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Cablegate: Communist Party: Not Dead Yet

VZCZCXRO2571
RR RUEHDBU RUEHLN RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHMO #2708/01 3341244
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 301244Z NOV 06
FM AMEMBASSY MOSCOW
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 5545
INFO RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE
RUEHXD/MOSCOW POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RUEHLN/AMCONSUL ST PETERSBURG 3603
RUEHVK/AMCONSUL VLADIVOSTOK 1793
RUEHYG/AMCONSUL YEKATERINBURG 2046

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 MOSCOW 012708

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PGOV KDEM RS
SUBJECT: COMMUNIST PARTY: NOT DEAD YET

MOSCOW 00012708 001.2 OF 003


1. (SBU) SUMMARY. Most observers describe the Communist
Party (KPRF) as a party on life-support sustained by
nostalgic pensioners. The cliche has it that as party
stalwart's die off, so too will the KPRF. This assessment,
however, ignores a relatively constant level of support,
despite the demographics, and the attraction that some feel
for a well-defined political party structure. The KPRF
accommodates not only the "Soviet" socialist traditionalists,
but also a new generation of intellectuals who wish,
literally, to overthrow Russia's current system which they
believe only helps the select few. KPRF's message, however,
is unlikely to reach beyond these two small constituencies.
End summary.

------------------------
VOTER SUPPORT DECREASING
------------------------

2. (U) From the fall of the Soviet Union until the 2003 Duma
elections, the KPRF increased its percentage of the vote with
every successive Duma election. The KPRF was perennially in
second place. The bulk of its support came from the "red
belt", a swathe of conservative, agrarian regions that
consistently supported KPRF candidates against all comers.

3. (U) As participants at a September roundtable held by the
"November 4 Club" noted, KPRF's opponents stoked fears of the
re-creation of the Soviet Union and the concomitant loss of
freedoms that Russians had come to take for granted to
significantly erode that support in the 2003 State Duma
election. The resulting Duma has 47 KPRF party members
(compared to 110 deputies in the 1999 Duma), which represents
about ten percent of the legislative body.

4. (U) Voter support for the KPRF has eroded regionally, as
well. In the most recent regional elections, held October 8,
the KPRF won 10-18 percent of the vote in all but one of the
nine regions holding elections (now a distant second or third
place finish), just enough to overcome the 7 percent
threshold for regional representation. This was not the case
in Tuva where the party received 5 percent of the vote.

----------------------------
WHERE ARE KPRF VOTERS GOING?
----------------------------

5. (SBU) Since KPRF voters are generally understood to be
pensioners who support the KPRF out of a sense of nostalgia
or force of habit, many commentators attribute the drop in
KPRF voter rolls to death. In an October 24 meeting, KPRF
Information Technology Center's Ilya Ponomarev offered a more
nuanced explanation. While KPRF voter rolls are being
reduced by death and disability, the inherent "conservatism
of the peasant class" may have prompted others to change
their allegiance to United Russia, the party that now
represents the status quo and stability.

6. (SBU) Indem political analyst Yuriy Korgunyuk agreed with
Ponomarev. Russians want a "chief" to take care of them and
will vote for the person with the connections to Moscow and
the money. Today, he concluded, that person belongs to
United Russia.

7. (SBU) In recent years, many regional politicians have
followed the voter to United Russia. Even one of the KPRF's
staunchest erstwhile supporters, ultra-nationalist Aleksandr
Prokhanov, has declared the party a spent force and switched
his allegiance to President Putin, whom he credits with the
renaissance of the Russian empire. Putin, Prokhanov told us,
has given Russia stability.

---------------------------
BUT POLLS REMAIN CONSISTENT
---------------------------

8. (U) Opinion polls, however, show that since 2003 the KPRF
has maintained a fairly steady level of support, with no
other party yet able to challenge its grip on second place.
Levada Center polls taken monthly over the last three years
show the KPRF typically garnering 15-22% of support among
likely voters. The most recent poll, taken in October 2006
shows support at 22%.

