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Kremlin Open to Election Law Ideas

Medvedev greeting Communist Deputy Ivan Melnikov and Zyuganov, left, as Surkov watches at a meeting Saturday. Alexander Natruskin

President Dmitry Medvedev told leaders of three State Duma factions Saturday that he was open to ideas on how to change election laws that they say favor United Russia.

The Liberal Democratic, Just Russia and the Communist parties walked out of the Duma on Oct. 14 in a rare act of protest over disputed regional elections, which independent observers say were rigged.

United Russia, chaired by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, swept more than 7,000 local elections in 75 of Russia’s 83 regions on Oct. 11.

“I am ready to listen to these ideas. … Today we have a party-list voting system, we can talk about it. I am open to dialogue,” Medvedev said.

Medvedev said the election was “overall well-organized.” In broadcast comments, he seemed to dismiss allegations of vote rigging, while noting that there are legal mechanisms for challenging election results.

Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky later said Medvedev had told the lawmakers privately that the Oct. 11 election results would not be changed. But Zhirinovsky said opposition leaders agreed not to provoke a political crisis.

Zhirinovsky led the Oct. 14 walkout.

Political scientists say the opposition parties, which do not pose a serious threat to the Kremlin, fear that they may lose their State Duma representation in the next election in 2011 if they do not take action now.

“We believe it is necessary to make serious changes to the election law,” Just Russia leader Sergei Mironov said after Saturday’s meeting.

The Kremlin abolished direct elections of governors in 2004 as part of power centralization under then-President Putin, and switched to a system where it picks candidates and puts them forward for a vote in the local parliament.

“Governors, especially before their reappointment, do everything they can to ensure a maximum positive result for United Russia,” said Mironov, who is also the Federation Council speaker.

The Kremlin also set a 7 percent barrier for political parties contesting any election, a move that effectively barred smaller liberal pro-Western parties.

Medvedev said last year that he was prepared to alter electoral law to allow some representation for parties that did not make it through the 7 percent barrier.

In an interview published last week, former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev denounced the election as a mockery of democracy and said the vote had discredited Russia’s political system.

On Thursday, about 1,500 supporters of the Communists and other parties staged a protest in Moscow against alleged vote rigging.

Medvedev on Saturday grimly joked that he had worn black to his meeting with opposition leaders because he feared his guests expected “a burial of democracy.”

“I agreed to meet with you and discuss the outcomes of the elections to local legislatures and local self-government bodies so that this all should not turn into a burial of democracy and the electoral system here,” Medvedev told opposition leaders in his televised comments.

“Overall, the election was organized well enough,” he said. “There are different assessments [of the outcome] among parliamentary parties, but that’s easily understood, because, as a rule, those who win treat the results as positive” while the losers have a different opinion.

Kremlin first deputy chief of staff Vladislav Surkov, the architect of Russia’s political and electoral system, which he refers to as “sovereign democracy,” took part in Medvedev’s meeting.

Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov said after the meeting that he had urged Medvedev to push for strengthening Russian democracy in the president’s upcoming state-of-the-nation address.

“It’s a key point, which would cool off the heads of those who have been stealing votes and who have been recording fake votes and breaking the law on elections,” Zyuganov told reporters.

(AP, Reuters)

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