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Reuters, December 9, 2003

Veteran Russian liberal says election was rigged

By Andrei Shukshin

MOSCOW, Dec 9 (Reuters) - The leader of Russia's liberal Yabloko party Grigory Yavlinsky accused the Kremlin on Tuesday of rigging the results of last week's parliament vote but said no legal action would ever succeed in the country's courts.

Yavlinsky, who failed to win enough votes to enter the State Duma lower house for the first time since Soviet days, dismissed the possibility of election fraud spurring mass protests similar to those that toppled Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze.

"Nothing like that can happen here," Yavlinsky told a news conference. "Georgia is Georgia and Russia...is Russia," he said.

The veteran liberal politician accepted that the Kremlin-backed United Russia bloc, which scored a resounding election victory, did excel in the poll but blamed the liberal parties' failure to gather the five percent of votes needed to enter the chamber on unfair campaigning and vote-rigging.

United Russia crushed the Communists and wiped out Russia's two main liberal parties -- Yabloko and the Union of Right-Wing Forces (SPS).

"People did vote en masse for this newly formed entity United Russia," Yavlinsky said.

"And to such an extent that I think they even had to lower the final figure -- where it topped 100 percent," he added with a wry smile in an apparent reference to overzealous apparatchiks trying to win favours with the Kremlin.

Foreign observers have expressed concern at media coverage heavily favouring pro-Kremlin parties during the campaign. The United States said the vote was not fair but there was no indication that the authorities resorted to outright fraud.

Yavlinsky said Yabloko had overwhelming evidence that this was the case and was -- along with other parties who posted their observers at polling stations -- compiling data to prove it to the general public.

"We understand how the voting system operates, but how can you prove it (fraud) in Russia..." Yavlinsky said. "We are showing so much restraint because where should we go with it? To Basmanny court or Tverskoi? Which one do you suggest?"

Liberal politicians routinely refer to the two Moscow district courts as the embodiment of Russia's politically dependent judicial system after judges there endorsed prosecution demands in several high-profile cases with political undertones.


See also:

State Duma elections 2003

Reuters, December 9, 2003

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