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In Moscow, The Fix Is In

Posted By Yevgeny Volk On September 9, 2009 @ 11:09 am In International | Comments Disabled

MOSCOW – The upcoming October 11th Moscow city council elections go beyond routine local politics. They are turning into a primary of sorts for the balance of political forces nationwide.

Moscow, the Russian Federation’s largest constituent territory and seat of the federal government, has also has accumulated about 85% of the nation’s financial capital and is clearly the object of the Kremlin’s close attention. The Kremlin is interested in securing the maximum loyalty of the local authorities and the city’s socio-political environment stability.

Registration of candidates for the Moscow city council elections closed last week. Since Candidates will run under a party-list system the registration process served as a powerful filter to keep opponents of Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, a pro-government United Russia party representative, out of the election entirely.

Typically, candidates representing United Russia, A Just Russia and other pro-Kremlin parties enjoy the most-favored status in the run-up to the Moscow elections.  The social-democratic Yabloko was the only party granted registration among the liberal-leaning parties. Boris Nemtsov, one of the opposition leaders, noted that Yabloko is a pro-Luzhkov party – its leader Sergei Mitrokhin voted for Mayor Luzhkov’s re-appointment, and the party’s electoral platform glossed over his activities.

Opposition candidates representing the center-right Solidarity movement were both denied party registration and sifted out of single-seat constituencies. The same tactic was used to reject multiple candidates  – signatures gathered were alleged doctored and then rejected (every candidate had to submit the minimum of 70,900 signatures, i.e. 1 percent of the Moscow electorate). Solidarity leaders Ilya Yashin and Ivan Starikov, for example, had 100 percent of the signatures they had gathered rejected.  Igor Drankin, one of the opposition, had 104 (!) percent of the collected signatures declared invalid.

The opposition parties have every intention to launch an aggressive campaign to disclose the illegitimacy of the upcoming elections under the slogan For Solidarity – Against United Russia. Solidarity supporters are planning to take to the streets carrying streamers reading Luzhkov Should Sit in Prison, not on 13, Tverskaya St! (Moscow town-hall’s address). In the author’s opinion, the report provides the facts sufficient to dismiss Luzhkov from his office and level corruption charges against him and his wife Yelena Baturina. (She is CEO of INTECO Corporation believed to enjoy preferential treatment from the Luzhkov-led Moscow government).

It is not as if the Kremlin is totally happy with the incumbent mayor. The government is clearly well aware of and nettled by massive corruption in the capital. The federal and Moscow authorities also compete for control of property and business in the city. On certain occasions the federal government has been encouraging the anti-Luzhkov campaign seeking to avert excessive strengthening of the Mayor’s positions. In the past few months federal law enforcement officials have arrested several high-placed Moscow government officials, including the advertising committee head, on charges of corruption. This move can be viewed as a crack at the Mayor.

At the same time, the Kremlin realizes that Luzhkov is still capable of ensuring stability and order in the capital and enjoys huge popularity among Muscovites owing primarily to the indigent support programs he is funding from the city budget. Even as the federal government is seeking replacement for Luzhkov, it is so far unwilling to do so now and is indicating support for the Mayor in the upcoming election. Tellingly, President Medvedev standing by Luzhkov’s side during the September 5 Moscow City Day celebration, highlighted the capital’s social security achievements.

Luzhkov could well interpret the President’s signal as a free hand to hold the city council elections the way most advantageous to him. Thus, the pro-government, Putin-Luzhkov United Russia’s impending victory is a foregone conclusion.

The practical implication is that a new city Duma, like the current one, is going to be an obedient tool in Luzhkov’s hands. Even if he gets replaced by another pro-Kremlin figure, the city council majority will automatically pass on to the new mayor with no inconvenience to the federal government. The powers-that-be are hardly concerned over the disregarded interests of common voters who are critical about Moscow’s socio-political and economic environment and were prepared to cast their ballots for opposition candidates. Now, they are deprived of this choice.


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