December 8, 2003
Pro-Kremlin Party Sweeps Russia
By STEVE GUTTERMAN
Associated Press Writer
MOSCOW (AP) - A sweeping victory by President Vladimir Putin's
allies pushed liberal, Western-oriented parties out of parliament
for the first time since the Soviet collapse, and the White House
expressed concern Monday over the fairness of a vote human rights
officials said marked a retreat from democracy in Russia.
The main pro-Kremlin party, United Russia, won nearly three times
as many votes in Sunday's elections as its closest rival, according
to preliminary results.
Its new power, together with the defeat of liberal parties and a
surge by nationalists who have called for strong state control of
the economy, raised questions about Putin's plans for what seems
certain to be a second term following March presidential elections.
Putin, who has boosted the economy by introducing reforms but has
been accused of stifling dissent and tightening control over the
media, offered few hints of his plans for the future.
He promised to turn to the liberals for ideas and hinted some of
their leaders might be recruited into the government - an effort to
ease fears the Kremlin might roll back reforms.
But he also suggested the elections showed liberal views had
little support among Russians, who gave most of their votes to
parties that emphasized the importance of a resurgence of a powerful
Russia rather than to concerns about democracy or rights.
``It is absolutely clear to me that these results reflect the
real sympathies of the population,'' Putin said in a televised
interview. ``They reflect what the people really think; they reflect
the realities of our political life.''
Analysts said United Russia and its allies were angling for a
two-thirds majority required to make constitutional changes - a
lever they could use to extend Putin's term or let him run for a
third term, provided the docile upper parliament house, Russia's
regional legislatures and the president himself approve.
In a crushing defeat for liberal parties that have promoted
economic reforms and advocated an open style of democracy, the
Yabloko and Union of Right Forces fell short of the 5 percent vote
needed to gain seats as parties in the State Duma, Russia's lower
The once-formidable Communist Party also faltered, many of its
former voters likely siphoned off by Homeland, a new apparently
Kremlin-approved party whose leaders have assailed the West and
shocked Russian business circles with their calls to crack down on
rich tycoons, reverse post-Soviet privatization and trim oil
Flamboyant nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democratic
Party of Russia, which nearly doubled the support it won in the last
Duma elections in 1999, has faithfully supported the Kremlin in key
legislative votes, despite fiery rhetoric.
United Russia - led by Cabinet ministers and packed with regional
governors and state bureaucrats as well as stage and screen stars -
has offered little in the way of a platform aside from its loyalty
to Putin, and its commanding victory will place unprecedented power
in the hands of the popular president.
Putin said the vote marked ``another step in strengthening
Russia's democracy.'' But human rights officials decried the
elections as free, but not fair, criticizing the heavy-handed
employment of the state's levers of control to influence voters.
``Our main impression of the overall electoral process was ...
one of regression in the democratization of this country,'' said
Bruce George, head of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization
for the Security and Cooperation in Europe.
George said the ``extensive use of the state apparatus and the
media ....to the benefit of United Russia created an unfair
environment for the other parties and candidates.''
In Washington, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the
United States shares the OSCE's concerns about the fairness of the
The state's use of its influence in the elections was part of the
``negative trend of ... managed democracy,'' said Michael McFaul, a
Russia expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
``Whether we should continue to call it democracy I don't know. I am
less and less confident that one should.''
With nearly 98 percent of the ballots counted, United Russia had
37.1 percent of the vote, Central Election Commission chairman
Alexander Veshnyakov said - the first time since the Soviet collapse
that the main pro-Kremlin party has won more votes than any of its
The Communist Party scraped to second place with 12.7 percent,
while the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia had 11.6 percent and
Homeland had 9.1 percent, according to preliminary results. Yabloko
won 4.3 percent and Union of Right Forces had 4 percent, Veshnyakov
Veshnyakov said turnout was 56 percent, down from 62 percent in
1999, and nearly 5 percent of the electorate checked the box marked
Mark Urnov, chairman of the Expertise Foundation, a Moscow think
tank, said the elections marked a shift away from open democracy and
a move toward a Soviet-style system.
``I don't rule out that in this atmosphere, ideas about
strengthening power may arise,'' he said on Echo of Moscow radio.
Half the Duma seats will be distributed proportionately among the
parties winning more than 5 percent of the nationwide vote, while
the other 225 seats will be filled by the winners of individual
district races, who may or may not be affiliated with a party.
The full extent of the Kremlin's power over the lower parliament
house will not be clear until after results from those races is
While Putin has repeatedly said Russia's future is in partnership
with the West, he has often spoken out defiantly against the United
States and the European Union.
On the Net: Results can be followed on the Web at