Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has promised to encourage multiparty democracy since his election last year. Sunday’s regional elections will put this pledge to the test, with opposition claiming little improvement.
Medvedev promised a stronger democracy, but critics say new elections are business as usual
Elections for regional, district and mayoral offices are being held on Sunday in 76 of the country's 83 administrative regions, with 30 million voters expected to visit the polls. One of the most criticized races is that for Moscow's city council and mayor, who control a municipal budget of $40 billion (27 billion Euros). Of the six parties registered, all but one are pro-Kremlin.
Pro-Western parties said that all of their candidates were barred from running for 17 directly elected seats on the council after city officials declared the signatures on their registrations invalid.
The leader of the sole party allowed to enter the race for 18 party seats said they had been blocked from advertising on television or in newspapers and even in posters on the street.
Moscow's longtime mayor is up for re-election, amid accusations of corruption
"The playing field is uneven. We don't have fair elections," said Sergei Mitrokhin, head of the Yabloko party.
According to an opinion poll by the Levada Center, 62 percent of Muscovites say the vote is "simply an imitation of a battle" and expect council seats to be distributed by the powers that be.
"Political competition is practically zero," said Liliya Shibanova, head of independent poll watchdog Golos. "Medvedev says we need competition, we need a multi-party system, but election results show the exact opposite."
Opposition youth groups staged a protest in Moscow on Saturday, attracting about 300 demonstrators. They accused Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov of inefficiency and corruption, and said city authorities have tried to suppress opposition parties. Luzhkov, who has been in office for the past 17 years, is running for re-election.
Editor: Andreas Illmer