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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

United Russia Turns Down TV Debates

Voters won't hear United Russia candidates spar with rivals from other parties during televised debates next month -- if they can find the debates at all.

United Russia announced that it would use the free airtime allotted to the 11 parties running in the Dec. 2 elections to broadcast promotional material, drawing accusations of cowardice from its strongest rival, the Communist Party.

"We are indeed not going to participate in the debates, and we intend to use the time allotted by the law for explaining the main thing to the voters -- Putin's Plan," Andrei Vorobyov, chairman of United Russia's central executive committee, said Tuesday, Interfax reported.

Putin is United Russia's top candidate in the elections, and Putin's Plan, the name of the party's campaign platform, is an ideology for Russia's future, based on a compilation of the president's state-of-the-nation addresses.

Previously, parties had to spend half of the allotted airtime debating and the rest promoting their platforms. But a recently passed law allows the parties to spend the entire time promoting themselves.

United Russia's refusal to participate robs the Communists of their only viable counterpart in television debates, said Vadim Melnikov, a senior Communist official, Vedomosti reported.

"They are just cowards. Cowards are people who are afraid of confronting a strong competitor," Communist Deputy Valery Rashkin said Tuesday, reported.

Vladimir Zhirinovsky, whose Liberal Democratic Party is also expected to win seats in the elections, voiced irritation about being forced to debate with smaller and lesser known parties, Ekho Moskvy radio reported.

The fourth main contender in the race, A Just Russia, had no immediate comment.

Meanwhile, state-controlled television channels have made it clear that they will not allocate prime time for the parties that wish to debate, Kommersant reported. Channel One initially offered airtime from 11 a.m. to noon, even though the law requires broadcasters to allocate "a time when television and radio programs have the largest audience," the report said. Central Elections Commission chief Vladimir Churov notified Channel One that he believed the offer did not conform with the law, and the channel has now scheduled debates from 7:05 a.m. to 7:55 a.m. on Nov. 5 to 11.

Rossia has offered to air debates from 10:50 p.m. to 11:20 p.m., while TV Center, controlled by the Moscow city government, has offered 5:40 p.m. to 6:10 p.m., Kommersant said.

The election commission's web site defines prime time as 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. TNS Gallup Media, whose viewership figures are used to set prices for commercials, defines prime time as the period from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m.

The Central Elections Commission, meanwhile, divided up free air time Tuesday among the 11 parties. In line with the law, the commission drew lots to decide which party would have which time slots on Channel One, Rossia and TV Center during the Duma campaign, which kicks off Saturday.