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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EDITORIAL: City Duma Should Give Opposition




One does not have to be an enemy of Mayor Yury Luzhkov to hope the new Moscow City Duma elected this Sunday will include a few more of his opponents than the current one.


Any democratic society's leader, even one like Luzhkov who won more than 90 percent of the vote in last year's mayoral race, benefits from having to deal with an opposition that can expose flaws in his policies.


But the current City Duma, the legislature for the city of Moscow and its 10 million people, is so cowed by Luzhkov's popularity and his control of the levers of power that it has scarcely raised any public criticism of him in its four-year term.


For instance, the City Duma did not even bother to protest recently when Luzhkov vetoed, for the third time, an attempt to provide a legislative basis for private ownership of land in Moscow, something that already exists in many other Russian cities.


Even Luzhkov supporters should realize that it is a good thing that several candidates willing to speak out publicly against the mayor are likely to win seats in the upcoming elections.


The My Moscow bloc led by Alexei Podberyozkin is opposing Luzhkov with a communist platform and a bloc led by State Duma deputy Nikolai Gonchar has attacked corruption in the government.


Strangely, Luzhkov has somehow avoided any direct comment on the elections, although one of his deputies is fronting the overtly pro-Luzhkov For Justice bloc.


The mayor's office would prefer a "depoliticized" City Duma in which none of the blocs had much influence or were directly opposed to him. This fits in with Luzhkov's image as a practical, no-nonsense manager.


But this is a misunderstanding of democratic politics: Having a strong "loyal opposition" is just as important as a strong government.


Moscow has prospered during the five years of Luzhkov's rule but it would benefit from more public discussion of his policies.


Luzhkov needs to be pressed on his policy that supports the costly subsidies the city pays for household utilities and maintenance. A strong opposition could also look into the city's byzantine web of purely commercial businesses such as property development, housing construction, automobile manufacturing, television and restaurants. They might find that the city's involvement in the economy is often inefficient and opens the way for corruption and bureaucratic interference.


The City Duma should also be scrutinizing Luzhkov's record on treatment of the homeless and ethnic minorities, police corruption and health care.


Moscow politics have been too quiet for too long.