In a move that surprised many political observers, four major political organizations–Unity, Fatherland, the Union of Right-Wing Forces (SPS) and Yabloko–signed an agreement on November 5 to cooperate in the Moscow City Duma elections, scheduled for December 16 (Russian agencies, November 5-6). The groups agreed to divide up the capital’s districts so that candidates from one group will not run against those from another (Lenta.ru, November 5). According to Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, who heads Fatherland, three of the groups–Unity, Fatherland and the SPS–will each get seven districts in which to put forward a candidate, while Yabloko will get four. Ten districts will be left for independent candidates. The precise list of candidates will be published after November 15, the deadline for registering candidates for the election. Luzhkov said that while the four groups would take joint “political responsibility” for the candidates they agree to put forward, the creation of a joint list of candidates did not mean a return to the one-party system. The agreement also obligates the four groups to eschew dirty campaign tactics (Interfax, Radio Ekho Moskvy, November 5).
SPS leader Boris Nemtsov said he was certain that similar pacts would be concluded ahead of elections in other regions. Other SPS leaders expressed confidence that their party would be able to form a faction in the Moscow City Duma (Polit.ru, Radio Ekho Moskvy, November 5). Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky said that what convinced him to sign the agreement was the incident near the Tsaritsyno metro station in Moscow on October 30, when a large group of skinheads attacked non-ethnic Russians from the Caucasus and other people of Asian descent (see the Monitor, October 31). Two victims of the attacks died that day; a third died later. Yavlinsky said that signatories to the agreement “must oppose these tendencies in order to preserve Moscow as an open, democratic city for all those who observe the law” (Polit.ru, November 6). Vladimir Pekhtin, who heads the Unity faction in the State Duma, said the “Agreement of the Four” was the first evidence of the political tactics to be employed by the party that comes out of the planned merger of Unity and Fatherland. “In order to be called a ruling party, we must fight for power, and we are starting to do that,” Pekhtin said (Russian agencies, November 6).
As some observers have noted, the four-way agreement benefits both Luzhkov and the other signatories: It will now be hard to accuse him of trying to set up a pocket Moscow city council, while the other signatories have received the powerful Moscow mayor’s blessing to be represented in the Moscow City Duma. At the same time, the agreement threatens to create some scandals, because each of the parties must now abandon some of the candidates they had promised to put forward in the Moscow election because there will not be enough seats for all of them (Polit.ru, November 9; Kommersant, November 6). In addition, problems could arise because a number of influential political groups were left out of the agreement while some of those who were included do not trust one another. This is why some observers believe it is too early to say that the outcome of the Moscow City Duma election is a foregone conclusion (Vremya Novostei, November 6).
Yet other observers believe the results of the Moscow City Duma election are a foregone conclusion, and that Luzhkov has ensured he will get a fully loyal city assembly (Moskovsky Komsomolets, November 6). Indeed, while the four-way agreement suggests that Luzhkov has been forced to consider the interests of the Kremlin, represented by Unity, the agreement has at the same time forced the SPS and Yabloko to choose between going into opposition and losing representation in the Moscow City Duma or agreeing to run candidates vetted and approved by Luzhkov (Polit.ru, November 6).
Meanwhile, the only group likely to challenge the agreement is the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF). In fact, the agreement was, according to Unity’s Pekhtin, aimed at thwarting the left-wing opposition (Polit.ru, November 9). It must be said, however, that the Communists are weak in Moscow, with only one deputy in the capital’s current Duma. Thus the new union has little significance as an anti-Communist alliance. Its main role will be to make it easier for Luzhkov’s team to ensure a pliant city legislature while maintaining the appearance of political pluralism.
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