Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 35

On February 17, thirty members of the Federation Council–the upper chamber of Russia’s parliament, which is composed of regional leaders–signed an appeal to the public announcing the formation of a new electoral bloc provisionally called “Golos Rossii” (Russia’s Voice). One of the signatories, Samara Governor Konstantin Titov, said yesterday that the new bloc will put forward candidates in the State Duma elections scheduled for later this year.

The bloc’s goal, according to Titov, is to develop “genuine federalism.” In their February 16 appeal, the regional leaders said that Russia was not genuinely federalist, but a “unitary” system in which the center “robs the powerful regions and [underfinances] the weak ones.” The signatories charged that the federal authorities are “in principle not in a position to wisely and effectively do that which must be done–and can be done most naturally–locally” (Kommersant daily, February 19).

The new bloc will not be able to participate in this year’s Duma elections because the deadline for registering parties and movements for the vote has already passed. Titov said yesterday that the bloc will carry out consultations with other groups for possible cooperation in the election, and mentioned specifically Russia is Our Home (ROH), the movement founded and led by former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin. Many of the signatories of the appeal announcing the formation of Russia’s Voice are members of ROH, which has been experiencing growing internal discord. The formation of the new bloc could lead to further cracks within ROH.

The new bloc, however, could find itself competing with Otechestvo, the centrist movement headed by Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov. Russia’s Voice faces potential splits of its own, given that some of the signatories, like Titov himself, are “liberals,” while others come from the opposite side of the political spectrum. Kemerovo Governor Aman Tuleev, for example, is a top official in the Popular Patriotic Union of Russia, the “national-patriotic” opposition’s umbrella group headed by Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov (Kommersant daily, February 19).

Meanwhile, recently released polling data indicates that among Russia’s various parties and movements, Luzhkov’s Otechestvo has made the most gains in recent months. According to a series of polls carried out by the Public Opinion Foundation between November 1, 1998 and January 30, 1999, Zyuganov’s Communist Party of the Russian Federation remains the country’s most popular party, but its rating dropped from 23 percent in November to 22 percent in January. Luzhkov’s Otechestvo, meanwhile, saw its support rise from 9 percent in November to 15 percent in January. Grigory Yavlinsky’s Yabloko gained slightly, rising from 13 percent in November to 15 percent in January, while the numbers for the Popular Republic Party, led by Krasnoyarsk Governor Aleksandr Lebed, dropped from 11 percent in November to 7 percent in January (Russian agencies, February 18).