Publication: Prism Volume: 3 Issue: 20

The upcoming elections to the Moscow city Duma: Why they matter and how they differ from previous elections

By Vladimir Mironov

Russia is moving more and more confidently along the democratic path of development. The procedures prescribed in the Constitution and the other relevant laws are becoming normal attributes of Russian life. The population of the Russian capital is now preparing for elections for deputies to Moscow’s City Duma, or legislative assembly. Voting will take place in Moscow’s 35 electoral districts on December 14.

In the initial stages of the elections, the City Electoral Commission registered the 33 electoral blocs and organizations which nominated candidates for the post of deputy. Aspiring candidates then had until November 13 to collect the signatures of no less than one percent of the residents of the electoral district in which he or she wanted to run. Many candidates fell out of the race at this stage. Some were unable to raise the necessary money to run an expensive campaign. Others failed to collect the required number of signatures.

The third stage — campaigning among the voters — will officially conclude on December 12, leaving one day for tempers to cool before polling day.

Why Moscow Is Different

The elections have attracted wide interest not only in the capital, but nationwide. There are several reasons for this.

First of all, in spite of the widespread assertion that "Moscow is not Russia," the capital remains a sacred place, a symbol for the whole country. Russia continues, so to speak, to set its watch by Moscow time. Control of Moscow’s legislature would bolster the position of the victorious electoral blocs in future campaigns in other Russian regions and, even more significant, in upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections.

Second, Moscow is the center of Russian political life. Moscow City Duma deputies have far better lobbying opportunities than do their colleagues in other regions of Russia. They have a chance to influence the functioning of federal institutions both by creating city legislation and by forming the basic principles of relations between local government and the federal center. While they are deputies to a regional legislative body, therefore, they have a de facto claim to a higher status in state structures.

Third, by participating in the Moscow election campaign, various groups in the federal political elite will have the chance to test their ability to form common candidate lists. At the same time, the absence of a unified list of democratic candidates could be indirect evidence that, in the opinion of the leadership of democratic parties and movements, there is no perceived threat to the political and economic interests of the strata of Russian society these movements represent.

Fourth, for the parties and movements united in the opposition-oriented Popular-Patriotic Union of Russia, the Moscow elections will provide a chance to ascertain the mood of the population in this stronghold of democracy. If the opposition parties were successful here, they could count on increasing their influence still further in Russia’s traditional "Red Belt" or in regions whose political allegiance is a little more shaky.

Then and Now

These will be the first elections for the Moscow City Duma since President Boris Yeltsin disbanded the Moscow City Soviet in the fall of 1993. There are several important differences between the present Moscow City Duma campaign and the last campaign for the city legislature, which took place in December 1993. Most significantly, the incumbent Duma was elected in the wake of Yeltsin’s all-out battle with the Russian Supreme Soviet; it contained no opposition members and was dominated by representatives of the pro-government "Russia’s Choice."

In 1995, the deputies refused to schedule new elections and instead extended their term for a further two years. This provoked a two-year court case that ended this summer with a ruling that the Duma had acted illegally in extending its powers.

Competition for seats is tougher this time than before (between ten and fifteen candidates for each seat, compared with five or six in 1993). Moreover, it has become more expensive to run a campaign (it is estimated that each candidate will have to spend $100,000 and $150,000). (1)

According to the chairman of the Moscow City Electoral Commission, only one-third of the candidates this time have been nominated by electoral blocs. The rest are independent candidates who have either expressed a desire to run, or been nominated by groups of voters. (2)

Candidates and Blocs

The 33 electoral blocs and voter groups include, among others, the Moscow organization of Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, the Moscow branch of the nationwide "Honor and Motherland" movement, and the radical association "For the Right to Life — For the Right to Live Under the Rule of Law."

The opposition parties are united in the "My Moscow" electoral bloc, which was the first to register. This bloc, which is led by Aleksei Podberezkin, includes the Moscow organizations of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF), the Agrarian Party, the "Popular Alliance" inter-regional patriotic movement, the Moscow branch of the nationwide "Spiritual Heritage" movement, Lev Rokhlin’s "For the Security of the Fatherland," the Russian Party, and the regional organization of the Russian All-People’s Union. Candidates from this bloc will run in 29 electoral districts. The list of candidates includes 13 representatives of the CPRF, 8 from the "Spiritual Heritage" movement, two each from the Agrarian Party, the "Popular Alliance" and the Union of Afghan Veterans, and one each from "For the Security of the Fatherland," and the Russian Party. (3)

