Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Campaigns Heat Up as City Duma Poll Nears

Moscow voters head to the polls Sunday to elect a new Moscow City Duma for the second time since the fall of the Soviet Union in an election that could see some political opponents of Mayor Yury Luzhkov land seats in the legislature.

More than 350 candidates are vying for the 35 seats in the contest to be decided when polling stations open at 8 a.m. Sunday. Of the winners, one will be chosen later to assume the position of the City Duma speaker, which comes with a chair in the Federation Council, the upper chamber of Russia's national parliament.

The election results could prove crucial to the Luzhkov administration. The previous City Duma, elected in 1993, has been widely regarded as a rubber stamp, passing laws initiated and approved by the mayor. But some observers have begun weighing the possibility that anti-Luzhkov forces could win control of the body.

"If Luzhkov's opponents get the majority of votes in the City Duma, it will become the first Luzhkov defeat on his own territory," Kommersant Daily wrote Wednesday.

The most prominent opponent, State Duma Deputy Nikolai Gonchar, a former chairman of the Mossoviet, the city's previous ruling body, has conducted a controversial campaign, casting himself in opposition to the City Hall and the mayor.

Most of the democratic blocs, who are widely represented in the current City Duma, are campaigning as Luzhkov supporters. The most prominent of the democratic blocs are the United Democratic Forces, made up of Yabloko, Russia's Democratic Choice and Our Home Is Russia.

Both the United Democrats, with 35 candidates, and Gonchar's bloc, with 32, could in theory win the two-thirds majority needed to ram legislation through the City Duma without the support of other parties.

Another pro-Luzhkov bloc is Za Spravedlivost, or For Justice, whose 15 candidates also advocate total support for Luzhkov's government.

A pro-communist bloc, My Moscow, has 24 candidates in the running. According to My Moscow leader Alexei Podberyozkin, a Duma deputy from the Communist faction, many of his bloc's candidates are not likely to win in traditionally pro-democratic Moscow.

This last week of campaigning promises to be heated. A flood of leaflets advising Moscow residents not to vote for Gonchar has already begun turning up in mailboxes in Gonchar's electoral district.The leaflets are not directly attributed to either Luzhkov or the city government. One of the two anti-Gonchar leaflets, however, is an imaginary dialogue, featuring Luzhkov dismissing statements made by Gonchar during the campaign.

The other less-intellectual leaflet is a set of Gonchar caricatures. The leaflet asks voters not to vote "for a candidate whose name begins with the letter 'G.'" There are no other candidates in the district whose surname begins with "G."

The leaflet claims that all "G" wants from a seat in the City Duma is deputy's immunity from legal prosecution. Gonchar has stated frequently during his campaign that he wants to cancel the immunity for City Duma deputies.

The City Hall press office refused to comment on the appearance of the new leaflets. City election committee officials said they were not aware of the leaflets but promised to investigate the matter.

The committee has also published a list of candidates who have criminal records. Many of those on the list were convicted of crimes under the Soviet regime, crimes that today are regarded as normal commercial activity.

The city, meanwhile, is finalizing election logistics. Moscow police spokesman Vladimir Zubkov said police will begin guarding more than 3,000 polling stations across Moscow on Friday at the latest. Most of the stations are located at schools.

The city's efforts include a publicity campaign to ensure the minimum turnout of 25 percent. Politika Fund analyst Sergei Kolmakov said the city may have spent as much as $100,000 for each of the Duma's 35 seats just in election advertising.

Kolmakov predicted between 35 percent and 38 percent of the city's registered voters would vote in the election.

Traffic police will remove all cars parked near the voting places to protect against potential terrorist attacks. Police have also stepped up document checks around the city.

The list also includes Gleb Yakunin, a prominent dissident who served a five-year prison term in the 1980s for anti-Soviet activities.