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A Medvedev Tea Party Could Be the Answer

The Kremlin is mulling the idea of a new liberal party that would promote President Dmitry Medvedev’s modernization agenda and mobilize public support for his policies in the run-up to the parliamentary elections in 2011 and presidential election in 2012.

It is an idea that should be approached with great caution. There are strong arguments why Medvedev needs a political party to advance his agenda and equally strong reasons why he should not be rushing into forming one.

Unlike Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who heads United Russia, Medvedev has no political party he can call home. Although he has appeared at several United Russia congresses, he has generally kept his distance from the party, suggesting at one time that it has to reform itself to keep up with new challenges.

Medvedev does need a political instrument to marshal public support for his modernization efforts. He has to shed the perception of a political loner, a detached and techie president who promotes his visions through his blog. At some point, he will have to fight for his agenda by leading a political party in national elections.

Were a Medvedev party to corral public support and do well in the State Duma elections of 2011, it would put him in a strong position to seek reelection for a second term in 2012. But this is precisely the argument for going slow on forming a Medvedev party right now. It would amount to a declaration of war on Putin. Signaling the end of tandemocracy, it would split the Russian elites and marshal in a new period of political instability that the country can ill afford. In the end, it would delay, not expedite, Medvedev’s modernization program.

Nor should he build a party the old-fashioned way — from the top down.

Instead, Medvedev should start a serious dialogue on how to regain the country’s competitive edge. A good article or speech is not enough. Medvedev will have to engage personally in meetings across the country.

He needs to ignite a Russian Tea Party movement of sorts and press for a progressive agenda. A genuine grassroots movement has to coalesce around Medvedev’s ideas before making a decision on the best vehicle to project its agenda into electoral politics. It’s a long haul, but he still has time for that.

Vladimir Frolov is president of LEFF Group, a government-relations and PR company.

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