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Gorbachev raps Russia's "mockery" of democracy
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia's disputed regional elections have made a mockery of the country's democratic credentials, former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev said in an interview published on Monday.
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's ruling United Russia party won a landslide victory in the October 11 regional elections, but opposition parties have alleged the votes were rigged and briefly marched out of parliament last week in protest.
"In everyone's eyes, the elections turned into a mockery of the people and showed a deep disrespect for their voices," Gorbachev was quoted as saying in the opposition Novaya Gazeta newspaper, which he part-owns.
"The party of power gained the result it needed by discrediting political institutions and the very party itself," Gorbachev was quoted as saying.
Gorbachev, who is reviled by many Russians for presiding over the collapse of the Soviet Union, has previously said the United Russia party is more servile than the Soviet Communist Party which he used to lead.
Independent observers criticized the regional elections -- in which about a third of Russia's voters were eligible to take part -- as rigged, and said the entire campaigning process prevented a free and fair vote.
United Russia, led by former Kremlin chief Putin, calls itself "the party of power" and has control over most regions. President Dmitry Medvedev has hailed its victory as evidence that the party has the legal and moral right to run the country.
But a protest last week by normally compliant lawmakers from the three main opposition parties in parliament illustrated the perilous state of Russia's democracy, Gorbachev said.
"If even such disciplined, cautious people, who are so close to power, decided to issue a demarche, that means confidence in the political institution of elections is completely lost," Gorbachev was quoted as saying.
None of Russia's small pro-western parties are represented in the federal parliament, or Duma, where United Russia has 315 out of 450 seats, enough to push through changes to the constitution.
"We cannot expect anything from this senseless Duma," Gorbachev said. "The electoral system is completely disfigured. It needs an alternative."
Gorbachev, who served as General Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party from 1985 until 1991, sought to reform the Soviet Union by giving greater freedoms to citizens and allowing public criticism of the Communist party. But he was unable to keep control of the changes he unleashed, and the former superpower broke up into 15 independent states.
(Reporting by Conor Sweeney; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)
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