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Russian Opposition Dismisses Medvedev Election Reforms

Yabloko party leader Sergei Mitrokhin compared Medvedev's claims to have boosted democracy since coming to power last year to statements by the Soviet Communist Party. "It's calling black white," he said.
MOSCOW (Reuters) -- Russia's pro-Western opposition has dismissed President Dmitry Medvedev's promises to reform the political system as empty and said they saw little prospect of an easing of Kremlin domination.

In his annual state-of-the-nation address, Medvedev listed 10 reforms aimed at breaking the domination of the pro-Kremlin United Russia party, which has dominated politics in Russia since the presidency of Vladimir Putin, who now serves as prime minister.

Medvedev focused on the local election system, heavily criticized during votes last month. He promised "in future" to cancel controversial requirements on political parties to collect signatures to register for elections.

But leaders of Russia's pro-Western opposition parties, who have long complained that officials rule signatures as fake to block their parties from registering, were not impressed.

"What does 'in future' mean? In 20 years, in 30 years?" said Sergei Mitrokhin, leader of the opposition Yabloko party, which saw several candidates blocked from Moscow elections in October due to problems with signatures.

He compared Medvedev's claims to have boosted democracy since coming to power last year to statements by the Soviet Communist Party. "It's calling black white," he told Reuters.

'Clownery And Comedy'

Boris Nemtsov who has failed repeated attempts to register his Solidarity movement as a political party, described the reform proposals as "clownery and comedy."

"At essence it is a continuation of Putin's regime," he said, complaining that Medvedev said nothing about Russia's electoral fraud, biased court decisions, and the persecution of journalists and rights workers.

The Communist Party, the largest opposition party in parliament and among the most careful in its criticism of the Kremlin, was more guarded, with Gennady Zyuganov saying "at least half" of his party's demands had been met.

The Communists are accused by the pro-Western opposition of refraining from serious criticism of the Kremlin in exchange for representation in parliament.

That unwritten deal appeared to collapse in October when the Communists and the two other nominally opposition parties staged a walkout from parliament in protest at violations in Moscow city elections in which United Russia won 32 out of 35 seats.

They only returned when promised a meeting with Medvedev.

Ruling party deputy and political expert Sergei Markov said Medvedev's speech in essence divided the opposition into two camps.

While Medvedev promised to help opposition parties who are working for the people, he rebuffed the pro-West parties set on destabilizing the country, Markov said.

"The authorities consider democrats as those who work for the people. Garry Kasparov is the classic example of those who do not work to support the population," Markov said, referring to the former chess grandmaster who led a series of opposition demonstrations in 2006.