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by Kester Kenn Klomegah

Putin Plots to Stay in Power as Prime Minister

(IPS) MOSCOW -- The Kremlin-backed United Russia party overwhelmingly won Sunday's parliamentary elections, paving the way for President Vladimir Putin to remain in control after his term expires next May.

Putin is constitutionally prohibited from seeking a third consecutive term as president, but senior party leaders have indicated he could become prime minister. Now that his party has won, that possibility looks nearer.

Moscow mayor Yury Luzhkov said "we must link the success to Putin's being on our party list. I expect, along with all Russians, that an efficient State Duma will be formed and that it will continue initiatives of the creative kind that are under way in this country."

With 98 percent of votes counted, the United Russia party received 64.1 percent, the Communist Party (KPRF) 11.6 percent, the ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR) 8.2 percent, and the party loyal to the Kremlin referred to as A Just Russia, 7.8 percent.

This means that the Communist party headed by Gennady Zyuganov will secure 50 to 60 seats in the 450-seat Duma, and the Liberal Democratic party founded by Vladimir Zhirinovsky and A Just Russia led by Sergey Mironov about 40 to 45 seats each.

The United Russia party claimed extraordinary success in the breakaway Chechnya republic.

"We received ballots from all four polling stations in (Chechen capital) Grozny," chairman of the Chechen Election Commission Ismail Baikhanov told local media. "According to the ballot, 99.5 percent of voters in the capital of Chechnya took part in the elections. A total of 99.3 percent cast their vote for United Russia."

Baikhanov said he expects similar results across Chechnya. "Over 27 percent of all Chechen voters live in Grozny, and I do not think there will be any significant deviations in results in rural districts," he said.

The Sunday election followed opposition complaints of extensive coercion and intimidation to ensure victory for the Kremlin party.

On Thursday last week Putin went on national television to campaign for his party -- a move that opposition groups described as total violation of election rules and regulations. But the Central Election Commission defended the president.

"The elections were held in perfect order, violations were minimal, and most importantly, the results significantly reflect the popular opinion of the electorate throughout the country," Sergey Borov of the parliament's Election Observers Commission told IPS.

But several opposition leaders accused the Kremlin of rigging the vote. Communist party leader Zyuganov called the election "the most irresponsible and dirty" in the post-Soviet era, and party officials vowed to challenge the results.

A joint statement by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Council of Europe said Sunday's poll "was not fair, and failed to meet many OSCE and Council of Europe commitments and standards for democratic elections."

Goran Lennmarker, president of the OSCE's parliamentary assembly, said opposition parties had been pressured. Last week two anti-Putin meetings in Moscow and St. Petersburg were broken up by riot police and several opposition leaders arrested, among them world chess champion and presidential candidate Garry Kasparov, who was subsequently jailed for five days.

Referring to Putin's decision in October to head the United Russia candidate list, Lennmarker said the Kremlin's virtual merger with the party was unacceptable, and clearly violated international norms.

The run-up to the elections was marred by a dispute with the OSCE. Its main election monitoring team refused to send observers for the polls, citing restrictions and visa delays. Moscow in turn spoke of "chaos" in the organization, and called for its reform.

The ruling party appeared to enjoy almost unlimited access to funds, and its election campaign dwarfed attempts of other parties to gain a platform. Central Moscow was dominated by United Russia adverts, with little or no sign of the existence of other parties.

Several activists on the ground spoke of election fraud.

"I agree with those who call the election a farce," Halya Coynash, spokesman for the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group working in cooperation with the Civic Assistance Committee in Moscow told IPS. "There were aspects of vote-rigging identical to those in Ukraine in 2004. The media coverage was absolutely inappropriate in a democratic country, and for Putin to publicly call for people to vote for United Russia the way he did, was quite outrageous."

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Albion Monitor   December 3, 2007   (

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