The leaders of the Moscow branches of the pro-government "Russia is Our Home," "Russia’s Democratic Choice," and Yabloko have not managed to unite in a single democratic bloc. They have however succeeded in dividing Moscow’s electoral districts, so that a single liberal candidate will run in each constituency and the democratic candidates will not end up running against each other. This was a very complicated process, since 18 of the 35 incumbent deputies to the City Duma are members of "Russia’s Democratic Choice" and there are no representatives of Yabloko there. "Russia is Our Home" did not even exist at the time of the 1993 elections. Agreement was nonetheless reached that "Russia’s Democratic Choice" candidates (nine of whom are incumbent deputies) would run in 11 districts; Yabloko candidates would run in nine districts, and representatives of "Russia is Our Home" would run in eight. In addition, the Kadet party, Irina Khakamada’s "Common Cause" movement, and the "Democratic Russia" party are each running one candidate. (4)

The "For Justice" bloc includes Yury Petrov (former head of President Boris Yeltsin’s administration, now head of the State Investment Company); the Moscow branch of Svyatoslav Fedorov’s Party of Workers’ Self-Government; Artur Chilingarov’s Russian United Industrial Party; Lyudmila Vartazarova’s Socialist Workers’ Party; Vasily Lipitsky’s Social-Democratic Union and Martin Shakkum’s Socialist People’s Party. (5) It is rumored to be even more enthusiastically supportive of Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov than the other blocs.

The "Nikolai Gonchar" bloc has attracted especial attention since it is the only bloc that has adopted a platform critical of the way Mayor Yury Luzhkov runs the city. "In this city, there should be a separation of powers, but the present Moscow City Duma is nothing but a pie with no filling," the bloc asserts. (6) The bloc, which was set up by the "Our City" movement, the Moscow Association of Councils of Territorial and Social Self-Government, and the Moscow branch of the Democratic Party of Russia, includes 33 candidates. (7) The bloc’s criticism of Luzhkov marks it out from all the other blocs. All the other candidates — even those from Yabloko and "My Moscow"– have angled for Luzhkov’s support. The mayor’s favor is generally considered to be worth quite a bit. Some politicians think it will guarantee an additional 20-25 percent of the vote. (8)

In general, the programs of the election blocs are less ideological than in earlier campaigns. Even the leaders of the "My Moscow" bloc stress that "Muscovites support the Mayor’s actions" and focus on solving the city’s ecological and transportation problems. It is striking that "My Moscow" includes people who are very different from each other ideologically, ranging from the rector of the Literary Institute, Sergei Yesin; the first secretary of the Moscow City Committee of the CPRF, Aleksandr Kuvaev; and the former leader of the Smena group of deputies to the Russian Supreme Soviet, Andrei Golovin.

A similar situation has taken shape in the "Nikolai Gonchar’s" bloc, with Gonchar acknowledging that his bloc is formed not on ideological principles but on a professional basis. The bloc includes both market economist Larisa Piyasheva and the socialist Boris Kagarlitsky as candidates. (9)

Another feature of this election is the fact that the Moscow Electoral Commission has played an unusually assertive role in registering electoral blocs. To be precise, the commission has refused to register those parties and movements which, in violation of Article 21 of the Moscow City Law "On the Election of Deputies to the Moscow City Duma," had not registered their charters six months before the announcement of the election date with the Moscow Justice Department or the federal Justice Ministry. Organizations refused registration on these grounds include the Moscow organizations of the Association of Officers of the Russian Navy, the "Alternative" movement, the "Kedr" ecological movement, the Democratic Party of Russia’s youth league, and Yabloko’s youth league.

The law enforcement agencies have also been unusually active, checking each candidate to ensure that he or she does not have a criminal record. According to the deputy head of the Moscow branch of the Interior Ministry, law enforcement agencies took care to ensure that "criminal elements will not penetrate the city’s legislative body." (10) The courts have also been involved, not only to determine that the incumbent City Duma was acting within its rights in scheduling the elections for December 1997, but also to confirm that date and to rule in cases where parties and voter groups challenge the Electoral Commission’s refusal to register them.


1. Russkii telegraf, September 19, 1997, October 18, 1997

2. Segodnya, October 10, 1997

3. Segodnya, September 17, 1997; Nezavisimaya gazeta, September 30, 1997

4. Segodnya, October 6, 1997; October 15, 1997; Izvestia, October 9, 1997

5. Nezavisimaya gazeta, September 30, 1997; Russkii telegraf, October 18, 1997

6. Russkii telegraf, October 7, 1997

7. Russkii telegraf, October 17, 1997

8. Obshchaya gazeta, No. 39, October 2-8, 1997

9. Nezavisimaya gazeta, September 30, 1997; Obshchaya gazeta, No. 39, October 2-8, 1997

10. Segodnya, September 26, 1997

Translated by Mark Eckert

Vladimir Alekseevich Mironov is a Candidate of Historical Sciences, and a Senior Research Fellow of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Economic and Political Studies.


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