| If state-run television channels weren't aiming to make
voters forget that any political parties other than Kremlin-backed United
Russia were competing in parliamentary elections, they did little to dispel
that impression Sunday.
While ballots for the State Duma offer Russians a choice of 23 parties,
broadcasts on the main channels featured only one for a large part of
Newscasts on state-controlled Channel One and Rossia were awash with
footage of United Russia leaders casting ballots and urging citizens to
They didn't say for whom, but the message was clear.
President Vladimir Putin, who has said repeatedly that United Russia
had his full support, told reporters Sunday he could not disclose who
got his vote, as that might be interpreted as illegal campaigning on election
"But I think my preferences are already known," he added with
In footage aired on Rossia, Emergency Situations Minister and United
Russia co-leader Sergei Shoigu expressed hope that Russians would wake
up in a better country on Monday.
Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov, who heads United Russia's party list,
urged fellow citizens to "wake up and vote."
The party's No. 3 man, Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, was also shown casting
his ballot and extolling the "extraordinary" day.
Rossia added a brief mention of United Russia's main competitor, the
Communist Party, saying that its leader, Gennady Zyuganov, also had voted.
Judging by the two channels' coverage, a viewer unfamiliar with Russian
politics might not even be aware that other parties, such as liberal opposition
Yabloko and the pro-reform Union of Right Forces, or SPS, were running
in the election.
Only in the evening, when, according to the Central Elections Commission,
more than 36 percent of Russians had already voted, did Rossia air footage
of Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky
and SPS co-leader Boris Nemtsov casting ballots.
"The current campaign is certainly not an equal-opportunity campaign,"
said Alexei Melnikov,
a Duma deputy from Yabloko.
"Representatives of United Russia are doing what effectively amounts
to violating the law and putting pressure on the voters," Melnikov
said in a telephone interview.
Sunday's coverage comes after months of heavy bias in favor of United
Russia by all main television channels since the last privately owned
national network, TVS, was shut down last summer.
"This is 'managed democracy' in the country. All decisions are
made by the presidential administration," SPS Deputy Boris Nadezhdin
said by telephone, referring to the Kremlin's term for tightening its
grip on power. "I hope that voters will turn out to be more intelligent
than those who are staging this show."
In advertisements reminiscent of the 1996 presidential campaign, some
Russian web sites urged their visitors to go vote -- or risk being ruled
by an authoritarian regime.
In the summer of 1996, then-President Boris Yeltsin was running a tight
race against Communist challenger Gennady Zyuganov, and pro-Yeltsin media
painted a doomsday picture of what a Communist victory might entail.
This Sunday, popular e-mail portal mail.ru posted flashing red-on-black
ads that read: "Accustomed to e-mail? Vote Sunday! Or on Monday you
will be searching for envelopes."
Another ad read: "Downloading pictures? Vote Sunday! Or on Monday
you will be unloading rail cars." A third said: "Following Chelsea
games? Vote Sunday! Or after Monday you will be charged with espionage."
The mostly younger constituency of Internet users is considered to have
generally above-average education or income. But while the demographic
group is often expected by pollsters to favor liberal parties, it is often
the original at
State Duma elections 2003