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Russian communists win support as Putin party fades

Posted on: December 5, 2011


Just 20 years ago, they seemed consigned to the dustbin of history. At Sunday’s parliamentary polls, Russia’s communists drew students, intellectuals, even some businessmen in forging an opposition to Vladimir Putin’s wounded United Russia party.

The Communist Party (CPRF) for most Russians evokes images of bemedalled war veterans and the elderly poor deprived of pensions and left behind in a “New Russia” of glitzy indulgence. Large swathes of society have appeared beyond the reach of the red flag and hammer and sickle.

Until Sunday.

Not that the Communist Party’s doubling of its vote to about 20 percent presages any imminent assault on power. The memories of repression in the old communist Soviet Union, the labor camps and the regimentation are still too fresh for many. But vote for the Party they did, if perhaps with gritted teeth.

“With sadness I remember how I passionately vowed to my grandfather I would never vote for the Communists,” Yulia Serpikova, 27, a freelance location manager in the film industry, told Reuters. “It’s sad that with the ballot in hand I had to tick the box for them to vote against it all.”

For many Russians disillusioned by rampant corruption and a widening gap between rich and poor, the communists represented the only credible opposition to Putin’s United Russia.

Through all the turmoil of the early 1990s when the Soviet Union collapsed, the party kept a strong national organization based on regions and workplace. With access to official media limited for the opposition, this has been a huge advantage.

Also the communists, ironically, benefited from the votes of some pro-Western liberals who saw little or no hope of kindred parties such as economist Grigory Yavlinsky’s Yabloko clearing the seven percent threshold to enter parliament. Yabloko doubled their vote to 3.3 percent.

The vote for the communists, commanding a support base that guaranteed seats, would reliably count against United Russia. Votes cast for Yabloko, failing at the threshold, would be redistributed to the successful parties, most gallingly United Russia.

“Many people (40 percent) didn’t vote, simply saying there’s no-one to vote for and it’s all decided ahead of time,” said veteran commentator Vladimir Pozner said. “That’s a shame because if more had voted, Yabloko might have got in.”

In the end though Yabloko is too closely associated in the minds of many with the economic and social chaos of the 1990s.

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