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Kremlin Tells Ruling Party No Shame In Victory

Deputy Kremlin Chief of Staff Vladislav Surkov (left) and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev
MOSCOW (Reuters) -- The Kremlin has told ruling party activists "not to be ashamed" of crushing the opposition in regional elections last week, ordering them to react toughly to protests against the results, a leading newspaper reported..

Normally obedient opposition parties walked out of Russia's parliament this week in a rare protest over the elections, which saw Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's United Russia party tighten its grip over regional assemblies, councils and mayoral posts.

Kremlin political chief Vladislav Surkov told United Russia activists at a closed-door meeting on October 16 that discussions about how many parties deserved representation were pointless since "the people have decided", Kommersant newspaper on October 17.

"You must not be ashamed of our well-deserved victory," the daily quoted Surkov as saying.

The Kremlin does not comment on Surkov's private meetings.

Opposition parties have alleged that biased coverage in state-run media, generous use of government resources to win votes and widespread ballot-rigging are the real reasons for United Russia's strong showing.

Moscow's 52-seat city council, for example, will be dominated by the ruling party with only three Communists to provide opposition. All other opposition parties lost their seats because they failed to win the minimum 7 percent needed.

Central Election Commission chairman Churov, a former work colleague of Putin's from St Petersburg, has already dismissed opposition complaints as "improper hysteria".

The election protests this week crumbled after opposition leaders dropped a demand for a face-to-face meeting with President Dmitry Medvedev after officials said his calendar was full, agreeing to a phone call instead.

Medvedev has repeatedly promised greater democracy and pluralism in his speeches but opposition politicians and independent analysts say his words belie a tightly controlled system which is squeezing out the last pockets of dissent.

Western-Style Democracy

The election row coincided with a new poll showing most Russians did not believe they lived in a Western-style full democracy -- but this did not bother them since they didn't want Western democracy anyway.

When asked by the independent Levada Centre polling organization which was the best political system for Russia, 36 percent said the current system -- the highest level since Levada began asking the question in 1996.

The result is a triumph for Putin and his political mastermind Surkov, who have crafted a system dominated by a single strong ruling party and successfully associated this in voters' minds with the country's increasing prosperity over the past 10 years.

State-controlled media frequently point to the political chaos which has gripped neighboring Ukraine since its "Orange Revolution" ushered in a Western-style system, while trumpeting the Russian alternative as a bulwark of stability and order.

The Levada poll showed support for Western-style full democracy in Russia has now slumped to its lowest level ever. Only 15 percent suggested it was the best option -- much fewer than the 24 percent who thought the Soviet system was best.

Just four percent of Russians had "no doubt" that Russia was a democracy, while 33 percent said democracy was "not yet established". Another 33 percent said the country was "partly" a democracy and 20 percent said it had become much less democratic in recent times.