Staunton, May 14 – The Russian presidency is not the only succession problem that country’s political system faces. There is also a succession issue in each of the systemic opposition parties, all of whom have aging leaderships that may soon have to be replaced with young men or women.
The most obvious and potentially important of these is the leadership of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation and the replacement of its longtime leader Gennady Zyuganov before, during or after the upcoming elections, a move that would seem to be a minimum requirement for making the KPRF a true leftist opposition.
Most Russian analysts agree, the RealTribune portal says, that “under conditions of the socio-economic crisis, the demand for a leftist alternative will only grow” but that the KPRF is not in a position to respond to this and go against its curators in the Presidential Administration” as long as Zyuganov is in place (realtribune.ru/news/authority/4257).
With a younger and more vigorous leadership, experts say, the KPRF could gain a third or more of the votes in the Duma elections in 2021, something the Kremlin doesn’t want and that the current constellation around Zyuganov makes unlikely. Among the names mentioned as possible successors, none appears to have the public standing to make the change.
Many poorer Russians fearful of the future are prepared to vote for the KPRF for its name alone, experts say. If it had a more dynamic leader who announced a broader agenda of social changes to protect people at the bottom of the economic pyramid, analyst Andrey Perla says, it could stage a breakthrough and become a real challenge to the Kremlin’s pocket party.
Political scientist Dmitry Fetisov agrees. Without change, the KPRF will sees its electoral prospects improve, “but the KPRF is incapable of developing and satisfying the demands of citizens” and Zyuganov’s successor has already been decided upon – “Yuri Afonin, and only he.” And that won’t change the bureaucratic nature of the party.
Others say that the KPRF has “a large bench” from which to draw a new leader but because of deference to Zyuganov, none of them yet stands out.
Ilya Grashchenkov, head of the Center for the Development of Regional Policy, says that the left in Russia is gaining grounds because Russians remain paternalistic and want a government that takes care of them. And he says the KPRF is likely to do far better than anyone now thinks in many regions where local leaders rather than Zyuganov are more important.
Among the places where they could make a breakthrough, Grashchenkov says, are Irkutsk Oblast, Arkhangelsk Oblast, the Komi Republic, Kostroma Oblast, Penza Oblast, Tambov Oblast “and in many others as well.”
Another political analyst, Maksim Zharov, says that while Zyuganov and the center of the KPRF remain closely aligned with and even obedient to the Kremlin, regional party groups are far more radical and increasingly prepared to oppose not only Vladimir Putin but Gennady Zyuganov as well.
If that divide is not overcome, the party could split, with the regions forming a new radical left-wing party with the KPRF left to shrivel as a mere appendage of the Presidential Administration. And the new more radical leftist party based in the regions could present a serious challenge to the party of power and its patron.
He adds that “the demand for a left-wing agenda in Russia will intensify in connection with the deep socio-economic crisis in which the country is enmeshed … But the KPRF unfortunately is now at the tail” of the shift to the left across the political spectrum systemic and non-systemic rather than at its head as it should be.
“The longer the communists will drag out the renewal of the leadership of their party,” Zharov says, “the fewer changes they will have to stand at the head of the new left in Russia.”