Mon, Oct 12, 2009 - Page 6 News List

Russians vote in test for Medvedev’s democracy pledge

REUTERS , MOSCOW

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev faced a test of his pledge to boost Russian democracy yesterday when polls opened for 30 million voters in regional elections that the opposition say have been rigged.

Medvedev has promised to break the near-monopoly of ruling party United Russia over the political system.

“New democratic times are beginning,” he said in August.

Critics said democracy was undermined by his predecessor Vladimir Putin, now prime minister, and the opposition said the situation has deteriorated since Medvedev came to power in May last year.

“Political competition is practically zero,” said Liliya Shibanova, head of independent poll watchdog Golos. “Medvedev says we need competition, we need a multi-party system, but election results show the exact opposite.”

Mayoral, regional and district elections are being held in 76 of Russia’s 83 regions, but the opposition has been particularly scathing of elections to the Moscow council, which controls the city’s US$40 billion budget.

Pro-Western opposition parties said every one of their candidates was refused registration for the 17 first past-the-post seats on the Moscow council, most because some of thousands of signatures provided for registration were deemed invalid.

Only one liberal opposition party, Yabloko, was registered for the party race, which decides the remaining 18 seats, but an opinion poll suggested they would fall short of the minimum 7 percent and lose both their seats.

Yabloko party leader Sergei Mitrokhin said authorities had blocked access to the media and street advertising.

“We don’t have elections. We have a battle without rules,” he said.

Medvedev’s administration blamed local officials for the problems in Moscow, saying it had failed to convince Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov, a prominent member of the ruling party, to liberalize elections.

“Moscow authorities are not ready to live under new standards,” Medvedev’s chief spokeswoman Natalya Timakova told reporters this week. “We will continue encouraging them.”

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