The results of the December 14 elections to the 35-seat Moscow City Duma, or legislature, represented a resounding vote of confidence in Mayor Yury Luzhkov. At 30 percent, turnout was low, though this may have been partly due to the extremely cold temperatures. The majority of voters cast their ballots for candidates supported by Luzhkov and supportive of his policies. As a result, 17 of the 29 current deputies retained their mandates, among them the Duma speaker, Vladimir Platonov. By contrast, not one of the candidates of the pro-Communist bloc "My Moscow" was elected. Also resoundingly defeated were the candidates of Nikolai Gonchar’s "Gonchar’s Bloc," which ran on a platform of cautious opposition to Luzhkov’s policies. Luzhkov campaigned openly against Gonchar’s list and Gonchar, who received 27 percent of the vote, was defeated by a member of Russia’s Democratic Choice with over 36 percent. (NTV, December 16)
The winning candidates were those who described themselves as Luzhkov’s supporters, including the candidates of the three liberal parties — the pro-government "Russia is Our Home", Grigory Yavlinsky’s Yabloko, and Yegor Gaidar’s Russia’s Democratic Choice. In an unprecedented move, the three agreed to cooperate and not to compete in constituencies where one of their number was running a candidate. Differences among the three parties remained as strong as ever and almost undermined the coalition, but in the end the agreement held and 16 of the "democratic" candidates were elected. Their victory was a vivid demonstration of what the "democrats" can do when they choose to cooperate. At least, that is true in Moscow, which has always been a liberal stronghold. (In the presidential election of 1996, Moscow and St. Petersburg together provided Boris Yeltsin with over half of his support.) But cooperation on a national scale remains a far-off goal. Yavlinsky told NTV last night that he did not anticipate that Yabloko would work together with the other parties in the 1999 election to the State Duma. The policy differences between them are, he said, still too great. (NTV, December 15)
The election was important from Luzhkov’s point of view because the Duma has until now been seen as a tame body, willing to rubber-stamp the Mayor’s initiatives. The lack of conflict between the executive and the legislature has contributed strongly to Luzhkov’s ability to run the city efficiently. The December 14 elections were widely seen, therefore, as an informal referendum on Luzhkov’s potential as a presidential candidate. Though Luzhkov himself has repeatedly said that he does not intend to run in the 2000 presidential election, no one takes his protestations seriously. After this weekend’s elections, he looks an even more serious candidate.
The elections underlined, too, the fact that Moscow is not typical of the rest of Russia. The results of Moscow’s elections were quite different from those of the previous week, when legislative elections were held in several other Russian regions. There, voters seemed overwhelmingly determined to throw out their incumbent representatives and vote in new faces. In almost all regions, voters turned against both incumbent leaders and nationally-organized political parties in what analysts described as a protest vote against regional authorities. (Rossiiskie vesti, December 11)
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