9. (SBU) Ponomarev reported a dip in KPRF support among 35 to
60 year olds, but claimed that support increases among those
under 35. Ponomarev described these young supporters as
"Trotskyites": young intelligentsia, who believe that the
Soviet Union represented state capitalism and that communism

MOSCOW 00012708 002.2 OF 003


is the ideal with which to shape society.

10. (SBU) In a November 20 meeting, Vasiliy Koltashov, member
of the Central Committee of the Youth Communist League,
reported disillusionment with KPRF Central Committee Head
Gennadiy Zyuganov's hold on power because of his ties to the
Kremlin, which sanctions the criticisms that Zyuganov makes.
Koltashov spoke of his disagreement with the KPRF's tame
views. He promised that he would create a new party (the
"Left Party") which would oversee the nationalization of
industry, do away with residence permits, and ensure housing
for all. He also told us of impending labor unrest in Tyumen
over low wages and poor working conditions. Koltashov
admitted that he did not know when these things would come to
pass, but was firm in his belief that young Russians would
not remain passive.

11. (SBU) Ponomarev also claimed that the KPRF was gaining
strength in the regions, particularly in the cities, because
it represents real opposition. He argued that this was true
even in regions such as Krasnoyarsk, a major part of the
Soviet Gulag system.

-------------------------------
EXPLANATION FOR THE DISCREPANCY
-------------------------------

12. (SBU) The discrepancy between Ponomarev's description and
the opinion polls and the actual election results was
explained by allegations of fraud. KPRF Duma Deputy Sergei
Reshulskiy detailed to us the many forms in which fraud could
occur, including instructing workers and others dependent on
administrative resources how to vote, helping "voters" fill
out their ballots, and falsifying the results after the fact.


----------
THE FUTURE
----------

13. (U) Despite the allegations, Ponomarev argued that fraud
can only succeed at the margins. Citing the Samara mayoral
elections, where the Party of Life candidate unexpectedly
won, he proposed that if Russians sensed a real possibility
for change, they would vote in sufficiently large numbers to
overcome attempts to falsify the results.

14. (SBU) In a separate meeting, Duma Deputy Reshulskiy was
less optimistic, pointing out that with no access to the
media it would be impossible for such a candidate to become
known to the electorate. In combination with the recently
enacted electoral legislation that prohibits negative
campaigning, removes minimum voter turnout requirements, and
expands the reasons for which a candidate may be removed from
the ballot, Reshulskiy doubted that real change could occur.
He told us that he would content himself with using his Duma
position to speak out against the wrongs of the Putin
administration.

15. (SBU) Despite attempts to build the KPRF base and sharpen
its message, Ponomarev believes that, barring an arrangement
with the Kremlin, it is a distinct possibility that the KPRF
will lose all representation in the Duma in the next election.

16. (SBU) In a recent press briefing, Zyuganov expressed the
hope that the KPRF would win 20 percent of the State Duma
seats next year and announced his intention to stand for
president in 2008. Ponomarev, however, told PolOff that
Zyuganov is due to step down next summer, although it is
unclear who will replace him. He contended that for many
politicians, getting to the top of the KPRF party structure
represents a livelihood rather than the chance to work for
social change and that, therefore, there would be no dearth
of candidates.

-------
COMMENT
-------

17. (SBU) While trumpeting democratic ideals (free speech and
press and transparent business climate) and socialist goals
(housing and health care for all and use of the Stabilization
Fund for the people), the KPRF message is not resonating with
voters, despite reputed dissatisfaction with the Government,
if not Putin per se. With the establishment of A Just
Russia, a purported Kremlin creation that parrots much of the
KPRF's platform, KPRF's future is still dimmer. Although it
will likely retain Duma representation, it will probably not

MOSCOW 00012708 003.2 OF 003


have a meaningful voice for the foreseeable future.
BURNS

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