Putin’s party wins in Russia


Richard Moore

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Russian Voters Turn Out for Putin and United Russia

Win by President's Party Central to His Ambitions; Opposition Cries Foul

By Peter Finn
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, December 3, 2007; A12

MOSCOW, Dec. 2 -- President Vladimir Putin secured a convincing personal victory
in Russia's parliamentary election Sunday and with it, his allies say, the 
"moral authority" he had demanded to maintain political influence in the country
after he steps down next year.

The pro-Kremlin United Russia party, whose ticket was headed by Putin, won more 
than 60 percent of the vote, according to exit polls and early returns.

Three other parties, two of them firmly in the Kremlin's pocket, received enough
votes to cross the 7 percent threshold necessary to win seats in the State Duma,
Russia's lower house of parliament.

Opposition leaders called foul on a result they said followed a campaign 
discredited by the authorities' strong-arm tactics and by excessive bias in the 
mass media, particularly on the state-controlled television channels, the source
of news for most Russians.

Independent observers, including European lawmakers, will offer their verdicts 
on the election Monday, but United Russia immediately began to trumpet its 

"Our result shows that voters gave their support not only to United Russia, but 
also to the course set by Vladimir Putin," Boris Gryzlov, speaker of the 
outgoing Duma and the head of United Russia, said on Russian television. "The 
elections were a referendum on Putin, and we can say he has won the first 

Although 60 percent represents a major victory, it was still less than some in 
United Russia had expected and may leave the party with only marginally more 
seats in the next 450-seat parliament, according to early projections. But that 
would still be enough to change the constitution at will.

Seven parties failed to make the cutoff, and their percentage of the vote will 
be shared by the four winning parties in the final distribution of seats.

Putin is not a member of United Russia, but he allowed the party to place him at
the head of its electoral list. That decision transformed the vote into a 
plebiscite on his desire to wield influence over not just the next parliament 
but the next president.

The presidential election will be held March 2, and the candidate Putin endorses
is expected to sweep to victory. But the winner's power is likely to be 
constrained by Putin's enduring influence. Putin is constitutionally barred from
serving three consecutive terms, but he could return in 2012, or sooner if the 
next president were to resign early. He has not said what role he will assume 
next year or whether he will seek to return to the presidency.

The Communist Party came in second Sunday with about 11 percent of the vote, but
party officials expressed dismay at the conduct of the campaign.

"These are the dirtiest, most irresponsible elections," party leader Gennady 
Zyuganov said after voting in Moscow. "They have thought up at least 15 ways to 
entrap and betray voters."

The Communists, charging widespread fraud, said they planned to contest the 
results in court, although the courts have no record of upsetting the Kremlin.

The Liberal Democratic Party, led by ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky, and 
Fair Russia, a party whose creation was approved by Putin, came in with about 10
percent and 7 percent of the vote respectively, according to the exit polls and 
early returns.

Zhirinovsky, although well-known for his bluster, never seriously challenges the
Kremlin. The success of his party also means that Andrei Lugovoy, who is accused
of using a radioactive substance to kill former domestic intelligence officer 
Alexander Litvinenko in London last year, will become a member of parliament.

Lugovoy, whose extradition is being sought by Britain, was No. 2 on the Liberal 
Democratic Party's list, guaranteeing him a seat in parliament. Russian 
lawmakers are immune from prosecution, ruling out even the unlikely scenario of 
a Russia-based prosecution in the Litvinenko case.

The Fair Russia party, which the Kremlin created as a left-wing but controlled 
alternative to United Russia, also secured enough votes to win representation in

Election officials said about 60 percent of Russia's 109 million voters went to 
the polls, which exceeded the 56 percent turnout in the last parliamentary 
election four years ago.

Small opposition parties, including the Union of Right Forces and Yabloko, were 
shut out of parliament for the second consecutive electoral cycle. Both parties 
complained bitterly that the authorities had disrupted their campaigns by 
breaking up rallies, seizing election literature and detaining their activists 
when they attempted to canvass voters.

"I believe they were the most dishonest elections in the last 20 years," said 
Boris Nemtsov, a former deputy prime minister and a leader of the Union of Right
Forces, speaking to the Russian news agency Interfax.

Other opposition groups, such as the Other Russia coalition headed by former 
chess champion and fierce Putin critic Garry Kasparov, could not participate in 
the contest. Under election laws passed by the last parliament, parties were 
subject to stringent new registration rules that prevented several of them from 
appearing on the ballot.

"They are not just rigging the vote, they are raping the whole electoral 
system," said Kasparov, who told reporters that he spoiled his ballot at a 
Moscow polling station by not voting for anyone. "These elections are a reminder
of Soviet elections, when there was no choice."

Putin said he was in a "festive mood" after voting in Moscow with his wife, 

"Thank God, the election campaign has concluded," Putin told reporters. "I am 
sure that the voters have made their choice, and they should only have voted for
the party whose program seems convincing."

The couple then went to eat lunch at a restaurant serving Siberian cuisine, and 
Putin asked the manager if he had a free table.

"There is always a place for you," was the reply, echoing United Russia's sole 
theme in a campaign devoid of other issues.

Buoyed by rising prosperity, Russians credit Putin with restoring the country's 
economy and its place on the world stage after the poverty and chaos of the 

"I voted for United Russia. Who else?" Alexander Kotov, 47, a businessman, said 
after casting his ballot in western Moscow. "Our life has become better."

His view was echoed by Irina Ivanova, a 63-year-old pensioner, who said she has 
seen the improvement in the life of her daughter, a teacher whose salary has 

"I remember when she didn't get her salary for two months at a time," Ivanova 

But others said they were disillusioned by United Russia's dominance and the 
sense that the result was preordained.

"I cannot call myself an active voter, but this time I decided that I must go 
and vote against United Russia," said Dmitry Fomichev, 37, a dentist who voted 
for Yabloko in southern Moscow. "What they have been doing is total 
arbitrariness. I know, of course, that they will win, and we cannot do much 
anyway. But at least I will be sure that I did not vote for them."

Olga Vlasenkova, 62, a retired engineer, said she voted for the Communists for 
the first time in her life because they are the last opposition party standing.

"During the Soviet times I was never a member of the Communist Party, and in the
'90s I voted for liberals like Yabloko," she said. "I haven't changed my ideas 
or values, but it seems to me the Communists are the only real force who can 
oppose United Russia."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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