Across the Former Soviet Union Poor Showing by Nationalists is Silver Lining of Moscow Vote

Many voters who took part in recent elections to the Moscow city legislature said the vote was undemocratic and further evidence of Russia’s slide toward authoritarianism — yet they had reason to celebrate. Jewish voters were gratified that none of the nationalist parties made it to the Moscow City Duma.

“There was an election without a real choice,” Iosif, a Jewish man in his 60s, said after voting at a downtown Moscow polling station. “In my neighborhood, I haven’t seen a single poster of any party other than United Russia.”

The pro-Kremlin party comfortably won the elections, securing 28 of the Duma’s 35 seats. Critics say they aren’t surprised, since United Russia dominated the airwaves and the billboard and poster campaigns in the Russian capital.

Opposition parties repeatedly complained about the difficulties of campaigning against a party whose leader, Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, is an ally of President Vladimir Putin, adding that the ruling party’s campaign greatly exceeded campaign spending limits.

This week’s municipal election, which was seen as a dress rehearsal for Russian parliamentary elections in 2007 and a presidential election in 2008, drew enormous attention in the Russian media.

The municipal contest also was deemed important because of the legislature’s expanded powers, including choosing the next mayor in 2007. The Moscow mayor is seen as the most powerful official in Russia after the president.

Though no statistical data was immediately available, the Jewish vote seems to have been split between the liberal opposition bloc Yabloko, which won three seats, and United Russia, whose many voters, especially the middle-aged and elderly, said they saw the party as a symbol of stability.

The third party that crossed the 10 percent threshold needed for Duma representation was the Communists, who won five seats.

A spokesman for Russia’s largest Jewish group said the election results were good for the Jewish community.

“For Jews, stability is better than revolution,” said Boruch Gorin of the Federation of Jewish Communities, or FEOR, a Chabad-led group that is widely seen as pro-Kremlin. “These results show a real balance of power in society.”

Gorin added that Yabloko’s representation in the assembly was good “because many Jews voted” for the liberal opposition group.

Some Jewish voters said the overwhelming support United Russia received was the result of a rigged vote count or at least the extensive use of administrative power.

“This election is just another of the Kremlin’s successful political projects, which shows to me the country is heading in the wrong direction,” said Lia Alperovich, a musician who voted for the liberal opposition. “Ever since Putin became president elections in Russia have less and less sense, and the Sunday vote was no exception.”

But others said it was more important for Russian Jews that none of the parties that actively exploited xenophobic rhetoric made it to the Moscow legislature.

“My hope is that the country will finally say no to the presence of chauvinists in power,” said Tankred Golenpolsky, founder and publisher of the International Jewish Gazette, a Moscow weekly newspaper.

He was referring to the fact that the Liberal Democratic Party, headed by nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky, garnered only 7 percent of the vote and will not send its deputies to the city assembly.

Another nationalist party, Motherland, was banned from the election at the last minute after Russia’s Supreme Court ruled that a party commercial likening dark-skinned migrants to garbage incited racial hatred.

Members of these two parties were among the State Duma deputies who signed an open letter to the prosecutor general earlier this year urging a probe into the activities of Jewish organizations in Russia, suggesting that they should be shut down if authorities found their activities to be anti-Russian or anti-Christian.

However, some observers suggested that United Russia’s success wasn’t convincing.

Because of the high electoral threshold of 10 percent — which automatically adds votes received by underachievers to the winners’ slates — the party that got 80 percent of the seats received only 47 percent of the popular vote.

With all the pressure on people to vote for the party in power, “the majority still did not vote for United Russia,” Golenpolsky said. “If the authorities don’t put excessive pressure with their resources, there’s a chance that this party won’t come in first in the next election.”

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