Vladimir Putin vs. the Pig in Russia's election Sunday
Vladimir Putin's United Russia party is confronted with a cartoon pig named Nakh-Nakh in Sunday's parliamentary election. A series of animated clips posted on the Internet challenge the status quo leadership.
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One of Nakh-Nakh's founders is Boris Nemtsov, a former deputy prime minister and now co-leader of the People's Freedom Party, which is not on the ballot because it was refused registration by the Justice Ministry earlier this year.Skip to next paragraph
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"Not a single party that opposes Putin has been registered in the past decade," Nemtsov said.
The result is a Duma dominated by United Russia and filled out since 2007 by the Communists, the nationalist LDPR and Just Russia -- all dismissed by critics as an artificial opposition the Kremlin uses to let off steam.
"Only a very naive person could consider these to be opposition parties," said Shenderovich. "They have been part of the system for 20 years."
Sunday's vote, which sets the stage for a March presidential election in which Putin plans to return to the Kremlin, is unlikely to change that system radically.
Pollsters predict United Russia, which now holds 315 of the 450 Duma seats, will emerge with a smaller majority, but the same parties in the outgoing Duma are expected to win representation, with no newcomer joining their ranks.
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Many Russians are unhappy with the choice at hand and millions believe the vote will be manipulated in United Russia's favor, but some of the Kremlin's harshest critics disagree on how voters can make their opinions count.
Bloggers have traded opinions on the issue, and Nemtsov has defended Nakh-Nakh's strategy in a debate this autumn with other government opponents who advocate different approaches.
Alexei Navalny, a anti-corruption blogger whose description of United Russia as the "party of swindlers and thieves," has gained prominence on and off the Internet, argued that the best way to undermine the party is to vote for one of its opponents.
Chess legend Garry Kasparov, a fierce Kremlin critic and an ally of Nemtsov, called for "a full boycott of the farcical election procedures."
Activists have tried to spread their message by handing out black-on-white ribbons bearing the phrase Nakh-Nakh and one of several slogans, which can be used as armbands or tied to handbags and car-door handles.
Nemtsov, who has repeatedly been arrested and jailed for street protests in recent years, said police had detained dozens of activists distributing the ribbons and other material in cities across Russia ahead of the vote.
At a protest outside the Central Election Commission headquarters in Moscow this autumn, camouflage-clad riot police seized about a dozen opposition activists -- some wearing the black-on-white armbands -- and muscled them into a waiting bus.
Nemtsov and other leaders of the unregistered People's Freedom Party plan to cast their X-marked ballots together in Moscow on Sunday, and he said he hopes more than 1 million Russians will do the same.
Semyon Zon-Zam, a chamber orchestra director in Moscow, wore an armband at the protest outside the Central Election Commission, said he would be one of them.
"The political system is dragging my country into the abyss," said Zon-Zam, 73. "To vote for any party on the ballot would be to support the a Kremlin project."
But in Tula, a city south of Moscow, a 20-year-old student who gave only her first name, Marina, said she would vote for the liberal Yabloko party in the hope it could win Duma seats.
"Somebody needs to counteract United Russia," she said.