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Russia’s real opposition – the Communists and the LDPR – debate their next move

In aftermath of United Russia's overwhelming victory Russia's parliamentary opposition parties - the Communists, Zhirinovsky's LDPR and A Just Russia - discuss their future and whether to split or unite with each other.

In the aftermath of Russia’s election, United Russia have been quietly patting themselves on the back as Putin has made it clear that the victorious party must not take its votes for granted. Simultaneously, a war of words has erupted between the leaders of the three other parties who secured seats in the Duma.

The most interesting remarks come from Sergey Mironov who appeared to suggest the eventual abolition of his own party, A Fair (Just) Russia.

Mironov is clearly unhappy with the results as his party took the biggest electoral plunge of the four main parties in the Duma. To rectify this, he has suggested the creation of a two party state, one which would merge United Russia and the LDPR to form a large conservative bloc whilst his party would seek to merge with the Communist Party of the Russian Federation to for a leftist coalition.

It is not the first time that he has suggested an amalgamation of his party with the Communists, although it is well worth remembering that at one time he suggested his party ought to supplant the Communists as the main left wing party.

Mironov’s words are typical of a man trying to find a destiny for a party that took an electoral thrashing at the polls. A losing party or a party lacking confidence will always make the case for a coalition or amalgamation.

Look for example to Britain in the 1980s where the rival centre-left parties – the SDP and Liberals – eventually merged once they realised their policies and constituent base were too similar to warrant two separate parties.

But can this be said of A Fair Russia versus the Communists? Hardly. If anything Mironov’s party is a kind of United Russia that woke up on the left side of the bed more than it is a Communist party minus the red banners and the giant pictures of Stalin.

If Mironov’s party were ever to amalgamate, it’s fair to say that some may well join United Russia both as a  career move and because their views are more centrist than far left. Others who see themselves on the more socialist side of Mironov’s party may well decide to forego the social democratic label and start marching with the hammer and sickle.

There’s nothing particular exotic nor particularly Russian about a losing centre left party splitting along right and left wing lines. Again, as the near collapse of Britain’s Liberal Democrat party shows, those on the right may soon run to the Tories and those on the left may either run to Labour or attempt to form some new centre left group with right wing members of the Labour party.

Long-time Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov will not go quietly into the night in any case. The Communist Party means a great deal in Russia. 

It is of course a party of great historical significance which still attracts millions of supporters as well as outspoken detractors. It is sometimes said that young people are uninterested in the Communist party.  If this is true it will take several generations dying of old age before the Communist party becomes insignificant.

That being said, the LDPR very nearly beat the Communists to second place and the war of words between LDPR founder/leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky and Zyuganov has been as colourful as one might expect.

When analysing the prospect of the LDPR supplanting the Communists as the official opposition, Zyuganov put on his best apocalyptic face and described such a possibility as ‘aberrant’. He went on to suggest having the LDPR in second place might rock the stability of the entire political system.

Zhirinovsky responded by saying the Communists should ‘go to hell’ and said that by the next election the LDPR will be the official opposition and that the Communists will continue to fade. He claimed the LDPR have the most intelligent youth of the country on its side and continued to ridicule the traditional Communist support base.

Zhirinovsky has also responded to Mironov’s suggestion that the LDPR should merge with United Russia by stating his opposition to such a move.

This is unsurprising seeing as last year Zhirinovsky led his party out of the Duma in protest at what he described as corruption in United Russia. As he left the hall he said that the people of Russia would ‘pick you (members of UR) up with pitchforks’ and then said that President Putin would dump party members ‘into a cesspit’.

So no alliance likely there. He did say however that he would welcome the formation of a leftist bloc combining Communists with Mironov’s party as well as the once significant but now largely ignored liberal Yabloko, so long as each party dumped their leader. This will of course never happen.

In all likelihood both Zhirinovsky and Zyuganov will enter the 2018 Russian Presidential election. They are both big beasts of Russian politics who were household names long before Putin or Medvedev entered national front line politics.

Both men faced each other in the 2012 Presidential election. In spite of the explosive rhetoric they often cast at one another, when they sat down to debate policy in 2012, the exchange was calm, gentlemanly and deeply engaging.

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