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Russian Parliament Standoff Nears End

  • Gregory Feifer

Legislators leaving the State Duma in protest against the results of local elections on October 14 -- but was that the real reason they walked out?

Legislators leaving the State Duma in protest against the results of local elections on October 14 -- but was that the real reason they walked out?

Legislators who stormed out of the Russian parliament on October 14 to protest allegations of electoral fraud have begun to return.

But as evidence of voting violations piles up, many believe the speed at which the standoff is dissipating indicates it was no real protest, but prompted by political infighting among pro-Kremlin groups.

Vladimir Zhirinovsky, leader of the ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party that spearheaded the action, said he was satisfied the Kremlin had heard his complaints after speaking to President Dmitry Medvedev by telephone.

"I laid out all the party's positions and evaluations," he said, "and he agreed to meet with all the party leaders in the coming days."

Deputies from the Communist, Liberal Democratic, and A Just Russia parties stormed out of the Duma after candidates from the Kremlin's United Russia party swept regional elections on October 11.

Independent observers said there was evidence of mass violations.

Mobile-phone videos purporting to document voting fraud have been circulating on the Internet. One clip appears to show election observers stopping officials in the Rostov region from adding a stack of ballots marked for United Russia after polls closed.

Voting analyses showing a correlation between high voter turnout and wins for United Russia appear to back the fraud allegations.

But Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who most Russians believe really runs their country, have said the elections took place without major violations.

They've told the protesting parties to challenge the results in court.

Video: RFE/RL's Russian Service asked people in Moscow in the wake of the October 11 elections to fill regional dumas whether they trusted the fairness of the vote.

Fraud Complaints

Despite the growing evidence of fraud, deputies from A Just Russia Party have joined the Liberal Democrats returning to parliament. They said they would propose election laws be changed to ban early voting, which many believe enables serious fraud.

Duma Speaker and United Russia member Boris Gryzlov, who met with party leaders on October 15, said he supported several reform proposals, including the reinstatement of a Duma commission that would monitor elections.

But the Communists, who did not return to the Duma on October 16, complained that the commission would consist largely of United Russia members.

Gennady Zyuganov (left) and Vladimir Zhirinovsky
Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov said the party would hold national protests and called on the regional party branches to boycott local legislatures. He alluded to the elections' low voter turnout on October 14.

"Until we get massive numbers onto the streets to protest against politicians who have violated people's basic rights to take part in elections," he said, "we can't change the situation. Seventy percent of the people have already cast their votes by staying away from the elections."

But Zyuganov indicated the Communists may return to the Duma next week to debate next year's federal budget.

Standing Up For What?

Many Russians don't believe the walkout represented a spontaneous protest, saying all three parties are widely believed to carry out the Kremlin's bidding. A Just Russia was created by the Kremlin shortly before winning seats in parliamentary elections in 2007. No liberal opposition parties qualified.

But Nikolai Levichev, head of the Liberal Democratic party's faction in parliament, insisted the October 14 walkout was unplanned. "It was a moment of truth," he said, "that forced the leaders of parliament and the country to listen to the opinions of the opposition."

Most analysts disagree. The Moscow Carnegie Center's Nikolai Petrov told RFE/RL's Russian Service the walkout was partly prompted by the realization among party members that the Kremlin no longer needs their help to fix elections.

"The Duma parties didn't walk out because they suddenly decided to fight for democracy," he said, "but because they feel brushed under a rug. It was the Kremlin that provoked their actions."

Petrov said the walkout may also partly have been triggered by a standoff between Kremlin clans.

Petrov said the walkout may lead to some political reforms.

But there have been only small public protests against the alleged voter fraud across Russia. Moscow police say they detained around 10 protesters on October 16. The demonstrators say they wanted to deliver a petition to the president.