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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Mr. and Ms. Kprf Run for the Duma

RYAZAN, Central Russia -- Svetlana and Sergei share a rather rare last name, but they are not related to each other. Perhaps the only thing they have in common is a devotion to the Communist Party that led them to change their last names to KPRF and run for a seat in the State Duma.

In what is widely seen as a black PR move to strip the Communists of some of their votes in this traditionally Communist region, about 200 kilometers southeast of Moscow, electoral ballots in both of the Ryazan single-mandate districts will list a candidate under the last name of Kprf, short for the Communist Party of the Russian Federation.

But Communists in Ryazan are facing a much bigger threat in the face of the United Russia party than from either Ms. or Mr. Kprf, experts say.

Svetlana Moreva, a pediatrician at a children's clinic who turns 26 next week, said she recently awoke to the idea of becoming a politician to fight for the interests of the common people. She changed her last name to Kprf and was registered Oct. 24 to run as a single-mandate candidate in the Dec. 7 elections.

"I share the ideology of the Communist Party," she said while pouring coffee and cutting cake in the kitchen of her modest, but cozy two-room apartment in Ryazan.

"However, I feel that the Communist Party has become too alienated from the people. I see too many oligarchs on their party lists. That is why I decided to run for a seat in the Duma to represent teachers, doctors and pensioners," Ms. Kprf said, gesturing emotionally.

The local branch of the KPRF was outraged by the move and insisted it had never heard of either Mr. or Ms. Kprf. "I was shocked when I heard about them changing their last names," said Yevgeny Ryabko, second secretary of KPRF's Ryazan branch, speaking in his office at the Ryazan regional Duma. "They are making this look like a KPRF project, but we have never seen or met with these people. Their goal is surely to discredit the image of the Communist Party and take away some of our votes."

Alexei Sitnikov, president of Image Consult, Russia's leading political consulting firm, agreed. "This is clearly intended to steal votes. Especially in a rural region, people may not think twice and vote for the very name Kprf, without distinguishing what is real and what is not," Sitnikov said.

On the ballot, a candidate's last name is listed first, followed by his or her first name, patronymic, date of birth, workplace and title. Only at the end is the party affiliation given. Given that as many as a dozen candidates are running for each of the two Ryazan seats, it is not inconceivable that a voter looking for the Communist candidate would vote for someone with the last name of Kprf.

Yet the real competition that the Communist candidates will face on Dec. 7 will not come from Ms. or Mr. Kprf. Four years ago, both of Ryazan's single-mandate seats were won handily by Communists, and the party, with 30 percent of the vote, easily held off both Unity, which got 23 percent, and Fatherland-All Russia, which got 12 percent. Since then, however, the parties have merged to become United Russia, which is expected to give the Communists a run for their money.

"The Communists are using their traditional methods of going from door to door, from house to house, and campaigning for their candidates," said Irina Sizova, deputy editor of the Ryazan daily Ryazanskiye Vedomosti.

"United Russia, on the other hand, is using more modern methods -- it is organizing all kinds of events, concerts and getting the youth segment actively involved," Sizova said. Both parties are getting about equal coverage in the local media, she said.

Although the Ryazan region has traditionally belonged to the "red belt" and is administered by a Communist governor along with a Communist-dominated regional Duma, Sizova said, "There is no talk of their overwhelming victory this time around."

"We are the second-oldest region in central Russia in terms of population age, and the Communists will probably capture the votes of those old people, but that's not more than 20 percent."

Nikolai Petrov, a political analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center who studies the regions, also predicted that United Russia may outscore the Communists in Ryazan, even though it is competing against current Duma deputies in the single-mandate districts.

"The center is now getting more involved in regional elections and is making extensive use of the so-called administrative resource by increasing its control over law enforcement bodies and the courts," Petrov said.

The Communist Party may also be losing its appeal, he said. "To the elderly electorate, United Russia may actually look more reminiscent of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union than the present-day KPRF, which has become an active opposition political force."

This may have been what inspired Svetlana Kprf to run for the Duma under her widely recognized, but hardly pronounceable last name. "I want to bring the Communist Party closer to the people," she said.

Shortly after getting her new passport entitling her to the name of Kprf, Svetlana Kprf filed her documents to run for the Duma and paid a $30,000 deposit, against the other option of collecting 5,000 signatures in her support.

When asked how a doctor employed by a state clinic with a monthly salary of about $50 was able to come up with so much money, Ms. Kprf said, "My husband makes good money as lawyer. And we also borrowed money from friends."

Her counterpart, Sergei Fomin, acquired the same last name and was registered in early October to run in Ryazan's other single-mandate district. According to the registration list, he is a 42-year-old human resources manager in an insurance company.

In contrast to Svetlana Kprf, Sergei Kprf has been evading attention.

Mr. Kprf left no personal contacts, except for a cellular phone number of his spokesperson, who later handed over the case to yet another spokesperson. Despite numerous attempts, Mr. Kprf was unavailable to comment.

According to Vladimir Korobkin, chairman of the elections commission in the district where Sergei Kprf is running, he resides in Moscow and came to Ryazan only several times to complete the registration procedure.

"Whenever we would ask him why he changed his last name and why he was running in these elections, he had one thing to say: 'I am not going to answer anything,'" Korobkin said.