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A new party in Russia hopes to do politics the ‘normal’ way – but will it win them an election?

The New People’s Party is slowly trying to gather strength in Russia. In a fascinating experiment in democracy it is based on the most routine, humdrum, rule of politics which is: first get yourself elected

Denis MacShane
Monday 07 September 2020 12:28 BST
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Merkel: Russian poisoning of Navalny is attempted murder

Once again Russia is in the news over the poisoning of Alexei Navalny. The individuals who fight bravely against Vladimir Putin, like the recently poisoned opposition leader or the Belarusians protesting the election of Lukashenko, are heroes in the democratic world, but their inspiring crusades are not politics as normally practiced.

Even today the two main opposition parties in the Duma to Putin’s ruling United Russia party machine are the antediluvian communists and the ugly xenophoblic Liberal Democratic Party, headed by the loud-mouthed nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky.

Now a new party is slowly trying to gather strength in Russia. In a fascinating experiment in democracy it is based on the most routine, humdrum, rule of politics which is: first get yourself elected.

The New People’s Party was registered with the authorities in March 2020 and by August 300,000 Russians had signed nomination papers for their candidates. It aims to put up 100 candidates in 13 of Russia’s regions – the first layer of government – in elections later this month.

The party’s founder and driving force is Alexey Nechaev, who made his money in direct marketing. The New People’s Party has been set up by Nechaev, with the support of friends, business associates and some regional business people. It is far removed from the world of private jets and Mayfair mansions of the Putin supporting oligarchs and the ex-KGB “siloviki” who insinuated themselves into key jobs in post-Soviet enterprises in Russia.

In a Zoom interview from Moscow, the youthful looking Nechaev, 54, explained how he believes that political change has to come from below, not the parallel universes of Moscow elites grouped around Putin and the liberal intelligentsia that has looked to street protests and online exposés to arouse opposition to topple the president.

“Neither group represented ordinary people who just want an end to corruption and false promises,” he says. “When Medvedev was president in 2008 he promised modernisation. But nothing happened. Russians focused on big dramatic events like the Crimea crisis or the World Cup in 2018. But too much in Russia still does not work to the benefit of ordinary citizens and we will focus on these issues.” 

Nechaev says he is the main source of funds for the campaign, although a few candidates are self-financing. He claims inspiration from the Czech ANO party, founded by billionaire Andrej Babis in 2011 and which today runs the Prague government in coalition with the Czech Social Democrats.

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny airlifted to Germany

Babis and ANO are firmly on the right, but Nechaev also cites as a model Podemos, Spain’s grassroots leftist party founded in 2014, and which is now in a coalition government with the mainstream Spanish Socialist party. In most European countries, the norm in the 21st century is for coalition and power-sharing, which the new Russian party would like to see arrive.

The party programme calls for bread and butter improvements like doubling the salary and better social insurance packages for police officers to combat endemic low level corruption, as well as electing police chiefs like in the US. Also, keeping taxes low for the self-employed. especially the self-employed aged over 65.

The New People’s Party says it rejects one-size-fits-all Russia policies and wants to draw up regional and local laws on a devolved basis with round-tables to develop proposals.

In an obscure, but probably very popular measure, the party wants to ban the flashing blue VIP lights on regional leaders’ cars. The party is firmly centrist and wants to appeal to so-called “New People” – small and medium sized businesses, teachers, taxi drivers, and creative industry designers, bloggers, IT specialists and students.

It is one of a number of new parties registered in Russia this year ahead of regional elections this weekend and then the most important Duma elections next year.

It is difficult for anyone used to western political and electoral norms and traditions to estimate their chances of success. Vladimir Putin and Alexei Navalny occupy all the space the west has for coverage of Russian politics.  But the New People’s Party would fit in easily to the spectrum of centre-right or liberal parties elsewhere in Europe. Now they have to show they can win votes.

Denis MacShane is the former government minister of state for Europe. He writes on European policy and politics

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