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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

National Legislators Eye City Duma Seat

While local issues dominate the campaign for the Moscow City Duma, two high profile national figures will fight it out on election day, Dec. 14, for one key electorate.

Alexei Podberyozkin and Nikolai Gonchar, both prominent deputies in the State Duma, Russia's lower house of parliament, are competing in a field of eight candidates for "electorate No. 2," a seat in the local legislature that covers the northern part of the city's center.

Gonchar, a centrist independent, and Podberyozkin, a nationalist ideologue with links to the Communist Party, have slightly different reasons for trying to make the unusual switch from the national to local legislature.

But Sergei Markov of the Carnegie Moscow Center said the presence of several national deputies in the local race shows that Moscow is considered a crucial power base, especially looking forward to the presidential elections in 2000.

Podberyozkin said at a recent campaign rally that he is using Moscow as a testing ground for his theory that the Communist Party can succeed electorally even in big liberal-voting cities, if it develops a more moderate, patriotically oriented image.

"For me it is important to show that it possible to present a concept and have a fight not in regions which traditionally vote for the opposition but in Moscow. I'm a scientist, so I build a concept and than realize it in practice," he told a rally at the Taganka Theater last week.

About 200 pensioners came to the rally organized by Podberyozkin's My Moscow bloc, which is fielding candidates in 25 of Moscow's 35 electorates.

As well a speech by the candidate, they were entertained with a performance of War World II songs and tables with food and wine were set up on alternate rows of the auditorium. The performers even distributed vodka at one point in the show.

Gonchar, a former chairman of the Moscow city council before joining the State Duma in 1995, said in an interview at one of his campaign rallies that he is running for the City Duma because he wants to return to his roots.

But his motives may not be entirely altruistic. Podberyozkin said Gonchar, who lost the job of chairman of the influential budget committee, was quitting the State Duma because he realized he was getting nowhere.

"An average [State Duma] deputy doesn't really mean anything. The maximum [Gonchar] can do is to get on a chair, jump up and down and cock-a-doodle-doo something so he at least becomes visible," Podberyozkin said.

Markov added that Gonchar is also hoping to enter local politics as a way of restarting his national career. He is aiming at the post of speaker of the City Duma, which would in turn give him a seat on the Federation Council, the upper chamber of the national parliament.

Gonchar also has his own bloc, which bears his name and is fielding candidates in 32 of the city's electorates. On Friday, he held a modest meeting at a hall of the Tverskaya district administration. Gonchar spoke to a few dozen elderly people about restructuring the city budget and fighting corruption.

While most candidates stand in awe of Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, Gonchar attacked him for concentrating too much control over the city in his hands. "He assumed that only he has the right to decide everything in Moscow," Gonchar said.

He even claimed that the city government might falsify the election results to stop his bloc.

Gonchar expressed skepticism toward Podberyozkin's attempts to distance himself from the Communist Party. "This man who was elected from the Communist Party tries to prove on every corner that he is not a communist," he said.

Podberyozkin, who is not officially a member of the Communist Party but is a member of the Communist faction in the State Duma, said he treats Gonchar as a very serious competitor. "Especially since I'm trying to promote the whole bloc and Gonchar is trying to promote himself," Podberyozkin said.

Markov said that the seat would likely be won by either Gonchar or Mikhail Moskvin-Tarkhanov, a current City Duma deputy and candidate for the liberal Russia's Democratic Choice bloc.