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Reuters, January 12, 2004

Yavlinsky Fears Totalitarian Slide

BERLIN -- Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky told a Berlin audience that March's presidential election is a sham and the country risks sliding toward totalitarianism under the unchallenged grip of President Vladimir Putin.

Yavlinsky, speaking Thursday evening, said Russia has effectively reverted to a Soviet-style one-party parliament after the December elections. The pro-Kremlin United Russia party controls two-thirds of seats in the State Duma, and Yavlinsky said the other three parties there were indistinguishable from it on all major issues.

"Russia has no independent parliament any more," Yavlinsky said in a bleak lecture laced with dark humor.

He said the liberal camp, until now split between Yabloko and the Union of Right Forces, would try now to regroup and unite before the next parliamentary elections in four years.

He did not rule out the possibility that Putin will "keep the doors open" and maintain at least some freedom of political debate.

But he also saw a risk that Russia would follow a "very tough, very totalitarian course," or create a kind of fake democracy with only the appearance of a free justice system, financial market and parliament.

"I think my country is very well qualified to make Potemkin villages," Yavlinsky said, referring to the courtier of Empress Catherine the Great who had elaborate fake villages constructed to impress her.

Yavlinsky ran in two previous presidential elections, in 1996 and 2000, even though he compared them Thursday to soccer matches in which the Kremlin side manipulated the goal posts and fielded vastly more players than its opponents.

But he said the absence of an independent legal system and influential independent media meant there were no longer any kind of "rules of the game" and made it pointless for him to run against Putin again in March.

"I'm sending a signal that it's not acceptable," he said.

Putin faces nine potential challengers. One of them, Oleg Malyshkin, is a former bodyguard for Vladimir Zhirinovsky put forward by Zhirinovsky's ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party.

"I can hardly imagine that Mr. Putin is going to have a debate with the bodyguard of Mr. Zhirinovsky," Yavlinsky said.


See also:

State Duma elections 2003

Presidential elections 2004

Reuters, January 12, 2004

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