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Taming Russia's Presidency

MOSCOW: The good news is that Russia's parliamentary elections took place. Just three or four months ago it seemed that they would be postponed or cancelled. Russia's legislature – the Duma – has now gained power and a new legitimacy, even if only theoretically. Now it is time for curtailing the vast powers of the presidency. If this can take place without nullification (a big if), legitimately and in time, Russians can hope that today's ineffective, corrupt regime, rejected by almost the entire Russian population, will leave office. Only then will there will be a chance to construct a more effective government, to start rebuilding the state.

Of the elections, they were conducted (and ended) rather strangely. Never before either in Russia or in any other state, insofar as I know, was an election campaign so utterly dirty, with countless formal and factual violations of Russian laws and infringements of democratic norms. Two out of the three most important TV channels (state channels from the formal point of view but are really controlled by the "family" around President Yeltsin, including the family oligarchs like Boris Berezovsky), transmitting across all Russia, almost completely prevented the two main opposition parties -- the Primakov and Luzhkov "Fatherland-All Russia”(OVR) and Yavlinskiy's "Yabloko" from getting their message broadcast.

OVR and its leaders were constantly slandered by these channels. No one bothered about the truth. Primakov was attacked for supposedly taking brides from Saddam Hussein as well as for conspiring with America to overthrow Prime Minister Putin's government. The claims against Luzhkov were even more monstrous . They followed the rule of the BIG LIE: the more preposterous the lie, the more people will believe it.

With frankness and brute force the Kremlin supported three parties: The “Union of Right Forces" led by Boris Nemtzov, Sergei Kiriyenko, and Anatoly Chubais; the ever obedient to the Kremlin mob of Vladimir Zhirinovsky; and "Edinstvo” (meaning Unity or Bear), specially created for the election by Yeltsin's administration. The Kremlin did not criticise the Communist Party this time, as it poses no threat today -- though the idea of a communist threat could be held in reserve just in case the presidential elections go wrong next summer.