Committee 2008-Free Choice, the democratic opposition group founded and headed by chess champion Garry Kasparov, has brought new members into its leadership and announced plans to broaden into a democratic coalition. One of its leading members, former Union of Right Forces (SPS) co-leader Boris Nemtsov, told a press conference held at the offices of the Interfax news agency on May 18 that the group had re-elected Kasparov as its chairman and named a new council. The council now includes Nemtsov, former presidential candidate and leader of the Free Russia movement Irina Khakamada, independent State Duma Deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov and Yabloko Deputy Chairman Sergei Ivanenko, among others. Kasparov said that Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky had also given “preliminary agreement” to join the coalition (Interfax, Itar-Tass, Newsru.com, May 18).
The group declared in a written statement that its goal in forming a coalition of democratic forces is “Russia’s transformation into a law-based democratic state with a developed civil society and competitive technology.” The statement also stressed Committee 2008’s intention to run candidates in the 2007 State Duma and 2008 presidential elections, and to win. It will choose a leader by carrying out a “poll” of voters, the technology for which will be developed by the group’s members and agreed to by “all democratic leaders” no later than this September. The poll is to be carried out between the autumn 2006 and spring 2007. The poll will determine who will be on the group’s party list for the 2007 Duma election and in which order. Winner of the poll will become the coalition’s likely candidate for the 2008 presidential contest (Grani.ru, May 18).
During the Committee 2008-Free Choice press conference at Interfax, Nemtsov was at pains to stress that the group is keeping big business at arm’s length, noting that it is operating according to the “anti-monopoly rule” of having “many small sponsors.” “We are categorically against even the idea of privatization of the Committee by any group,” he said. “Members of the Committee themselves make whatever contributions they can” (Newsru.com, May 18). It should be noted that the poor showing of both the SPS and Yabloko in the December 2003 Duma elections was in no small part due to public perception that Russia’s main democratic parties were financed by leading oligarchs, particularly Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the jailed former CEO of Yukos Oil.