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Democracy in Russia a ‘mockery,’ says Gorbachev

Moscow — Elections in Russia have turned into a mockery, the last Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev said on Monday, in his bitterest attack yet on the state of democracy in the country.

Gorbachev’s comments came after the ruling United Russia party led by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin swept this month’s local polls, prompting allegations of fraud and a rare walkout of parliament by three opposition parties.

"In the eyes of everyone, elections have turned into a mockery of the people and people have great distrust over how their votes are used," Gorbachev told the opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta, which he part owns, in an interview.

He said the walkout by the Communist, Liberal Democratic and Just Russia parties — all seen to a greater or lesser extent as close to the Kremlin — showed that "trust in elections had gone.”

The victory in local elections further deepened the grip on power of United Russia, which holds a majority of 315 out of 450 seats in the lower house of parliament, the State Duma.

In elections held in 75 regions on October 11, United Russia won nearly 80 percent of the open seats, election officials said.

Gorbachev said apathy and distrust of Russia’s electoral system was such that people would simply stop going to the polls.

"What is democracy when people don’t take part in it?" he asked.

"The electoral system has been utterly maimed. We need an alternative. The press and civil groups need to take on themselves the initiative for new election legislation."

"Counting on the Duma is pointless," he added, in a bitter swipe at Russia’s notoriously supine parliament.

Gorbachev’s cautious reform policies as Soviet leader are credited with causing the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe from 1989 and the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991.

He has since portrayed himself has a champion of democracy in the country although until recently he was careful to avoid explicit criticism of Russia’s new rulers.

Putin, president from 2000 to 2008, is the leader of United Russia although curiously he is not a card-carrying member of the party.

"United Russia has obtained control over all regions without exception. Is it a reincarnation of the Communist Party of Soviet times?" asked the opposition New Times weekly.

The magazine noted that the party controls every regional parliament in Russia without exception and only five regional governors have not entered its ranks.

"The results from the last elections (in Russia) have less and less reflected the will of the voters," Konstantin Sonin, professor at the New Economic School, wrote in the Vedomosti newspaper.

Observers reported a string of violations in the elections ranging from pressure on voters to liberals complaining they could not vote as someone had already cast a ballot in their name.

Particularly controversial were the results in Moscow city government, where United Russia can now boast over 66 percent of the seats in the local legislature.

"The elections brought the predicted victory for United Russia. Top officials at all levels showed that in the future they could even do without the voters to get their desired result," said the Vlast weekly.

"While in other countries that have been hit hard by the crisis those in power are suffering defeats, on the other hand in Russia the popularity of the party of power is inexplicably growing," it added.

The walkout from parliament has so far proved short lived with the Just Russia and Liberal Democrats returning to the chamber and just the Communists still staying away.

Stuart Williams/AFP/Expatica