Following the death of Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the leadership of his Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR) may now be contested. While there are candidates with the clout (and the contrarian bent) to step into Zhirinovsky’s shoes, rumours are circulating that a different fate awaits the party.
Ultranationalist firebrand Vladimir Zhirinovsky founded the Liberal Democratic Party in 1992 after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The party is renowned for its right-wing populist views and contrarian policy recommendations. It is part of the “systemic opposition” cultivated by the Kremlin to prop up its policies and maintain the façade of democracy. Historian Timothy Colton describes it as “neither liberal nor democratic nor a party”.
The LDPR has historically been loyal to the Kremlin, supporting its line in any major debate and voting in favour of its legislation. At the same time, the LDPR was rumoured to have a rate card for proposing legislation and voting on less important issues.
Zhirinovsky died earlier in April 2022 after contracting the coronavirus. After 30 years leading the LDPR, he has left a power vacuum at the top.
The frontrunner for Zhirinovsky’s role seems to be the party’s acting head in parliament: Leonid Slutsky. Slutsky is currently the Chairman of the Duma Committee on International Affairs, but is better known for being embroiled in a sex scandal in 2018, when multiple journalists publicly accused him of sexual harassment.
Political analyst Konstantin Kalachev told Daily Storm that Slutsky appeared to have the right attributes for the job. “Slutsky’s advantages include an excellent relationship with the Kremlin – it’s no coincidence that he is one of the negotiators in Ukraine – the fact that he chairs the Committee on International Affairs, and, crucially, the fact that he will win over LDPR voters.”
On the day that Zhirinovsky’s death was announced, Slutsky said that the party would not make any decisions about its future leadership for at least 40 days.
However, rumours are beginning to circulate that the LDPR may not have a future under any leader. Some strategists are suggesting that the party should be dissolved, arguing that its voters were attracted only to Zhirinovsky.
Sources reportedly told Meduza correspondent Andrey Pertsev that the Putin administration is mulling a gradual “disposal” of the party.
Zhirinovsky’s incendiary personality and clownish policies helped draw fire away from Putin’s United Russia Party, which looked more moderate by comparison. By throwing juice at opponents at televised debates, starting fist fights in the Duma and threatening to “carpet bomb” the Baltic states, Zhirinovsky helped to drag discourse and criticism away from United Russia’s policy choices.
It is clear that if the party were to survive in any form, it would need a big character in charge to appeal to Zhirinovsky’s electorate.