The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Kremlin’s bitter victory

Moscow, Dec. 8 (Reuters): The Kremlin savoured a resounding election triumph over the Opposition today but its skilled campaign might have done President Vladimir Putin a disservice by eclipsing the pro-Western reformers he needs.

“It is a victory, perhaps a bitter victory,” said analyst Liliya Shevtsova of the Moscow-based Carnegie Centre. Pro-Kremlin parties, including Putin’s favoured United Russia bloc, and nationalist parties emerged from yesterday’s poll with a huge majority in the parliament lower house. The vote made inroads into communist ranks but also wiped out liberal opponents.

Putin hailed the outcome, telling officials in the Kremlin he saw the election as a further step towards democracy. But, in a remark indicating unease that an over-successful campaign may have gone too far in polarising the political scene, he told his defeated opponents “their ideas and personnel potential” would be harnessed for the good of the country. The outcome has left pro-Kremlin parties with a majority close to the two-thirds needed to change the constitution to allow Putin a third four-year term.

Some analysts said this in itself might be an embarrassment for Putin who last June, on a trip to Britain, categorically ruled out running for a third term from 2008. These analysts say Putin, while wanting the communist vote reduced and seeking a strong majority for his allies, had hoped for a final healthier balance of forces in the Duma. In particular, they said, he would regret that the well-marshalled Kremlin campaign had caused the demise of two liberal parties that have provided crucial expertise for getting key reforms through parliament. Energetic pursuit of economic reforms is central to western perceptions of Putin’s Russia and to its ambitions to integrate into institutions such as the WTO. The Yabloko party of economist Grigory Yavlinsky and the pro-business Union of Right-Wing Forces (SPS) led by Boris Nemtsov failed to draw the required vote for winning party seats in the Duma.

“Putin has been basically implementing the economic policies of the SPS for the past four years,” analyst Michael McFaul said. “It has most certainly not been United Russia’s ideas about economic reforms because they have no ideas. It has been the SPS — a party that is not going to be in the Duma,” he said.

Analysts also pointed to two further unwanted realities that Putin now had to contend with. One was the resurgence of Vladimir Zhirinovsky whose LDPR party has routinely provided vital support for the Kremlin since it burst onto the scene in 1993. Putin may also be eyeing with suspicion economist Sergei Glazyev, the popular co-leader of the Motherland party that came from nowhere to take fourth place in the Duma on a platform of anti-tycoon and nationalist policies.

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