Vladimir Putin created the Popular Front as a reserve capacity for the electoral cycle – parliamentary and presidential elections. If United Russia undergoes a major transformation, which is possible, then we might see the Popular Front becoming the basis for some new governing party.
Popular Front became a cornerstone during the Parliamentary elections in Russia. A lot of foreign and Russian experts promised this project a great future, even a place of the United Russia party in State Duma in coming years. Thomas Remington , Goodrich C. White Professor of Political Science, Emory University, shares his views on the Popular Front’s future in new political realities of Russia with the website of the Valdai International Discussion Club .
Mr. Remington, what is the Popular Front for Vladimir Putin, in your view?
I think Putin created the Popular Front as a reserve capacity for the electoral cycle – parliamentary and presidential elections. It was an insurance policy in case United Russia proved to be ineffective. So it was not intended to replace United Russia, but to supplement it, drawing in other organized structures that may not have had close contacts with United Russia.
So the Popular Front will not take the place of United Russia in our government in the coming years?
I think not. United Russia has a fairly strong organizational base in the regions. It is pretty well organized – it has a well-working machine for enabling regional legislators, for example, to be elected, to coordinate their own political interests. I don't think the Popular Front is capable of replacing that kind of political and legislative activity that United Russia is playing currently.
What are the prospects for the Popular Front?
If somebody wants to use it once again, we might see it reanimated in the next election cycle. I really don't think it has any role other than in mobilizing voters, and identifying and recruiting candidates. You'll note that not many people entered the Duma from the Popular Front. At one time people were afraid – certainly the Duma deputies, in particular the United Russia Duma deputies were afraid – that the Popular Front would displace, or replace them. But not many people ended up losing their seats as a result of the Popular Front. So it is a kind of extension of the party. I don't see it as a substitute for the party.
What is its future, after Vladimir Putin's inauguration took place?
It will lie fallow and will simply be a residual structure. I don't think it will play an active role in politics in the next couple of years. If United Russia undergoes a major transformation, which is possible, then we might see the Popular Front becoming the basis for some new governing party. Otherwise, I don't think it has much of a future.
Not in the regions either?
No, not even in the regions. It was in some ways an imitation of United Russia, but it doesn't have the same policy development capability that United Russia has. United Russia really has structures that allow it to develop legislation, and that allow it to coordinate the positions of members of the party. It has very high party discipline in the Duma, for example, and in regional legislatures. That takes a lot of organizational investment, and I don't think that the Popular Front is anywhere near that point. It takes enormous effort on the part of the presidential administration to ensure that a structure can be a really well-organized, highly centralized and effective machine throughout the country. And the Kremlin is not willing to put that kind of effort in yet.
Can you compare the structures of Putin's Popular Front and Medvedev's Open Government?
They are quite different. Although in some ways they both reflect an effort by the authorities to find new ways to reach out and engage in dialogue with civil society. In that sense, there is some similarity. The Open Government project has been taking some shape, and will consist of public councils attached to ministries. So it will take a structural form. The Popular Front is not going to take an active structural role in policy making.
In your view, what new political parties will appear in the coming years in Russia?
Already quite a few have registered. Many people are going to try to organize a party. We see, just in the recent time, the Republican party rebuilding itself. And there will be many efforts, and hopefully they will sort themselves out and begin uniting into larger and more effective party structures. We are going to see a period where there is a lot of fragmentation of effort. And I hope that with the efforts to run candidates for governor and for regional legislatures, we will begin to see some consolidation of parties. But it's too early to know what they will be.
And what do you think about nationalist parties?
Well there are many of them, and they have been unable to unite. Some of them have a kind of a Russian ethnic nationalist perspective, others have an imperial perspective, others are very extreme, and some of them are more moderate. And the nationalists are something like the democrats. On both sides, there's been a real difficulty in coming to political unity.