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Russia: Luzhkov-Supported Candidates Dominate Moscow Election

Moscow, 15 December 1997 (RFE/RL) - The lady was so elegantly attired she looked as if she had just left a formal party. And she certainly looked out of place in a deserted polling station in southern Moscow on a Sunday evening.

She refused to tell our correspondent her name, but said she had come "straight from the supermarket," after listening to one of the messages broadcast to shoppers, reminding Muscovites to come to the polls and elect a new Moscow City legislature (called the City Duma).

"I was furious," said the woman, who added that she did not pay much attention to the tons of leaflets advising Moscow residents how to vote that had appeared in mailboxes in the past weeks. But she said that, in her opinion, propaganda messages broadcast in supermarkets "telling clients to go and fulfill their electoral duty, are just too much from (Moscow Mayor Yuri) Luzhkov's side. So I came to vote for a candidate who has not been supported by Luzhkov."

However, the elegant lady turned out to be part of only a tiny minority of voters. Data made public by Moscow's Electoral Commission today showed that candidates supported by Luzhkov dominated yesterday's election. The commission said that only some 30 percent of the registered voters went to the polls.

More than 350 candidates competed for 35 seats in the City Duma, elected for the second time since the breakup of the Soviet Union. Analysts say that 27 seats went to candidates mentioned by some of the Russian capital's papers as Luzhkov loyalists.

According to Russian regulations, a 25 percent minimum level is needed for the poll to be valid. Electoral officials blamed the freezing weather in the Russian capital for the low turnout, saying that the registered temperature, hitting minus 20 degrees Celsius, played a role even bigger than voter apathy.

The previous City Duma was elected in 1993. That vote went almost unnoticed, as it coincided with the election of the national lower house of parliament (called the State Duma). Observers have said that the previous Moscow Duma proved to be largely a rubber-stamp, approving laws initiated and supported by Luzhkov.

This electoral campaign has been closely observed by analysts, because, for the first time, lists backed by political personalities, who are in opposition to the powerful and populist Moscow mayor, seemed to have a chance to enter the Moscow Duma. However, none of the candidates belonging to the pro-Communist bloc "My Moscow," and to the list of Luzhkov's most prominent opponent, State Duma deputy Nikolai Gonchar, obtained a seat in the new Moscow Duma. "My Moscow" had 24 candidates in the running and "Gonchar's Bloc" had 32.

Most of the democratic blocs campaigned as Luzhkov supporters. The most prominent democratic bloc was the "United Democratic Forces." The bloc was made up of representatives of "Democratic Choice of Russia" (led by Yegor Gaidar), "Yabloko" (led by Grigory Yavlinsky) and "Our Home is Russia" (led by Viktor Chernomyrdin). Sixteen members of the bloc were elected -- 12 of them had Luzhkov's support during the electoral campaign.

According to observers, a cooperative legislature is essential for Luzhkov -- a populist who has huge personal influence in the city -- to continue to strengthen his popularity and power. Despite his repeated denials, Luzhkov is widely seen as a potential presidential candidate in next election, scheduled for the year 2000.

Analysts had said that an unfriendly Moscow Duma could have tried to undermine Luzhkov and his ambitious building plans, which, in recent years, have transformed Moscow. The Moscow region is the Federation's most properous, with about two-thirds of the overall investment in Russia concentrated in its capital.

The daily "Kommersant" last week had said that "if some open opponents of Luzhkov would make it to the Moscow Duma...this would be the first blow to Luzhkov on his own ground as absolute master of the city." However, the paper forecasted that the Moscow legislature election would be a "vote of confidence in Luzhkov."

Luzhkov openly called on citizens to refrain from voting for Gonchar and other opponents. Some city papers, including the official paper of the Moscow city government, "Tverskaya 13," which is distributed free of charge across the capital, published a "Mayor's list" of candidates. The popular daily "Moskovsky Komsomolets," an independent publication that is friendly to Luzhkov, published a similar list, under the headline "Moskovsky Komsomolets votes for Luzhkov's team."

During the electoral campaign and at the eve of the vote, a flood of leaflets against Luzhkov's opponents, particularly Gonchar and the leader of the Moscow party organization of "Russia's Democratic Choice," Arkady Murashev, turned up in voters' mailboxes. The city government denied responsibility for the leaflets, but the Electoral Commission promised an investigation.