Russian ex-premier stresses need for single opposition candidate for presidency
Former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, who is currently the leader of the opposition party, People’s Democratic Union, has stressed the need for democratic forces in Russia to rally behind a single candidate in the presidential election in 2008. Speaking on Ekho Moskvy radio, he said that an opposition coalition in support of a single candidate could include the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, and did not rule out support for Communist leader Gennadiy Zyuganov, if he is selected to be the single opposition candidate through a proper procedure.
Kasyanov said that opposition forces need to bury their differences and come up with a single candidate by the end of September. Referring to his recent departure from the Other Russia opposition grouping, Kasyanov insisted that this did not occur because of differences on policy, but mainly because of a lack of agreement on how to select a candidate for the presidency. The following is an excerpt from the interview with Kasyanov broadcast by Russian Ekho Moskvy radio on 10 July
[Presenter] Aleksey Venediktov here. Our guest this evening is Mikhail Mikhaylovich Kasyanov. Good evening.
[Kasyanov] Good evening.
[Presenter] Mikhail Mikhaylovich, I don’t want to deal with procedural questions. I want to ask you the following question. Are still going to be a presidential candidate or a candidate for the candidacy?
[Kasyanov] Absolutely. At its congress on 2 June, the People’s Democratic Union [NDS] took a decision to this effect, and I am today the candidate of our organization. The future destiny of our transformation and the consolidation of our forces in the autumn is something that we all have to work on.
Need for single opposition candidate
[Presenter] Let’s speak about possibilities. What are the possibilities? Can the democratic forces – Other Russia and other parts of the democratic opposition – agree on a procedure to put forward a single candidate other than you? Can you envisage this?
[Kasyanov] Yes, we can envisage this, and, what is more, we proposed and forcefully argued for the necessity of this possibility, and the necessity of this procedure. And we will do everything to ensure that in the autumn, as quickly as possible, it is possible to form some sort of coalition from those organizations that we consider to be democratic or close to democratic. There are six such organizations as of today.
[Presenter] Do you really consider the banned National Bolshevik Party to be democratic?
[Kasyanov] I said democratic or close to democratic. Nevertheless, I know that Other Russia is changing into an organization. Previously it had been a political coalition made up of four political organizations. Now, as far as I understand, it will be an organization. At least, talks are being held on this subject, as I read in the press. So, this is one of the organizations with which we will be cooperating, along with the Union of Right Forces [SPS], Yabloko, and, perhaps, with the Communist Party of the Russian Federation [CPRF], if they turn out to be ready for this, and also [Vladimir] Ryzhkov’s party. There are approximately, or rather, exactly six such organizations.
[Presenter] You think that it is possible to have some sort of procedure to put forward a single opposition candidate, and you are including the CPRF in your coalition.
[Kasyanov] This is not just possible it is vital. If there is a coalition of six organizations, and in this six I include the CPRF, this means that victory in the presidential election is 100-per-cent guaranteed. This is an aim that will be difficult to achieve in the autumn. If the CPRF is not on board, the chances are still very good. But this has to be done. If there is no unity, then our work will be pointless.
[Presenter] Mikhail Mikhaylovich, you were never a dreamer, but why are you certain?
[Kasyanov] I would like you to believe that I am not a dreamer. If I speak about things that are very important and they seem not to be achievable, I still say that this is achievable, or at least there are grounds to believe that we can bring a situation about in which there is consensus.
[Presenter] But even if we add up the current ratings of the CPRF and the forces that you have mentioned, then I don’t think you will get a total of more than 30 per cent.
[Kasyanov] That is not how things work, though 30 per cent is a lot. But that is not how things work, because the ratings that we see completely depend on the frequency of TV appearances on [state channels] Channel One and Rossiya.
[Presenter] Do you think that the number of appearances of the leader of the unified opposition will be comparable to the number of appearances of the leader of the ruling party?
[Kasyanov] It will not be comparable. I am relating the opinion of pollsters. Our task is not to focus on what is not achievable – frequent appearances on TV – but to work in different ways. This involves work in regions, which is something that we have been doing for over 18 months. I hold meetings in one region or another every fortnight.
[Presenter] – with the law-enforcement authorities and the Nashi movement.
[Kasyanov] This is something that has to be done – there is Nashi and there are other pro-Kremlin organizations. There is no difference between them. But I also meet with politically active citizens. Of course, I don’t hold rallies every fortnight, because the political campaigning season has not started, and the situation in the country is different from what it will be. However, it is extremely important to meet regularly with politically active people, who make up something like 25-30 per cent of the public. These are people who are not indifferent to the kind of political policy that is being pursued in our country, and to what will happen tomorrow. This is the motive force of the Russian Federation, or our society.
