Oligarch's reform party complains of Kremlin pressure

14th September 2011, Comments 0 comments

The pro-reform party of Russian billionaire oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov on Wednesday accused people close to the Kremlin of conspiring to boot out the businessman ahead of key polls.

The first day of a pre-election congress of the Pravoe Delo (Right Cause) party kicked off with a scandal as Prokhorov's allies and spokespeople accused the Kremlin of manoeuvring to force him out after he apparently provoked its ire.

"There are forces who are seeking to split the party apart," a source at the party told AFP on condition of anonymity. "We believe that these people are close to the presidential administration."

Party spokeswoman Olga Stukalova told AFP the party congress was "hijacked by people close to the presidential administration".

Party member and prominent journalist Alexander Lyubimov said Kremlin-connected political consultants and several party members were seeking to form a majority to oust Prokhorov on the second day of the congress on Thursday.

Speaking on the popular Echo of Moscow radio, Lyubimov said he awaited an explanation of the situation from Prokhorov to decide whether his allies should "leave or stay" in the party.

Prokhorov, who was expected to make a statement later Wednesday, has no plans to quit, party spokespeople quoted him as saying.

The party source told AFP the billionaire might have angered Kremlin with a number of bold statements.

A Kremlin spokewoman declined to comment.

The presumed schism within the party and complains of Kremlin-sanctioned pressure come as an ironic turn of events for a party leader who analysts had said enjoyed tacit Kremlin support.

In June, Prokhorov won the party leadership, setting the goal of challenging the dominance of Vladimir Putin's ruling faction United Russia.

The move marked the first foray into politics by a top businessman since the 2003 arrest of Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Analysts have said it could not have come without the tacit support of Russia's ruling duo, who stand to benefit from a semblance of political competition ahead of parliamentary polls in December and presidential elections three months later.

Prokhorov, who is described as Russia's most eligible bachelor and enjoys a reported fortune of $18 billion, has denied he had to obtain Kremlin's permission to head the party.

He had become increasingly bold in his statements over the past weeks, slamming Russia's "autocratic power" and attacking the Kremlin's model of government.

© 2011 AFP

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