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AFP, December 8, 2003

Denunciation swift, celebration muted after Russian poll

Denunciation of Russia's parliamentary election was swift early Monday, as the apparent winner of the poll -- President Vladimir Putin's United Russiaparty -- remained conspicuously silent.

Early results showed United Russia getting more than 35 percent of the vote in Sunday's poll, with the main opposition Communists managing to scrape less than half that and slipping into third place.

"We will have a different political landscape in Russia," said Boris Nemtsov, a leader of the liberal opposition Union of Right Forces (SPS) that barely clung on to its proportional seats in the State Duma.

"Those who defend people's choice, independent press, independent courts, a separation of powers, who have always spoken out for cooperation with Europe... they will be a minority in the State Duma," he said.

"The majority of the State Duma will be those who speak out for a police state, for limiting civil rights, for limiting independent courts... for a confrontation with the West," he said.

Early results showed the SPS failing to scrape by the crucial five percent barrier needed for parties to gain proportional representation in the Duma, leaving the party to gloomily ponder its mistakes.

"What we must do now is to analyze our mistakes and not place the blame on anyone but ourselves," said Anatoly Chubais, an SPS leader and architect of post-Soviet economic reforms.

Half of the lower chamber's 450 seats are accorded to proportional representation, with the other half awarded in individual constituencies.

Gennady Zyuganov, leader of the main opposition Communists who appeared to be the poll's main losers relinquishing half of their seats to pro-Kremlin parties, said the poll was a farce.

"You are all participating in a disgusting spectacle that for some reason people are calling an election," Interfax news agency quoted Zyuganov assaying.

"This embarrassing farce ... has nothing to do with democracy," he said.

Preliminary results gave the Communists only 13 percent of the vote compared to 36 percent gained by the pro-Putin party United Russia.

"The administration has greatly affected the election's outcome," agreed liberal Yabloko leader party leader Grigory Yavlinsky.

"They are responsible for United Russia's victory," he said.

A leader of a surprise winner of the poll -- the Rodina (Motherland) party-- rejected analysts' comments that his new group had been created only a few months ago by Kremlin hawkish insiders to run on a patriotic ticket in order to take votes away from the left.

Exit polls showed Rodina getting up to nine percent of Sunday's vote.

"We did not steal votes from any other political party -- we simply worked with the people" during the election campaign, said Sergei Glazyev, quoted by to the RIA-Novosti news agency.

"Now it is our turn to assume authority," Glazyev later said in televised remarks, adding that his party was "willing to work with everyone."

"Let's explode this myth about us being a Kremlin project," said the party's other leader, Dmitry Rogozin. "If we were a Kremlin project we would have won 20 percent."

Meanwhile the only reaction from United Russia was a short comment by a senior official, saying the party would likely lay claim to the post of Duma speaker.

"Logic dictates that it should be one of our people," Vasily Bogomolov was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying.

Bogomolov said the party would likely nominate Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov, a close Putin ally who heads the party, for the post.

The speaker's post has hitherto been held by a Communist.

But following United Russia's apparent victory, there were no comments from its leaders or its main supporter Putin -- neither on news agencies, nor on television.

SPS's Nemtsov said the silence was telling.

"I think grave feelings dominate in the Kremlin right now among the people who manipulated these elections," he said in televised comments: "They have let the genie out of the bottle."


See also:

State Duma elections 2003

AFP, December 8, 2003

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