Russia rulers confident despite low-key poll campaign

1st December 2011, Comments 0 comments

Russia's parliamentary election campaign entered on Thursday its penultimate day with accusations swirling of serial violations and the ruling party so confident of victory it largely eschewed campaigning.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, the leader of the ruling United Russia party, and President Dmitry Medvedev had their final meeting with supporters before Russia goes to polls in the legislative elections on Sunday.

"We are not ashamed of going into elections -- we believe that a lot has been done," Medvedev said ahead of Friday's last day of legal campaigning.

Seven parties including United Russia are competing in the elections which are seen as a dry run of March presidential polls where Putin, rather than Medvedev, will stand for a new Kremlin term.

Critics say the ruling party is running an unusually lacklustre campaign in a sign the Kremlin expects it to win hands down, even if it fails to repeat the success of past elections.

Opposition parties have complained that United Russia has virtually merged with executive authorities, hoping that Putin's charisma could rub off on the party of dour-looking yes men.

"The peculiarity of these polls is that there is no campaigning for United Russia," said Alexander Kynev, a member of Golos Association, Russia's top independent observers.

"We are seeing campaigning for the incumbent authorities."

In one of the most visible statements of the campaign, Medvedev threatened to deploy missiles on the EU's borders, while Putin warned the West not to interfere in Russian elections.

Pressure has also been growing on the Western-sponsored Golos Association, which documents electoral fraud, with prosecutors visiting its offices on Thursday.

An official from the prosecutors' office handed over a decree launching a probe into "breaches of the rules of campaigning," an administrative offence, Andrei Buzin, head of election monitoring at Golos told AFP.

"I think this is just the start. Next they will issue a decree about holding a search," he said. There was no immediate comment from prosecutors.

The association is also to be the subject of a muck-raking documentary on NTV television channel on Friday. The channel's website says the show will expose "electoral technologies paid for by foreign grants."

The moves against Golos come after Putin at the weekend warned foreign countries not to interfere in the parliamentary polls, saying they were paying NGOs in Russia to "influence the course of the election campaign".

Analysts say that United Russia had initially hoped to repeat the success of last parliamentary elections in 2007 when it secured a landslide majority of 64.3 percent, enough to change the constitution.

But the party's declining approval ratings amid increasing voter disillusionment have recently shown that it will lose its constitutional majority, retaining a simple majority of over half the seats.

"There is a general sense that the Kremlin has lost interest in the elections," said Nikolai Petrov, an analyst with the Carnegie Moscow Center.

"They rightfully believe that United Russia will receive over 50 percent and they do not need more. Putin has decided to take it easy during the elections."

Observers say voter apathy is increasingly setting in as more and more Russians mistrust the authorities and are taking their hopes elsewhere.

It was perhaps most visible late last month as around three million Russians braved sub-zero temperatures and queued for hours to see a relic believed to have curing powers on loan from Greece.

"They have long ago stopped believing in hand-made miracles that future people's representatives (MPs) promise them during the lacklustre television debates," said opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta.

© 2011 AFP

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