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Russia: Kasparov Seeks Unlikely 'Victory' In Presidential Vote

By Chloe Arnold

MOSCOW, October 1, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Garry Kasparov's nomination on September 30 as a presidential candidate ends months of speculation over who would represent the motley group of opposition parties known as Other Russia in next year's election. Members of the unregistered coalition -- which unites liberals, left-wing groups, and nationalists, including the provocative National Bolshevik leader Eduard Limonov -- have little in common except for their disillusionment with politics in Russia today.

Of the 494 delegates who took part in the Other Russia congress, 379 voted for Kasparov as their candidate. Speaking after the vote, Kasparov told the congress he would “seek victory and not turn off this path."

Aleksei Mukhin, the director of the independent Center for Political Information, says it's unclear to what degree Other Russia can draw support away from traditional opposition groups like the Communist Party, the Liberal Democratic Party, and the Union of Rightist Forces.

“I think Kasparov wants to show that there is an alternative to the official opposition," Mukhin says. "But as for how effectively Other Russia can stand up to the government or to ?official’ opposition parties, that’s the real question. Because Kasparov is an intelligent man and he must understand himself that opposition parties in Russia today simply aren’t in vogue.”

Chances Slim-To-None

The March 2008 presidential vote is widely expected to see victory for an as-yet-unnamed Kremlin candidate. President Vladimir Putin, who cannot serve a third term under the Russian Constitution, enjoys enormous popularity in Russia. Anyone he endorses for next year’s vote is likely to sail through the polls.

Kasparov's already-slim chances are made even more unlikely by an ongoing dispute within the leadership of the Other Russia bloc. Earlier this year, Kasparov and ex-Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov fell out because they couldn’t decide who should run as Other Russia’s presidential candidate. Kasyanov left the Other Russia coalition, and will run in the presidential election alongside his erstwhile colleague.

This internal sparring has played into the hands of the Kremlin, says Mukhin.

“The fact that the Kremlin has managed to a significant degree to marginalize the radical opposition, to destroy it almost entirely -- that is the work of the Kremlin," Mukhin says. "They have achieved, let’s say, a technical success. But this current tension is the fault of the leadership [of the Other Russia bloc], because they weren't able to reach an agreement. As a result of this conflict, the Other Russia is simply heading for a dead end.”

'An Awful Lot Could Change'

But Yevgeny Volk, Moscow director of the Washington-based Heritage Foundation, says it is too early to predict the outcome of next year’s vote and that Other Russia may gain sufficient strength to at least present a challenge to the Communists and other parties.

“There’s also the so-called ?part-of-the-system’ opposition, the Communist Party, for example, who will no doubt take part in the elections," Volk says. "That’s to say that there will be some competition among the opposition parties themselves. But the most important thing, in my opinion, is that there are still five months until the election. During this time, an awful lot could change in Russia.”

Participants at the Other Russia congress also chose Kasparov, Limonov, and former Central Bank Chairman Viktor Gerashchenko to head the movement's list of candidates for the December 2 elections to the State Duma.

As an unregistered movement, Other Russia is technically ineligible to participate in the parliamentary campaign. Limonov told the conference that the movement must nonetheless conduct a complete campaign.

Copyright (c) 2007. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org

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