Communist paper seized on first day of Russia campaign
Russian police on Saturday impounded a truck full of Communist Party literature without explanation as the country officially kicked off its campaign for December 4 parliamentary polls.
The State Duma elections are expected to return Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's ruling United Russia to power for the third time running and leave the Communist Party trailing in distant second place.
But Kremlin officials fear that growing discontent with political cronyism and corruption may dampen voter turnout and keep United Russia from securing the super-majority it holds today.
That in turn could spoil the mood around Putin's expected return to the Kremlin in March elections in which he swaps jobs with President Dmitry Medvedev and potentially keeps the reins of power for another 12 years.
The Communist Party has never won more than a quarter of the vote in any Duma election and is now targeting a performance of about 15 percent.
Its hopes have historically rested on support from the struggling central regions of industrial Russia such as Tula -- once a famed tsarist fortress 190 kilometres (120 miles) south of Moscow.
A local Communist Party official told the Interfax news agency that police had intercepted a truck travelling from the city with 84,000 copies of a left-wing newspaper detailing the group's electoral platform.
"I think they are looking for an excuse to exclude us from these elections," the Communist Party official said.
A local policeman confirmed the incident but said the truck was carrying only 20,000 newspapers and another 8,000 pamphlets.
"We are now studying whether the Communists had the right to bring in this literature," an unnamed Tula police official told the news agency.
Saturday marked the formal start of the month-long campaign season -- an occasion that allows parties to start using up the one hour of free air time they get on each of the main television channels and radio stations.
Parties are also allowed to use their own funds to publish advertisements in the press.
Analysts believe this free airtime and extra publicity is unlikely to level the playing field in a media that devotes faithful daily coverage to the meetings attended by Putin and other top United Russia officials.
© 2011 AFP