’s Coordinating Council is needed in the first place to lend it legitimacy, experts say. They warn, though, that representatives of various political trends, elected to the council – liberals, nationalists and left-wingers – will inevitably develop rifts among themselves. As a matter of fact, they are already at odds with each other.

Monday saw the end of three-day elections to a 45-seat Coordinating Council of the Opposition. The organizers of the elections had to prolong the voting procedure due to ill-wishers’ attempts to disrupt them with massive hacker attacks against the election site. However, despite all the problems the elections did take place. The registered voters totaled 170,000, and nearly 82,000 took part in the elections.

The voting was held in four so-called ‘curias’. On the All-Russia List, the Opposition’s coordinator, Alexei Navaly, emerged the winner. In the left-wing curia anti-Nazi activist Alexey Gaskarov was stronger than the others. In the liberal curia – one of the leaders of Solidarity, Sergei Davidis, was number one, and in the nationalist curia – Daniil Konstantinov.

The leaders of the rallies in Bolotnaya Square will form the backbone of the council – the greatest number of voters cast their ballots for Alexei Navalny, author Dmitry Bykov, chess player Garry Kasparov, TV host Kseniya Sobchak and Solidarity leader Ilya Yashin.

As it is expected, the just-elected Coordinating Council, which will meet in session for the first time on Friday, will operate for about a year. As the website of the central election committee said, “The purpose of the election was to form a body of political representation for active citizens, who wish change in Russia’s political life.” At this point of all the parliamentary parties only the CPRF is prepared to cooperate with the CCO members, while the others said that the Opposition was not a real political force.

Many oppositional figures and experts say the very instance of elections is useful, but at the same time they warn of the risk of a split inside the new body.

Political scientist Dmitry Oreshkin has told the daily Izvestia that however critical society may be towards protest demonstrations in Bolotnaya Square and Sakharov Avenue, this new force already constitutes a major alternative to the authorities’ policies. “It is not clear at this point whether the people from Bolotnaya Square are better than everybody else, but they are different,” he believes. “In fact, the Coordinating Council is becoming the sole alternative to the existing state of affairs. Possibly, this will have a very practical meaning. But if there is nothing at all, then nothing will ever change.” To form some reasonable Oppositional policy and to make some decisions there has to be some legitimacy, even when it is not recognized by the authorities, Oreshkin said.

Any institutional processes of democratization on any scale in Russian society are extremely useful, although they may be microscopic ones,” says political scientist Nikolai Zlobin. In his opinion, any experience of the kind bears fruit sooner or later. “It is unimportant the voting rate in the CCO election was low. The procedure in itself is the thing that really counts.”

“By and large, it all looks very complex, but with good prospects,” high-profile liberal politician Irina Khakamada said about the CCO prospects. “If annual elections manage to legitimize the council and if the people inside the council master the skill of listening to each other and to make professional decisions, then the opposition will gain real experience of achieving victories, and not of participation only.”

“The Coordinating Council is very necessary for lending legitimacy to the Opposition,” said political scientist Alexei Makarkin. The Opposition took shape back in December, but it is still poorly structured and has a weak leverage to influence the public opinion. For that reason the CCO may be the sole instrument in the hands of the protest movement.” Makarkin acknowledged that there are many of those unhappy about the progress in and the outcome of the voting. Inside the coordinating council among its members there are quite a few ideological and moral contradictions, but so far nobody has been able to offer a sound alternative to the just-formed body of power.

Makarkin believes that the Coordinating Council will be a representative body of the opposition, and through its instrumentality protest activists will be able to interact with the authorities. The political scientist pointed to the democrats’ victory in the elections and the failure of the nationalists. He described the CCO’s further activities as a test for the Opposition.

“The completion of the elections to the Coordinating Council of the Opposition was one of the main successes of Russia’s out-of-parliament Opposition and one of the main tests on the way of shaping it,” says political scientist Tatyana Stanovaya on the Politcom.ru website. “For the time being the winners are celebrating and saying words of thanks to their respective electorates, and the pro-Kremlin sites, are mulling the news of the day – the split in the Opposition camp. State Duma member from the A Just Russia party and one of the speakers of the Bolotnaya Square and Sakharov Avenue rallies, Ilya Ponomaryov, even accused the liberals of forcing left-wingers out of the CCO.”

“The united Opposition has ceased to exist. It is to be built anew. Then there has emerged a new political liberal party, the Coordinating Council,” Stanovaya quotes Ponomaryov as saying. In his opinion, the CCO elections “do not reflect the real line-up of forces.”

Indeed, says Stanovaya, the positions of left-wingers have turned out far weaker than one might expect. There are just four left-wing candidates in the all-Russia list.

The CCO election results mean that in the near future the representatives of various political trends will begin to fight with each other, says the chief of the applied political studies department at the higher school of economics, Leonid Polyakov, on the NEWSru.com website. “It’s a swan-crab-and-pike situation. This analogy will look very appropriate, if used in relation to the personalities representing various, even polar political tends. There are just two options. Either they will keep building up protests, or fighting with each other, which is more probable.”