Disappointment and Defiance in Party Camps

Disappointment hung heavy at the campaign headquarters of the Communist Party on Sunday night, even though preliminary results indicated that it would win seats in the next State Duma.

A Just Russia and the Liberal Democratic Party, which also looked set to secure seats, welcomed the results.

Leaders from the Union of Right Forces and Yabloko defiantly appeared to accept that they would be shut out of the Duma for a second time in a row and either criticized the vote or refused to comment.

Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov called a news conference minutes after the Central Elections Commission announced the first results that gave his party second place, after United Russia, with 11.5 percent of the votes cast in the Far East.

"We do not trust this data," Zyuganov said.

He said he had hoped to win some 30 percent, mirroring the results of regional elections in March, and implied that Sunday's outcome had been influenced by the Kremlin.

"These results coincide with what the Kremlin's spin doctors were saying two weeks ago," Zyuganov said in a loud and confident voice.

He said party activists had collected copies of voting protocols from polling stations in the Far East and their own count found that the party had received at least 3 percent to 4 percent more votes.

Zyuganov, dressed in a black suit and red tie, vowed to continue to carry out the alternative count. Ivan Melnikov, a senior Communist official, said the party's leadership would meet Monday "to make a decision on whether to bring people out on the streets" to contest the election results.

Overall, however, Zyuganov said he was satisfied that the party appeared to have cleared the 7 percent threshold for Duma seats. "The chamber provides an opportunity to outline our point of view," he said. "We are the last remaining guarantee of the freedom of speech, democracy and human rights in our country."

Zyuganov was prepared to criticize the elections hours before the first results were announced at 9 p.m.

After casting his ballot at Polling Station No. 165 on Miusskaya Ploshchad in central Moscow, Zyuganov slammed the elections as rigged. "There are very many violations," he said. "There is more administrative pressure than there was even under Yeltsin. These elections are seen as undemocratic, unfair and not free in many regions." He did not elaborate.

In the Dec. 7, 2003, elections, the Communists placed second with 12.61 percent, securing 40 seats on the party-list vote and 14 in single-mandate districts. The results gave the party 29 fewer seats than in the previous Duma.

Just 5.8 percent of voters said they would vote for the Communists this time, according to a nationwide poll released by state pollster VTsIOM last week. A poll from the Public Opinion Foundation last week predicted the Communists would get 10 percent.

A Just Russia

The leader of A Just Russia, Sergei Mironov, told supporters that he had hoped the party would get more than the 8.4 percent shown in preliminary results but refrained from challenging them like the Communists.

"We would have expected it higher, but I will not say how much higher," Mironov, who smiled several times, said at the party's headquarters on Ulitsa Vozdvizhenka in central Moscow.

Mironov, wearing a blue turtleneck and a gray jacket, also said A Just Russia might seek an alliance with the Communists in the new Duma.

Major pollsters had forecast that A Just Russia would get 5 percent to 8 percent of the vote.

This pro-Kremlin party was formed last year via a three-way tie-up between Rodina, the Party of Life and the Party of Pensioners and has positioned itself as a center-left alternative to United Russia. Mironov's original political vehicle, the Party of Life, and the opposition Party of Pensioners had no factions in the outgoing Duma. In comparison, Rodina, which had campaigned on nationalist sentiment, had placed fourth with 9.02 percent in 2003 to claim 45 seats.

Mironov, who is also the speaker of the Federation Council, voted Sunday at Polling Station No. 85, located in School No. 123-1 on Khlynovsky Tupik in central Moscow. Speaking to journalists outside, he said he was confident that the Central Election Commission would ensure a fair vote count.

A Just Russia has been hit by a number of high-profile defections in recent months and was dealt a further blow in October when Putin said he would head the United Russia list, drawing some support from A Just Russia.

The Liberal Democratic Party

The LDPR's flamboyant leader, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, appeared content as he discussed the first results that gave his party 8.8 percent of the vote.

