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Fairness Of Russian Parliamentary Campaign

By Peter Fedynsky

Opposition Questions Fairness of Russian Parliamentary Campaign

Voters in Russia go to the polls Sunday in a parliamentary election that follows a campaign whose fairness is being called into question.

This television campaign ad says Vladimir Putin's Russia is enjoying success - political, economic, cultural, scientific, and athletic. "We are respected and big victories lie ahead", says the clip, if voters select Mr. Putin's United Russia Party.

His supporters say victory is needed to carry out the so-called Putin Plan. But surveys indicate most Russians do not know what the plan is and the United Russian campaign does not explain it.

The president's opponents say the Putin Plan is to maintain power. Boris Nemtsov is a parliamentary candidate from the Union of Right Forces.

The opposition activist says the plan leads to abuse of power, lawlessness, bureaucracy, and uncontrolled corruption. Nemtsov asks why Mr. Putin deserves support, noting that under his rule Russia fell to 142nd place in global corruption ratings, alongside Zimbabwe, Sierra-Leone, and Niger.

Mr. Putin's name tops the United Russia Party list, although he is not a candidate. Party members say the Kremlin leader deserves credit for improving the Russian economy.

Critics counter that Russia, an oil exporter, has benefited from a steep rise in global energy prices and could suffer a setback if prices fall. Inflation is already a problem.

But the opposition parties have been hampered in getting their message out, because they are denied access to the state television and activists accuse the government of confiscating printed campaign literature.

This week, opposition leader, and former chess grand champion, Garry Kasparov is to serve a five-day jail sentence for participating in an illegal demonstration. He and scores of opposition activists were arrested Saturday.

The country's Central Election Commission has barred Kasparov's opposition coalition, The Other Russia, from fielding candidates in the election.

Meanwhile, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which monitors balloting and the freedom of opposition forces in 56 member countries, has declined to oversee the election. It says Russian authorities did not issue visas for observers in a timely manner. Mr. Putin has blamed the U.S. State Department for engineering the decision in an attempt to undermine the legitimacy of the election.

Whether Sunday's election in Russia is seen as legitimate remains to be seen. But observers say Mr. Putin's United Russia has enjoyed an overwhelming campaign advantage and virtually no one doubts the party will gain a substantial majority of parliament seats.


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