Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 43

The governor of Samara Oblast, Konstantin Titov, is sticking to his guns and standing for president in Russia’s March 26 election, even though his move has split the Union of Right Forces (SPS) of which he is a leading member. Last week, the SPS was forced to follow the example of Fatherland-All Russia (FAR) and not give its organizational endorsement to any of the candidates in the forthcoming contest. Instead, the SPS told its regional affiliates to decide for themselves. The decision, made at a February 21 meeting of SPS’s coordinating council, was predictable because the issue was threatening to split the organization. While part of the SPS leadership, including Sergei Kirienko, head of its faction in the State Duma, strongly supported the candidacy of Acting President Vladimir Putin, Titov insisted on throwing his own hat into the ring. Arguing that it was essential that voters have the possibility to vote for a candidate of the liberal right, Titov won the support of some of the SPS’s constituent members, including the relatively sizeable Russia’s Democratic Choice.

At first sight, the SPS decision looks like a compromise. In fact, it means that Titov is finished as one of the organization’s leaders. Kirienko made this clear when he announced that Titov would not be allowed to use the SPS name or logo in his campaign (National News Service, February 21). Kirienko will now use his base in Moscow and his leadership of the parliamentary faction to broadcast his support for Putin across the nation. Titov’s base in Samara will not give him the same advantages. Indeed, his support will be limited even in Samara, where the pro-Putin Unity movement is trying to set up a local chapter. At present, two groups are squabbling over who should lead the new chapter but, once that issue is resolved, Unity could become a rallying-point for Titov’s opponents.

Regional branches of the SPS face a dilemma–whether to join the Putin campaign, against which no regional governor has yet come out, or to risk the wrath of the governor of their region by supporting Titov. Most will choose Putin. The SPS is not strong in the regions: Few of its regional organizations are strong enough to execute an independent policy. The organization’s success in last December’s parliamentary elections was the result less of strong regional support than of skilful campaigning at the federal level.

Titov’s quixotic gesture is also likely to weaken the SPS. By failing to formulate a united position for the presidential election, the SPS risks relegation to the same category as all those single-issue political groups put together to fight a single election. The rightists may be forced yet again to create a new party prior to the next parliamentary election. This is what happened when Russia’s Choice was transformed into Russia’s Democratic Choice, which last year merged into the Union of Right Forces. Titov’s bid makes it all the more probable that history will repeat itself.