"We were confident" that the LDPR would make it to the Duma, Zhirinovsky told reporters after keeping them waiting in a small, cramped room in the party's headquarters on Lukov Pereulok for more than an hour.

"We believe that we will get 12 percent or more,

maybe up to 15 or 16," said Zhirinovsky, who wore a white blazer. "This is the fifth time [the party has won seats]. We are the only party with an independent history."

The percentage of votes cast for the LDPR kept changing throughout Sunday night as more votes were counted, reaching 10.6 percent at 9:20 p.m.

Earlier Sunday Zhirinovsky voted at School No. 364 at Ulitsa Staroslobodskaya in northeast Moscow. Clad in a bright red jacket and a trademark loose tie, he was accompanied by his wife, Galina Lebedeva, and their 9-year-old twin grandsons, Alexander and Sergei.

The atmosphere was distinctly more peaceful than in 2003, when Zhirinovsky got into an angry scuffle with an election observer. That year, the LDPR finished third with 11.6 percent of the vote. This fall, however, a poll conducted by the Levada Center gave the party about 6 percent.

Union of Rights Forces

Anatoly Chubais, a co-founder of the Union of Rights Forces, or SPS, denounced the results of the elections, the lack of access given to opposition parties on state media and the lack of a strong opposition.

Speaking about United Russia, he said, "This party has become a monopoly using a Soviet mentality, the Soviet soul and a Soviet atmosphere."

"I know how a monopoly works," he added. Chubais runs Unified Energy System, the state power monopoly.

"In 1991, we had two tasks to accomplish: One was to reform the economy, and the other was to reform the political system. The first task we have accomplished, the second one we have not," he told defiant SPS supporters at the party;s headquarters on Ulitsa Malaya Andronyevskaya in central Moscow.

As predicted by opinion polls, SPS failed to overcome the 7 percent threshold, winning only 1.1. percent, according to the first results.

SPS leaders Boris Nemtsov and Nikita Belykh appeared to concede defeat in what they described as rigged elections, but vowed that justice would prevail in the long run.

"The important thing is that we won a moral victory in the country. There are people ready to come out against the cynicism of those in power. That means all is not lost," Belykh told reporters, who had spent more than an hour chain-smoking and sipping Black Label as they waited for SPS' leadership to make a statement.

"This is the most dishonest election that Russia has seen," Nemtsov said.

The party began openly criticizing Putin this fall after learning that the Kremlin would not follow through on promises to ensure it won Duma representation, a senior SPS official said in an interview last month. The Kremlin has denied such a deal.

In 2003, SPS won 3.97 percent of the vote, failing to pass the 5 percent barrier to qualify for seats from its party list, although four deputies did win in single-seat districts.

Yabloko

Yabloko fared the same as SPS, getting 1.1 percent, according to preliminary results, but refused to meet with reporters, deferring all comments until Monday.

"We'll have a briefing tomorrow and give all the comments then. No comments before," said Yevgenia Dillendorf, spokeswoman for Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky.

An assistant to another senior Yabloko official, Sergei Ivanenko, said Ivanenko might be available for comment after midnight.

In 2003, Yabloko garnered 4.8 percent of the vote, just 0.2 percent short of the 5 percent threshold at the time. The party subsequently claimed the elections had been tarnished by fraud. Various exit polls suggested that more than 5 percent of the electorate may have voted for Yabloko, which would have secured around 20 seats.

At its peak, Yabloko won 45 seats in the 1996 elections.

Polls published by VTsIOM and the Public Opinion Foundation in late November predicted that these would be Yabloko's worst elections, with a likely result of around 1 percent.

Yavlinsky voted at Polling Station No. 2443 in a school near the Krylatskoye metro station in northwestern Moscow.

After voting, Yavlinsky called on all voters to follow suit, saying, "You can't change anything in Russia with demonstrations and meetings only," referring to recent opposition rallies in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

Staff Writers Miriam Elder, David Nowak and Svetlana Osadchuk contributed to this story.