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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Jovial Luzhkov Easily Gets 5th Term

A jovial Yury Luzhkov was approved for another four years as mayor Wednesday, with even some of his harshest critics begrudgingly supporting him.

Following a question-and-answer session during which Luzhkov carried himself like the subject of a celebrity roast, City Duma deputies approved the mayor for another term in a 32-to-3 vote with no abstentions.

He was subsequently greeted with applause by deputies and presented with red roses and kisses by Georgy Poltavchenko, presidential envoy to the Central Federal District.

Thanks to a 2005 law that scrapped popular elections for regional heads, it was the first time in a more than a decade that Muscovites did not directly elect their mayor.

And while critics have accused him of running the city like his personal fiefdom, Luzhkov took an ever-so-slight dig at the law.

"I would be more comfortable if I had been directly elected by Muscovites," Luzhkov said ahead of Wednesday's vote.

The 2005 law abolished gubernatorial elections, meaning incumbents must either seek the president's approval for a new term or wait until their mandates end and see whether the president nominates them. Moscow's mayor is considered a governor.

President Vladimir Putin last week officially asked the Duma to confirm Luzhkov, 70, for another four years.

Opposition politicians in the City Duma and State Duma have said the Kremlin wants to keep Luzhkov in office to help deliver votes in State Duma elections in December and in the March presidential vote.

But despite his expressed comfort with direct elections, Luzhkov said the country is "living through a difficult period" in its history and that now is not the right time for popular ballots.

"We need powerful authorities to solve the problems of our society," Luzhkov said.

It is enough that Duma deputies "represent Muscovites in general and vote in secret," he added.

In a tacit acknowledgement of Luzhkov's enormous popularity with city residents and his skills as an administrator, even his fierce critics in the Duma backed his candidacy.

"He listens to the voice of opposition, and that's why he is the only one that we can vote for," Yabloko deputy Sergei Mitrokhin said ahead of the vote, pointing his finger at Luzhkov.

Luzhkov, who spent much of the pre-vote discussion whispering and exchanging chuckles with those next to him, paid Mitrokhin no mind.

Mitrokhin nonetheless leveled criticism at Luzhkov, accusing City Hall of maintaining connections with private developers that were "too close."

Luzhkov's wife, Yelena Baturina, heads up construction giant Inteko and is ranked by Forbes as Russia's richest woman, with $3.1 billion. Luzhkov has overseen an unprecedented construction -- and economic -- boom in the capital since being appointed mayor by President Boris Yeltsin in 1992.

He was thrice elected following his appointment: in 1996, 1999 and 2003.

Only the Communists did not support Luzhkov on Tuesday.

"Voting for Luzhkov would be tantamount to voicing our support for United Russia, which we can't do given its inhumane policies, such as the monetization of social benefits," Communist deputy Vladimir Ulas said.

Luzhkov flashed a broad smile while listening to Ulas.

In perhaps the least surprising development Tuesday, the United Russia deputies voiced unanimous support for Luzhkov and said they had absolutely nothing to question the mayor about because he was Putin's choice.

"We have no questions because we trust Vladimir Vladimirovich," United Russia Deputy Andrei Metelsky said.

Luzhkov will head up United Russia's regional ticket in State Duma elections in December.

In his 30-minute speech before the vote, Luzhkov said he would focus on providing housing for young families, defrauded apartment buyers and military officers, a task set out for him by Putin earlier this month.

Luzhkov also promised to raise the average salary in Moscow from 20,000 rubles to 40,000 rubles within two years and build 10 million square meters of new housing by 2011.

He devoted a large part of his speech to construction issues, saying the city would continue to develop new territories and refurbish old ones. He also vowed to continue tackling bureaucracy and trying to solve the city's paralyzing traffic problems.

Members of the Yabloko party were divided over Luzhkov's appointment, which sparked an internal squabble in their ranks. Ilya Yashin, head of the party's youth wing, said Yabloko deputies were wrong to support the mayor and that the current procedure for electing regional heads was unconstitutional. "The democratic opposition should not take part in it," Yashin said by telephone.

One activist from the liberal Union of Right Forces party attempted to break up Luzhkov's press conference by mixing with journalists and heckling deputies from the crowd.

"Shame on the City Duma," he shouted. "A mayor should be elected by Muscovites!"

He was subsequently escorted from the building without incident by a security guard.

Luzhkov's inauguration will likely be held Tuesday, City Hall's telecommunications and mass media committee said on its web site.

After taking an oath, Luzhkov will be presented with the mayor's chain of office, which features a medallion with the city's coat of arms and the Russian emblem, a two-headed eagle, from City Duma Speaker Vladimir Platonov.

Before the scrapping of gubernatorial elections, the chain was presented by the head of the City Elections Committee.