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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Luzhkov Will Run for City Duma

Adding fuel to what is shaping up to be a fiery election campaign for the Moscow City Duma, Mayor Yury Luzhkov said on Friday that he would run for a seat as the top candidate for the United Russia party.

"If the municipal branch of United Russia trusts me to top the party list for the City Duma elections, I will comply with gratitude," Luzhkov said after a meeting with branch members, who asked him to run, Interfax reported.

Elections for the 35-member City Duma are Dec. 4, and the official campaign will kick off in September. Luzhkov's announcement, however, added heat to a controversy that has been brewing around the elections for months.

Rodina spokesman Sergei Butin said that if Luzhkov headed the United Russia party list, his nationalist party would need to respond in turn by placing its leader Dmitry Rogozin or co-founder Sergei Glazev -- who are both State Duma deputies -- on its list, Kommersant reported Saturday.

The Communist Party said it would probably put its No. 2 leader, State Duma Deputy Ivan Melnikov, on its list, while the liberal Yabloko party said it was considering placing leader Grigory Yavlinsky on its list, the newspaper said.

The role of the next City Duma is set to increase under a new law that grants additional powers to regional legislatures, including the right to approve the president's appointment for the next mayor. The city of Moscow holds the status of a region, and the mayor is also a governor.

Luzhkov said Friday that the race was promising to be tougher than ever before. "The upcoming elections to the Moscow City Duma will be very difficult. The most important thing for us is the transparency of the elections and fair competition," he said.

Fair competition might be hard to achieve under new election rules that were drawn up by the legislature's domineering pro-Kremlin United Russia faction and took effect Thursday.

The rules stipulate that a party must receive 10 percent of the vote to win party-list seats -- the type of seat that Luzhkov will run for. Out of the legislature's 35 seats, 15 deputies will be elected in individual races and 20 deputies will be elected from party lists.

Also, a 20 percent turnout will be needed for the elections to be considered valid, a drop from a previous requirement of 25 percent. Voter turnout has always been a problem in Moscow, and ahead of the previous elections in 2001, Luzhkov gave an emotional speech in which he threatened to resign if Moscow voters thwarted the elections by failing to show up.

Opposition parties have warned that the changes will completely sideline smaller parties and allow United Russia to win by a landslide to once again dominate the legislature.

Federal election officials have said the new rules contradict federal elections legislation, but Luzhkov on Friday brushed off the criticism as "a political provocation by some representatives of the Central Elections Commission."

Luzhkov's candidacy does not necessarily mean that he will became a city legislator. Luzhkov and other prominent regional leaders ran for the State Duma in 1999 and 2003 elections with no intention of becoming deputies. They topped United Russia's party list in what was a clear attempt to garner more votes for the party.

The practice has been denounced by opposition politicians and election officials in the past, and Central Elections Commission chief Alexander Veshnyakov has suggested amending the federal law to punish parties by stripping them of the seats won by party-list candidates who refuse to work in the Duma.

United Russia won 34.4 percent of the Moscow vote in the State Duma elections in 2003, while Luzhkov was re-elected mayor with 74.8 percent of the vote that same year. A recent survey of Moscow residents found that Luzhkov's popularity remains high, at about 60 percent, while the popularity of United Russia has stayed about the same for the past four years, Kommersant reported Saturday. The survey was carried out by the independent Levada Center in June.

Andrei Ryabov, a political analyst with the Carnegie Moscow Center, said Luzhkov might actually be interested in quitting two years before his term ended to become speaker of the City Duma. He said the Kremlin appeared to be chipping away at Luzhkov's hold on Moscow, noting that President Vladimir Putin made Valery Shantsev, Luzhkov's longtime deputy and a possible candidate to succeed him in 2007, the new governor of Nizhny Novgorod last week.

Ryabov, however, said it was more likely that Luzhkov would "use his authority to win the December elections and bring his men into the Moscow City Duma." "This will be the only way to retain his position at the helm of the city for some time longer," he said.

The City Duma has seen three elections since it was re-established in 1993. All were lackluster, with voters showing little interest in picking a legislature that has a reputation of being toothless and exceedingly loyal to City Hall.