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Mayor’s Party Controls Moscow in Bellwether Vote

Times Staff Writer

A party slate headed by popular Moscow Mayor Yuri M. Luzhkov dominated the widely watched City Council election here Sunday, while a struggling coalition of Western-style democratic parties won enough votes to survive as a force in Russian politics.

The election had been seen as offering an indicator of parties’ relative strengths as Russia heads toward the parliamentary election in 2007. In particular, at issue was whether pro-Western liberals would have any substantial role in a scene dominated by the ruling party, the look-to-the-past Communists and two nationalist-populist parties.

With votes counted from 99% of polling places today, the ruling United Russia party had 47%, followed by the Communist Party with 17% and Yabloko-United Democrats with 11%. The nationalist Liberal Democratic Party fell below the hurdle of 10% support required to win seats allocated by party preference.

Yabloko, known as a defender of human rights, and the Union of Right Forces, a strong backer of free-market economics, played key roles in promoting post-Soviet reforms in the 1990s. But their influence plummeted in recent years, and after competing against each other in the 2003 parliamentary campaign, both failed to pass the 5% barrier to win seats.

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For the City Council election, the two parties and some small liberal allies came together as the Yabloko-United Democrats. After more than a decade of failed attempts to build electoral cooperation among rival pro-Western democrats, supporters hope this effort boosts the showing of liberal forces in the 2007 national vote.

Many observers saw Sunday’s balloting as do or die for Yabloko’s coalition.

“If they do not pass the 10% threshold, then both these parties -- Union of Right Forces and Yabloko -- are finished,” said Yuri Korgunyuk, an analyst with Indem, a Moscow think tank, before the vote.

More than 400 candidates were running for 35 seats in the election, with 20 allocated by party preference and 15 going to the winners in individual districts.

In the single-seat districts, United Russia was leading for 14 seats and an independent was ahead in one race.

It appeared that United Russia would win 27 seats, the Communists five and Yabloko-United Democrats three.

Irina Gavrilenko, 36, an elementary school teacher, said she voted for United Russia in part because she thinks highly of Mayor Luzhkov.

“He’s done a great deal for the city. He always thinks about Muscovites,” she said, crediting him with road construction and providing extra benefits for pensioners through city-funded discounts on medicine, food and transportation.

“I think that this is the best party. We have a lot of hope for it,” she said. All City Council members “should be thinking about our pensioners, about public healthcare and education,” she added.

But Pavel Nikolayevsky, 57, a Presbyterian minister who voted for Yabloko, disparaged United Russia as a throwback to days gone by.

“It’s a revised version of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union,” he asserted.

“They have a single center of leadership. They can’t stand competition. They don’t take into account the opinion of minorities.”

Nikolayevsky expressed little hope that the current unity would make Western-style democrats strong. “It’s a little too late. They should have done this much earlier,” he said.

One nationalist party -- Rodina, or Homeland -- was thrown off the ballot Friday after the Supreme Court ruled that it had aired a television ad that incited ethnic discord.

The ad showed three dark-skinned men from the Caucasus region sitting sullenly munching watermelon in a Moscow courtyard, then brazenly throwing the chewed rinds into the path of a young, blond woman pushing a baby carriage. The words flashed on the screen: “Let’s clean our city of trash.”

Rodina’s leader, Dmitri Rogozin, publicly contended that the advertisement referred to making the city physically cleaner. But many ethnic Russians who are longtime Moscow residents fear an influx of migrants of other nationalities from southern Russia or from other former Soviet states.

Pensioner Zoya Danilova, 63, said she voted for United Russia but would have supported Rodina had it not been removed from the ballot.

“I wanted to support them because they had this ad that was very good,” she said. “My friend told me about it. It had very good ideas in it, but someone upstairs didn’t like it so they were struck from the ballot....

“It’s a joy to me that I was born in Russia, and there’s no place I’d rather live. I love my homeland.”


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