Israeli Russians Prefer Liberals in Homeland Election

Some 9,295 Russian Israelis - and 45 Russian citizens in the Palestinian Authority - nearly 10 percent of the 95,000 eligible voters here cast absentee ballots in the recent Russian elections, with 41 percent of them voting for the liberal United of Right Forces (URF) and only 15.5 percent voting for Russian President Vladimir Putin's United Russia Party.

The low turnout this year was nonetheless twice last year's vote, ironically largely because Putin campaigned so intensively among Russian expatriates worldwide, but especially in Israel.

The URF and Yabloko, the other liberal party, which won about a quarter of the Israeli-Russian vote, failed to cross the 5 percent threshold to win a large bloc of seats in the Duma, getting only three seats apiece. Three percent voted for the Communists.

The Russian party affiliated with Israel's own right-wing National Union bloc, which was founded by Russian immigrant Avigdor Lieberman, won only 2.6 percent of the Israeli Russians and Vladimir Zhirinovsky's nationalists won 1.6 percent.

The Israeli voters' support for the Russian liberals was not surprising. Meretz MK Roman Bronfman, the most liberal of the Israeli-Russians elected to the Knesset in Israel, said that "it was important for the the liberal progressive forces in Russia to learn the lesson of how dangerous it is when there is a split between parties with identical values and similar ideas. Now it will be up to the constructivists and President Putin to preserve the constitutional rights of Russian citizens."

In Russia, Putin's United Russia won 37 percent, the Communist Party received only 12.7 percent of the vote, nearly half its showing in 1999, when it won the largest bloc of seats.

The Communist Party still managed to eke out a victory over the Liberal Democratic Party, led by Zhirinovsky, which received 11.6 percent of the vote. Rodina, a new party created only months before the election, received 9 percent.