[Presenter] We will be talking about policies later on, but I would like to finish asking about procedures. Tell me, explain to me whether you have left Other Russia or not. Has there been a split in the coalition or does this mark the collapse of the coalition that was created a year ago?
Differences with Other Russia
[Kasyanov] A coalition is consensus. A coalition exists as long as there is consensus. During the past year, there was a consensus on a number of issues, including on the main issue – the aim set for the first year. The aim was very simple – to ascertain whether there is a demand among citizens, among the politically active part of the population, for a democratic alternative to the current undemocratic regime. The active commitment shown by citizens themselves with out help, the ability they showed to overcome the fear that the authorities plant in their minds shows that we have accomplished our mission. We had a consensus on this entire area during the whole year. We are now moving to the second phase.
[Presenter] Now there are differences.
[Kasyanov] There needs to be consensus, at least on one question. Of course, I think I was quite right to say publicly that there is not a consensus between us.
[Presenter] What is the main question on which there is no consensus between you?
[Kasyanov] There is no issue on which there is a consensus, which means that there is no coalition [Kasyanov appears to contradict himself later in the interview when he says that there are practically no differences on policy]. So, I did not leave, because at that stage the coalition did not function. There was no consensus. If there is consensus on just a single issue, then, there will be a coalition.
[Presenter] Let us list the main differences, Mikhail Mikhaylovich.
[Kasyanov] We think that there should be two issues which define the second stage of our work – that is, in response to the democratic alternative that has been constructed, to the demand that has to be satisfied. This demand can be satisfied on two levels: the first is a policy manifesto for the coalition, and the second is a procedure for identifying a single presidential candidate, because that is where the future will be decided. That will be the third stage.
[Presenter] Fine. Let’s talk about the policy manifesto. Where are the principal differences?
[Kasyanov] There are practically no policy differences.
[Presenter] What is the main aim of the coalition’s policy manifesto, where is there consensus?
[Kasyanov] All citizens who sympathize with this or that organization that is part or was part of the former political coalition, naturally, want to know what unifies us. And this is even true of ordinary people, who are not members of political organizations and who think that it is right that there is a coalition like this. Of course, all the principles have been set out, and there are practically no differences between us. [Passage omitted]
[Presenter] Mikhail Mikhaylovich, so we know that there are some points of difference when it comes to the political manifesto, but there is also a consensus.
[Kasyanov] There are practically no points of difference.
[Presenter] Fine, but I do not believe that you have the same views as Gerashchenko, Limonov and Kasparov [other opposition figures].
[Kasyanov] That is how a coalition works. Things that are less important as regards a political leader may be the subject of compromise and consensus. We have this.
[Presenter] What about the other things?
[Kasyanov] Other things, such as taxes or insurance premiums, are questions for the future.
[Presenter] Fine. An ordinary person will then say – if there is political consensus, then, they have failed to arrive at a consensus, because they could not agree on how a single candidate should be chosen: so, a procedural issue has caused the collapse of the coalition.
[Kasyanov] There is no consensus on this issue. There is no consensus, because no issue has been agreed. I say there could be an agreement on political unity. There is, but it has not been declared in this way.
[Presenter] So, let’s try to establish where the difference lies.
Procedure for choosing a candidate
[Kasyanov] On the procedure. Our position is very clear.
[Presenter] Who do you have in mind when you say ours?
[Kasyanov] The NDS. In December we drew up a process consisting of three stages: first, each citizen who feels that he might run for president, in this struggle, should publicly announce his readiness to do this. In these circumstances, this is an act of civic courage.
[Presenter] Kasyanov has made a public announcement about this, as has Gerashchenko and [former dissident Vladimir] Bukovskiy.
[Kasyanov] This is the first step. The second element in the procedure is that public-political organizations that are involved in politics should put forward such a candidate.
[Presenter] What do you mean?
[Kasyanov] At the moment, two such candidates who have declared their willingness to run have been put forward. They are [Yabloko leader] Grigoriy Yavlinskiy and myself.
[Presenter] Yabloko put forward Yavlinskiy and NDS nominated you.
[Kasyanov] We expected and we still expect, since there have been statements to this effect, that the United Civil Front [OGF] or Other Russia will put forward Viktor Gerashchenko, which is quite proper. If other organizations, such as the CPRF, want to take part in the process, I would welcome this. Furthermore, I insisted that it be agreed that other organizations that are not part of Other Russia should have the opportunity to take part in the process for identifying a single candidate: that is, the CPRF, Yabloko and the SPS. This is the second part. It is very important.
[Presenter] This is going ahead.
