REGIONS:

Rural residents under "information blockade" during elections

(GDF/IFEX) - The Media Law and Law on Political Parties are being flagrantly violated in the Omsk Region, the regional Communist (CP) and Liberal-Democratic Party (LDP) leaders told journalists at a joint news conference after they reached an agreement on a "coordinated action to monitor the voting and vote-counting processes" during the upcoming election campaign.

LDP leader Ian Zelinsky said he had already withdrawn from the agreement signed by the Regional Electoral Committee with all the political parties on 4 October, since the ruling United Russia party (URP), which acts as the agreement's coordinator, has violated all of its main points, most notably the one on equal campaigning opportunities for the URP and the opposition.

"All the opposition forces are under an information blockade today," CP leader Alexander Kravets stated, explaining that not a single party except United Russia has had access to the main state-run television channels, with opposition candidates at best admitted to TeleOmsk-ACME, a channel broadcasting only to the city of Omsk and a few suburban areas.

This results in most of the rural residents - who make up half of the region's population of two million - finding themselves excluded from the campaign process and actually deprived of their electoral rights, Kravets said.

Except for those few who can afford to install satellite dishes, villagers only have access to Channel One and Channel 12 (otherwise known as the governor's channel), while the local press replicates the viewpoints presented on TV.

This partially accounts for a situation where the URP's election results in rural areas are generally better than in the city - 40% and 30% of votes collected, respectively.

Strange as it may seem, this situation seems to fully satisfy the regional head, a member of United Russia's Supreme Political Council, who has been waging an information war with the city mayor for more than a year now. In the event of a URP failure in the regional centre, the blame can simply be pinned on the mayor, who may even be relieved of his duties, as Governor Leonid Polezhayev already did with the previous mayor, Valery Roshchupkin (whom he himself had nominated for the post just like the incumbent mayor, Viktor Schreider), eleven years ago when the Communists won the presidential election in Omsk.

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