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Russia's Democratic Opposition Rebounds with Moscow City Duma Election

(Washington, DC--December 23, 2005) The Russian Democratic opposition is cautiously optimistic about the future of democracy in Russia after analysing the results of the recent Moscow city and other local government elections, according to two political activists. Vladimir Kara-Murza, Jr. and Andrei Piontkovsky told a RFE/RL audience last week that, although the United Democratic Party coalition won only a small number of seats in the December 4 Moscow City Duma election, the vote demonstrated that, despite "authoritarian political conditions," a strong core of Russian voters care about restoring "democratic freedoms."

Kara-Murza, the U.S. Representative for the Union of Right Forces called the Moscow election a "breakthrough," because the democratic coalition crossed the 11 percent threshold to win seats in the local council. Exit polls indicated they had won 15 percent of the vote, Kara-Murza said, despite the tremendous obstacles it faced during a campaign where there was "no independent TV, the media was biased in support of the Kremlin [and] roadside billboards were only available to 'United Russia'" (the pro-Kremlin party). Kara-Murza noted that, among other campaign and election violations, "the posters of United Democratic were torn down my municipal workers within two to three hours" of being put up in Moscow," while in smaller cities the democrats' campaign workers would be arrested before they could put up posters. On election day, he said, "observers [for their party] were thrown out of polling stations," and "several thousand people were bused around Moscow to vote several times," presumably for the Kremlin-backed candidates.

Kara-Murza said the strong showing by the United Democrats in this election validated three significant insights, the first being that "unity works;" the second, that a united coalition of pro-democratic parties are "capable of winning;" and that "the election destroyed the myth that freedom and democracy do not matter in Russia," because the democratic coalition campaigned on the issue of "defense of democratic freedoms," and not local issues or promises to special interests. Kara-Murza called the local elections a "dress rehearsal" for the next national parliamentary elections slated for 2007, when a higher voter turnout can be expected. Eventually, according to Kara-Murza, "a color revolution will come to Russia."

Piontkovsky, U.S. Representative of the Yabloko party agreed with his colleague that the election was a positive sign for the United Democrats and that this coalition is the "beginning of a national party," which could become a formidable force in future elections. Although he is skeptical about an "Orange Revolution" occurring in Russia, Piontkovsky said the new party will defend liberal values and the institutions of civil society, while "fighting against Putin." He said that the current myth surrounding Putin of "good Putin against the bad Chekists," is not new and is drawn from Russian history. According to Piontkovsky, "Putin plans to stay in power" because Putin and his friends "control 80 percent of the [Russia's] economy," and would have a difficult time relinquishing power, as that would mean leaving their property and "possibly their freedom." Piontkovsky noted "there is a crisis among the leaders of the establishment," because elements of the armed forces, KGB, and bureaucracy "are fed up with this small group from St. Petersburg," and this helps the democratic opposition in Russia.

Archived audio of Kara-Murza's presentation can be heard in RealAudio and Windows Media formats; Piontkovsky's presentation can also be heard in RealAudio and Windows Media.