[Kasyanov] It is very important that candidates should only be put forward by public-political organizations.
[Presenter] Why? Cannot people put themselves forward?
[Kasyanov] Of course, they can. This is a different thing. This happens when a citizen forms a campaign group, and with this group he tries to win support among other groups.
[Presenter] Bukovskiy, for instance.
[Kasyanov] Do you know that he has a campaign group?
[Kasyanov] Then you have the third stage. In the third stage, all these six organizations and also the campaign groups, if there are any, then decide on a procedure for identifying a single candidate. One of the proposals that we supported is that there should be an assembly in which there are two equal sets of delegates: half from these political organizations, and the other half from non-political public organizations. They are also people who show an active commitment to a cause, but they are not involved in politics, they are involved in defending other interests that citizens have – I mean drivers’ organizations, human rights organizations and so on. This assembly will take the final decision. [Passage omitted]
[Presenter] Andrey Illarionov has proposed that there should be alternative elections.
[Kasyanov] This is a different view of the situation and has nothing to do with the differences that we are discussing. [Passage omitted]
[Presenter] You are accused of waging an internecine war. It is said that all your energies are being directed towards a struggle within the opposition, and not against the ruling party.
Dissenters’ Marches, Duma elections, Communists
[Kasyanov] There is no battle. We are not making any accusations. We are simply saying there is no consensus. We want this consensus and we are ready today or tomorrow to formulate a new coalition or the same coalition. We need to have consensus on the main issues, so that people understand that these are responsible people. They don’t want simply to have a coming together of citizens during the autumn. They want to see responsible positions being taken, which they can vote for. We will support political activity with Dissenters’ Marches. The NDS will organize Dissenters’ Marches along with Other Russia and Yabloko.
[Presenter] You are an opponent of Dissenters’ Marches. You think this format has served its purpose.
[Kasyanov] No. I said in April that, according to the logic of the first stage, the Dissenters’ Marches should end in April for the spring political season ahead of the second stage. The idea was that in the May-June period candidates should be put forward and a single candidate should be identified in July. This schedule has slipped, but it is not disaster. We will manage to do this, but it should be done not later than the end of September. And we will organize Dissenters’ Marches in the autumn. [Passage omitted]
[Presenter] Mikhail Mikhaylovich, I have noticed that you have missed out one stage. What about the parliamentary elections?
[Kasyanov] Do you mean the coming parliamentary elections?
[Presenter] Yes, in December.
[Kasyanov] These elections will be the first that will be held under the new laws, the laws that were a turning point, when Putin and his close comrades set the country on a different course. [Passage omitted] To take part in these elections would be useless today. It would mean demonstrating one’s agreement with laws that are not right. But they are the laws. So there is just one chance for us to participate and that is if there is a unification, a unity and consensus between the democratic forces, in which I include all social democrats or those that have virtually become social democrats. If this is possible, then a single list for the Duma elections would have to be drawn up in order to break through this unconstitutional situation. I think these laws are unconstitutional, but they are laws and have to be obeyed. So we have to make a breakthrough, to get 25 per cent, then the authorities will not be able to rig the vote and say that you have polled 6.9 per cent. If you count on getting 7 per cent, then not one party will make it, with perhaps the exception of the CPRF and its nuclear electorate.
[Presenter] Recent polls give them 18 per cent.
[Kasyanov] But this nuclear electorate is not the democratic section of the party. These are the adherents of Stalin, the USSR and so on. Others have slightly different views.
[Presenter] So, you think that it is necessary to miss out the parliamentary elections and go for the presidential poll, because the opposition lacks the necessary resources.
[Kasyanov] If you talking about participation in a legal sense, but without unity and consensus on having a single list on the basis of one party, which could be Yabloko, for example, if there is no agreement, then there should no participation in these elections, in the legal sense. But one has to take part in public-political work, because during the elections there is heightened political activity. We will take part in this. So, we are intending to use this period to get across our ideas, to criticize the authorities and create an understanding about the future of our country – how we want to see it and how we see it. [Passage omitted]
[Presenter] A listener has sent in a question – are you ready to support [CPRF leader] Zyuganov for president? The person who sent in this is clearly a CPRF member.
[Kasyanov] If we go through the procedure that I have outlined and it is clear and open, and we manage to get people involved in it, to get civil society involved in it, if the non-political part of civil society shows support and takes part in this and if this is done according to certain criteria and according to a vote with the participation of this part of civil society, the non-political part, then, of course, yes. This is because the CPRF will have obligations under this system, as part of this coalition, and these obligations will be subject to scrutiny by citizens. [Passage omitted]
Source: Ekho Moskvy radio, Moscow, in Russian 1608 gmt 10 Jul 07