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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Opposition Parties Sue Over Duma Vote

The Communist and Yabloko parties filed a lawsuit with the Supreme Court on Monday, claiming that last year's State Duma elections had been distorted by biased campaign coverage, deception of voters and vote-rigging.

The two parties joined forces with Committee-Free Choice 2008, a group including former liberal presidential candidate Irina Khakamada and Moskovskiye Novosti editor Yevgeny Kiselyov, in an attempt to hold the Central Elections Commission responsible for the alleged violations.

Western observers have called the elections, held Dec. 7, 2003, unfair.

"If we win, it will no doubt be a colossal breakthrough in terms of legality and fairness in conducting elections," Communist Party lawyer Vadim Solovyov said by telephone Monday. "A victory would be a serious deterrence factor for the elections commission, mass media and government agencies that falsify elections."

Central Elections Commission chairman Alexander Veshnyakov has denied that any major violations took place in the election campaign or vote count. Commission officials on Monday declined to comment on the court case.

In a statement Monday, Yabloko said the Central Elections Commission had allowed state-controlled television channels to dedicate the lion's share of campaign coverage to the pro-Kremlin United Russia party.

United Russia received 860 minutes of state television airtime devoted to the election, or 40 percent of the total given to the 23 parties contesting the election, Yabloko said.

Solovyov said 97 percent of the coverage of United Russia was positive.

Although the Communist Party, the closest rival to United Russia in the elections, received 525 minutes, most of that coverage was negative, Yabloko said.

Such campaign reporting contradicted two federal laws, On the Main Guarantees of Electoral Rights and On Elections of Deputies of the State Duma, Solovyov said.

"Information materials must not violate the equality of candidates and electoral blocs," he quoted the law on electoral rights as saying.

The lawsuit also said that United Russia deceived voters by including on its party list politicians such as Mayor Yury Luzhkov and Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu, who later refused to become deputies. That "runs counter to both the letter and the spirit" of elections legislation, Yabloko said.

The fact that the Duma seats Luzhkov and Shoigu refused were not given to other parties was also a violation of election law, Yabloko said.

The lawsuit also blamed the Central Elections Commission for failing to organize a proper vote count. In a survey of 73 out of 225 district election commissions nationwide, Yabloko and the Communists said the commissions' records showed that 254,303 fewer ballots were cast for parties than for single-mandate candidates. Traditionally, more votes are cast for parties than for single-mandate candidates.

"It can be assumed that the difference was illegally used for the purpose of falsifying the election results," Yabloko said.

But Solovyov doubted the lawsuit would be successful. "I am well aware of the judges in this court and their judicial practice," he said. "I think that our chances for success are less than 1 percent."

He even speculated that the Supreme Court might throw out the case after only a preliminary review.

Vladimir Pribylovsky, head of the Panorama think tank, said the lawsuit stood no chance.

"Of course not," he said, when asked if the complainants could win. "They want to remind people one more time that the elections were not legitimate enough and the conditions were unfair."

He said the lawsuit was a publicity stunt for the complaining parties and personalities. "They have been pushed off of television and out of most newspapers, so they are looking for ways to bring attention to themselves," he said.

Pribylovsky said that some unfair aspects of the elections were not mentioned in the lawsuit, such as court rulings barring candidates from running who posed a real challenge to government-favored rivals, and the disbarment from the elections of two parties highly critical of the Kremlin, Boris Berezovsky's Liberal Russia and Eduard Limonov's National Bolsheviks.

If the complainants lose their case, they plan to file the lawsuit with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, Solovyov said.