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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bitter Fight Forecast As Campaign Opens

The parliamentary election campaign opens officially Thursday, with analysts predicting a bitter four-month battle until the Dec. 17 ballot.

On Thursday the Central Election Commission begins registration of parties and blocs wishing to participate in the elections to the State Duma, the lower house of parliament. Each group of hopefuls must present 200,000 signatures to support its petition, a requirement that will exclude many of the marginal factions.

According to official figures, there are 262 political parties registered in Russia. However, as an article in Wednesday's Izvestia pointed out, many of these are "dead souls" -- groups that, while still on the rolls, have disappeared without a trace.

The number of parties representing real political clout is no more than 40, according to Michael McFaul, senior analyst at the Moscow office of the Carnegie Endowment for Peace. Of these, he added, probably 15 or 16 will actually make it on to the ballot.

McFaul predicts a fierce and bitter campaign, with Our Home Is Russia, the "party of power" headed by Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, taking much of the heat. "There is a common perception among democrats that they made a mistake in not being aggressive enough in the 1993 elections," said McFaul. "I think this campaign will be much more vicious."

Our Home Is Russia presents the broadest target, he added, and will be attacked by all sides.

"Boris Fyodorov's group, Forward Russia!, is very down on Chernomyrdin," said McFaul. "And Yabloko is running on an anti-Our Home Is Russia ticket."

The campaign will be characterized by just this sort of personality-oriented attack, he predicted, mainly because the parties are largely defined by individuals rather than programs.

"Very few of the parties are running on real political platforms," said McFaul, singling out Russia's Choice, the Communist Party, and, to a lesser extent, Vladimir Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democratic Party as groups with clearly defined positions. "The rest are just a gathering of personalities."

As if on cue, Forward Russia! on Wednesday announced a $3,000 prize for whoever comes up with the best joke about the party's opponents, Reuters quoted the group's press secretary, Vladimir Gubarev, as saying. He added that most of the jokes offered so far targeted Zhirinovsky.

Parties that do gain a spot on the ballot will spend August and September organizing congresses to nominate their candidates for the elections. Out of the Duma's 450 members, half will come from national party lists, while the other half will be elected by individual local constituencies.

A few groups, such as Russia's Choice, have already announced the date of their congresses. Others, however, are awaiting the president's signature on an election law passed in special session by the Duma on Saturday. The law provides for a redistribution of electoral districts; no local candidates can be nominated until the district boundaries have been set.