Billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, leader of the opposition party Civic Program, seems to be willing to come back to politics. This conclusion can be made from his latest policy article, “What Next,” on the websites of the Russian newspaper Vedomosti and his party.
Most of the article’s text focuses on criticism of the Kremlin, with Alexei Navalny being mentioned in just one paragraph. What is more, Prokhorov used a pejorative word, “spoiler,” with respect to the well-known blogger. Yet this seems to be nothing but a response and a challenge to his main liberal-wing rival.
“The first and foremost message of Prokhorov is: his party and he personally are not going to ‘deflate’ but, on the contrary, they are determined to vigorously struggle for power. Moreover, they consider themselves the only true opposition. Another message: in the course of ‘Medvedev’s political reform,’ power switched from the regime of ‘managed democracy’ to that of ‘comfortable competition’ (the new term has every chance to enter the annals of Russian political science) which also has nothing to do with true democracy,” the BBC Russian Service says.
Prokhorov is appealing to the middle class, to those who do not accept the current situation but do not want social upheavals, and he points out that Navalny is not a serious politician.
The BBC notes that Prokhorov has taken this step as timely as he could. Navalny has already proclaimed himself a single opposition leader, while observers compare him with Boris Yeltsin and Lech Walesa. The question is which of them stands more chances to lead the oppositional electorate.
The Day requested some Russian political scientists to comment on Prokhorov’s article and his chances to really compete with the authorities.
“THIS IS AN ATTEMPT OF SORTS TO DISPERSE THE PROTEST ELECTORATE AGAIN”
Roman DOBROKHOTOV, chairman, democratic movement “We”:
“This article appeared at the moment when Navalny said after the much-hyped Moscow mayoral elections that the first genuine political force had emerged, that he was joining this party and preparing people for a ‘long run.’ Prokhorov, who vanished right after the presidential elections and shunned any high-profile events, has suddenly ‘surfaced’ now to share his idea of competition and political struggle. Prokhorov seems to have been requested to let us hear from him again. Therefore, no matter how nice his theoretical reasoning may sound, in reality it is an attempt of sorts to disperse the protest electorate again. This is an attempt to rob Navalny of some of the more moderate voters.
“But this can of course be a mere coincidence, and Prokhorov has really decided to put forward his proposals. Whatever the case, none of my opposition friends consider him a real political force. So I don’t think he will make a political guru who will raise an opposition wave and that his proposals will be heeded.
“When one speaks of competition but calls a key rival, Putin, a ‘spoiler,’ he either inadequately assesses the political situation or does not know whom the basic oppositional electorate is supporting now. Prokhorov is either an odd and naive man devoid of good advisors or one that is unable to fathom the situation. Yet I think that Prokhorov is very well aware of this, but still he is not a ‘spoiler.’
“Prokhorov is exclusively viewed as a sparring partner, even though many people voted for him in the presidential elections by the principle ‘Vote for anybody but Putin!’ I myself also voted for Prokhorov because the goal was that Putin should poll as few votes as possible. Just look at the way Prokhorov behaved during the campaign – he never said a bad word about Putin. But when he announced that he would form an opposition party and go in for politics, he vanished somewhere without doing anything. It would not have cost him, one of Russia’s richest people, to form a powerful party and become a real rival for the authorities. But if he failed to so in such a long period of time, we can’t possibly take seriously his words about competition. We should judge him by his deeds, not words.
“I have gained an impression that it is a paid-for article, and the authorities are sure to respond to this call for processes. It was hardly a cry in the wilderness – Prokhorov would have hardly made an important political statement without being aware of a reaction to it. There will be a reaction – in all probability, the government will declare Prokhorov as its No.1 political opponent. This space has long been vacant. There were attempts to make the Russian Communist Party and Fair Russia Navalny’s chief adversaries, but they polled a negligible number of votes in the Moscow elections. Yabloko also played the role of a spoiler here, saying that they are ‘the only democratic opposition.’ They all gained a total 3 percent or so. The exception is Melnikov who polled more, but the authorities will hardly benefit from positioning the Communists as their main opponents – at least because the democratic electorate will not support them, so they had to find a new figure who could attract the votes of big-city liberal-minded people and thus snatch a part of votes from Navalny. Therefore, the emergence of Prokhorov is quite logical. We can expect our pro-Kremlin political scientists and, maybe, topmost officials to say that they consider Prokhorov their chief opponent. But I am not sure this will work.”
“PROKHOROV DISAPPOINTS MANY OF HIS FOLLOWERS AND HAS SLIMMER CHANCES TO MAKE A SERIOUS HEADWAY IN POLITICS”
Aleksei MAKARKIN, deputy director, Center of Political Technologies:
“Prokhorov is now using the resource he has had since 2012 as presidential candidate. Prokhorov’s problem is that he is trying to go in for politics without being a politician deep inside. For Prokhorov, politics is one of the spheres of his interests. His party missed the Moscow mayoral elections, the main political event this year. Clearly, Prokhorov himself would have been kept at bay, but Irina Prokhorova or someone else could have gone through with his support. But they decided to skip these elections. The only major success of his party is the victory of Yevgeny Roizman [Civic Platform winner of the Yekaterinburg mayoral elections. – Ed.]. In this case, Civic Platform played quite a minor role. Incidentally, the Yekaterinburg mayoral elections were held simultaneously with the city council elections, where Civic Platform bagged just a few seats. This means that Roizman has some personal resources, while the resources of his party are very limited. As a result, Roizman failed to secure serious support in the council. I think Prokhorov will stay on in politics and Civic Platform will continue to exist.
“Prokhorov said he would have won this election if he had taken part in it, but I don’t share this viewpoint.
“Taking into account this result [in the nationwide elections. – Ed.] and the absence of anything new, which is clear from his article, the regional elites may eventually lose interest in him. The regions were first interested in Prokhorov, but now he disappoints many of his followers and has slimmer chances to make a serious headway in politics. As for his relationship with the government, it is rather contradictory. On the one hand, Prokhorov would like to make a deal with the authorities in order to secure favorable conditions for political activity. On the other, he does not want to be a ‘client’ of and directly depend on the government. Prokhorov wants to take the middle way, but it is, as a rule, not so simple. He is too pro-governmental for some voters and too oppositional for others.
“The problem is that it is good to maintain a dialogue when you have achieved success, have a lot of legislature members, and have taken second place in the elections. Prokhorov only has presidential election results to his credit. But the election is now a page in history. As for Roizman, I think the government will take a serious view of him.”