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Moscow Region Governor Accused Of Scheming To Fix Elections For Ruling Party

Moscow Oblast Governor Boris Gromov allegedly called on local leaders to "use every opportunity to hinder our opponents' campaign staffs in all their activities."
MOSCOW -- A senior opposition lawmaker has accused Moscow Oblast Governor Boris Gromov of abusing his power by ordering municipal leaders to ensure a landslide victory for the ruling United Russia party in the State Duma elections on December 4.

Gennady Gudkov, a deputy for the nominally opposition A Just Russia party, has leaked what he says is a transcript of a speech in which Gromov ordered regional officials to make it as "difficult as possible" for the opposition, in order to ensure the "unconditional victory of United Russia at the elections."

In the transcript, published in the daily "Kommersant" on October 25, Gromov calls on municipal heads to "use every opportunity to hinder our opponents' campaign staffs in all their activities" and to "place the maximum limit on any kind of advertising by the opposition."

Gromov also told regional security officials to keep a close eye on opposition groupings that are barred from participating in the election. He told police to pay "particular attention" to the Solidarity opposition movement, the Defense of Khimki Forest environmentalist group, and the unregistered Other Russia opposition party, calling these groups "destructive and potentially extremist."

Speaking to RFE/RL's Russian Service, Gudkov said United Russia and Gromov "cynically and insolently try and keep a grip on their power and engage in the most blatant violations of the constitution.... People are perturbed with what the current regional authorities are up to in regard to the elections and in regard to the corruption."

'Administrative Resources'

Gudkov's allegations came on the heels of similar accusations from Konstantin Korovin, a businessman in the Urals city of Chelyabinsk, who claimed that local authorities there had instructed factory directors to pressure, bribe, or otherwise cajole workers into voting for United Russia.

Gennady Gudkov accused United Russia of "cynically and insolently" trying to keep a grip on power.
Gennady Gudkov accused United Russia of "cynically and insolently" trying to keep a grip on power.
Both alleged incidents are examples of how authorities in Russia's regions use so-called "administrative resources" to assure the election results they desire.

Gudkov alleges Gromov issued the instructions in question at a meeting on October 6 in the village of Novoivanovskoye in the Moscow region. United Russia has denied the allegations and the spokesmen for the governor's administration says the meeting never even took place.

Gudkov has written a formal complaint to the Kremlin and the Central Election Commission calling for an investigation. He dismissed the denials, saying such meetings are actually routine.

"I know this is not the first time this kind of meeting has taken place -- it has been going on all year," Gudkov said. "This is just the first time that I've managed to get evidence from his team."

The Kremlin has called for United Russia to reach a threshold of 65 percent in the December elections.

Manufactured Opposition Breaks Free

Analysts also see Gudkov's accusations as part of an intensifying campaign by A Just Russia to stage a political comeback after falling out of favor with the Kremlin earlier this year.

Founded in 2006 as a Kremlin-friendly and center-left "opposition" party, A Just Russia had been designed to siphon off votes from the Communists during the 2007 State Duma elections when it won 38 out of 450 seats.

But the party lost its status with the Kremlin this year amid a conflict with United Russia, after which A Just Russia's leader, Sergei Mironov, was unceremoniously removed from his post as Federation Council speaker in May.

Moreover, over the summer the Kremlin tapped the center-right party, Right Cause, to become Russia's No. 2 party in a move that appeared to spell the political death of A Just Russia.

After Mikhail Prokhorov left Right Cause, A Just Russia's demise became less certain.
After Mikhail Prokhorov left Right Cause, A Just Russia's demise became less certain.
But the Right Cause project was short-lived. In September, billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, who was tapped to run the party, suddenly abandoned Right Cause, claiming that Kremlin spin doctors were interfering with his work.

Suddenly, A Just Russia's demise looked less certain.

Boris Salin, an analyst with the Center for Political Assessments, says A Just Russia has found itself in a "very strange position" and that the party is now intensifying its election campaign to salvage seats in the State Duma.

"No one is going to help A Just Russia, but at the same time it appears no one is going to hinder them either. That is why their performance in the elections all hinges on the governors' positions. That is why they are fighting for every single region and every vote," Salin says.

"Clearly Gudkov received this transcript and he, as one of the leaders of A Just Russia, decided to minimize the risk to the party during the elections in the Moscow region, which in terms of electorate is one of the biggest."

Salin also says that A Just Russia may have gone after Gromov in particular because he appears weak and there have "long been rumors that he would be dismissed from his post."

Salin says he's seen a small rise recently in A Just Russia's popularity. According to the Levada Center, A Just Russia has a 6 percent approval rating, making it the fourth-most-popular party after United Russia, the Communist Party, and the Vladimir Zhirinovsky's nationalist Liberal Democratic Party.

According to the Levada Center, United Russia's approval ratings have begun to reverse their tumble earlier this year following Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's announcement that he will return to the presidency. United Russia, which the opposition has branded the "party of swindlers and thieves," fell seven percentage points to 53 percent in June this year, but is now back up to around 57 percent.

RFE/RL's Russian Service contributed to this report