Elections to Deliver Duller Deputies

Once a lively venue for arguments, fistfights and hurled objects, the State Duma -- a place Duma Speaker and United Russia head Boris Gryzlov once fittingly described as "not a place for discussion" -- has become increasingly sedate over the past four years.

And with several charismatic deputies likely to lose their seats after the Dec. 2 Duma elections, the lower house of parliament looks to become even more tranquil, insiders and analysts say.

"The next Duma will be just a bunch of voting robots, a faceless crowd without ideas," said independent Duma deputy Viktor Alksnis.

Alksnis is one of a dozen or so outspoken, flamboyant or critical deputies who won't be in the next Duma after Sunday's election, in which for the first time voters will only be able to vote for parties -- not independent candidates.

In the previous four Duma elections, half of the lawmakers were elected in single-mandate districts. But the Kremlin pushed through a law abolishing single-mandate elections in 2004, arguing that it would strengthen the party system.

Alksnis became a kind of a celebrity after he helped lead the 1993 armed defense of the parliament in a bloody conflict against forces loyal to then-President Boris Yeltsin. And he gained new notoriety earlier this year when he tried to sue an employee of a pro-Kremlin think tank who he claimed defamed him on an Internet blog.

But the party whose ticket he joined, People's Will, was not allowed on the ballot, meaning that will be out of the legislative branch, as will the party's charismatic nationalist leader, Sergei Baburin, who has been in every Duma since the fall of the Soviet Union.

"Running in a single-mandate helped charismatic candidates get elected because they had to compete with one another for the voters' hearts and minds," said Dmitry Badovsky, an analyst with the Institute of Social Systems.

Other outspoken lawmakers on their way out because of the elimination of single-mandate districts include economist Sergei Glazyev, liberal opposition darling Vladimir Ryzhkov, anti-drug trafficking activist Yevgeny Roizman, and strident motorists' rights advocate Viktor Pokhmelkin.

"We are seeing a reworking of the Duma's personnel: The less power the Kremlin gives it, the less the demand for people with initiative," said Glazyev, who was elected in 2003 on the nationalist Rodina ticket but became an independent after the party split into numerous factions earlier this year.

As deputies elected by popular vote are removed from the scene, the Duma is increasingly being filled with lawmakers tacitly selected by the Kremlin, Glazyev said.

Indeed, Kremlin-loyal parties appear increasingly wary of including candidates on their tickets who might offer dissenting voices or irritate the Kremlin.

United Russia, for example, dropped from its ticket incumbent deputy Sait-Salam Gutseriyev, whose billionaire brother, former Russneft chief Mikhail Gutseriyev, is wanted in Russia on charges of illegal business practices and tax evasion and reportedly sought political asylum in Britain last month.

Maverick billionaire Suleiman Kerimov, a member of the United Russia faction in the Duma, was reportedly kept off the party's ticket after President Vladimir Putin told the party's convention last month to bar big business from politics.

Other notable exclusions from the United Russia faction include former Interior Minister Anatoly Kulikov and former Federal Security Service chief Nikolai Kovalyov.

"These two were really strong deputies with their own opinions on issues related to national security," said Communist deputy Viktor Ilyukhin, who sat on the Duma's Security Committee with the former top officials.

Another colorful United Russia deputy left off the party's ticket is Dagestan's Gadzhi Makhachev, known for wearing a traditional Astrakhan hat to Duma session.

Makhachev, a wrestler with a criminal record and Dagestan's former deputy prime minister, earned his proverbial 15 minutes of fame in 2000 when he kicked Chechen rebel envoy Vagap Tutakov in the groin inside the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Brussels.

Also leaving the Duma will be Anatoly Yermolin, a special services officer elected in 2003 with United Russia and later expelled from the party for criticizing Putin's policies.

Former Vladivostok mayor Viktor Cherepkov, with his fervent promotion of a healthy lifestyle, is another outgoing United Russia deputy, as is Chechen deputy Ruslan Yamadayev, who has taken beatings in the press for purported abuses committed by Chechen police and military officers.

Some of the Duma's most outspoken nationalists will be gone after Sunday's elections, including Rodina deputy Alexander Krutov, who gained notoriety for backing bills limiting rights of migrants and the media, as well as a bill banning abortions for married women without their husbands' written consent.

The nationalist Liberal Democratic Party, traditionally a motley mix of flamboyant deputies, seems to be turning in to a one-man show featuring party leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky.

Zhirinovsky's No. 2, avid party animal Alexei Mitrofanov -- producer of an erotic movie featuring look-alikes of Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili and former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko -- has defected to pro-Kremlin party A Just Russia, which analysts say could have problems getting the 7 percent of the vote necessary to gain Duma seats.

Former boxer Oleg Malyshkin, Zhirinovsky's former bodyguard who was the LDPR presidential candidate in 2004, is not on the party's ticket this time around.

Partyless deputy Nikolai Kuryanovich, who was expelled from LDPR for violating the party discipline, will have no chance to deliver his hardcore nationalist message from the Duma floor after Sunday.

Kuryanovich, a rising star among Russian nationalists, said the future Duma would be faceless and servile, adding that he could secure a seat and earn good money should he agree to play by the rules imposed by the Duma's United Russia-dominated leadership.

Kuryanovich announced earlier this month that he would run for president in March.

People like Kuryanovich should not be forced out of the Duma because they represent the opinions of a small percentage of the population, said Alksnis, the departing independent deputy.

"By allowing people like Kuryanovich as representatives, we keep them in open and public politics," Alksnis said. "By denying them a voice, we push them into the extremist underground."

Asked what he thinks of other charismatic deputies who, like him, will not make it in the next Duma, Kuryanovich said bluntly, "Let them all die."