Friday, 14 September 2012

Russian politics- A nasty business

It's the end of the road for opposition Russian Duma deputy Gennady Gudkov. On Friday the Duma, Russia's lower house of parliament, voted to strip Gudkov of his parliamentary seat. He has been accused of engaging in business activities while a deputy, which is against the law. In a vote held behind closed doors 291 deputies voted for his removal, 150 against. Gudkov rejects the accusations completely, saying this is politically motivated revenge for his opposition activities.

His United Russia opponents, who make up the majority of the Duma, used  a 'special procedure' to hurry through the attack on him. They invited prosecutors into the Duma to deliver reports against him. They say he bought stakes or was involved with three different businesses whilst a deputy which is banned. After that questions were asked. Gudkov himself was allowed just ten minutes to defend himself before the vote was held. He delivered an impassioned rebuttal to his accusers. "My mandate was given to me by the people. Only a court can remove it and you all know that." He was defiant, declaring the accusations against him are nonsense and making it clear there would be no confessions and no apologies. He said he won't weep about losing his post and will be present at an opposition protest on Saturday. Being stripped of his post also removes Gudkov's immunity from prosecution. None is more aware of this than him, and he says he expects a criminal case to follow. "I don't rule out a prison sentence," he said, "I just hope the authorities come to their senses before then."

Only a majority of 226 votes were needed for him to have to go and United Russia have 238 seats. Gudkov is a member of the 'A Just Russia' party and has been active in opposition rallies against allegations of mass vote rigging in the December 2011 parliamentary elections and March 2012 Presidential elections. His party leader Sergey Mironov said United Russia's rushing forward of the process when they are still waiting for the constitutional court's word on the matter is, "a disgrace for the entire State Duma."

However Mironov himself now faces a possible investigation for illegal business practices whilst being a deputy. To Gennady Gudkov, ex-KGB Kremlin loyalist turned opposition figure, this is all just a politically motivated attempt to silence him. He says Russia's Investigative Committee have no evidence he engaged in business activity. At one company he was allegedly involved with, Kolomensky Stroitel, he says he had pre-signed some blank documents in case decisions were needed when the boss wasn't available. When that situation arose, he says, the decision that was made was to appoint him and his wife general directors. He had no knowledge of it and was not related to the document used as evidence against him. He says he gave over the responsibilities to his wife in 2009.

This way of removing deputies from office could have opened a very nasty can of worms. Many deputies from United Russia are also accused of business dealings whilst being Duma deputies, some of them by Gennady Gudkov's son Dmitry, also a Duma deputy for A Just Russia. Political targeting of this kind has been called for and threatened more and more recently. It could become the weapon of choice for those wanting to silence their political opponents. Weapons like this mixing with politics in present day Russia? It sounds like there could be a lot of blood on the Duma carpet.

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