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MOSCOW, August 22 (Itar-Tass) - Housing and utilities problems and the influx of illegal migrants are the worst sore themes of the ongoing mayoral election campaign in Moscow, whose people will be asked to decide on September 8 which of the contenders is most suitable for the job of running the city for another term.
Russian and Soviet literature classic Mikhail Bulgakov in his world-famous novel called Master and Margaret, dropped this witty remark about Muscovites, “They are ordinary folks, like everybody else. The sole difference is the housing issue has spoiled them.”
The “housing issue” these days is a headache for almost all people of Russia. According to the Public Opinion Fund, 52 percent of all Russians are angry about the quality and price of services in the housing and utilities sector. Sixty three percent believe the price of services is unduly high.
The theme of payments for housing is a focal point in debates among the contenders for Moscow’s mayorship.
Communist Candidate Ivan Melnikov has promised that in case he wins the election, the first thing he will do will be to freeze housing and utility bills. Opposition figurehead Alexey Navalny and the candidate from Russia’s Liberal Democrat Party, Mikhail Degtyaryov, have vowed to order auditing to prove that the prices of utility services are overcharged. The leader of the Yablokov party, Sergei Mitrokhin, has declared that utility prices have been growing ten times faster than inflation. The head of the A Just Russia party, Nikolai Levichev, has advised Muscovites to be independent in selecting the managing company that runs their apartment buildings.
The candidates for Moscow’s mayor are no less resolutely minded in dealing with the problem of illegal migration. Mitrokhin has blamed the onslaught of guest workers from Central Asia on Moscow’s acting mayor, Sergei Sobyanin. “Doesn’t the mayor have full information about where the black markets of labor force are?” The Communist candidate, Melnikov, is going to address the issue by introducing a ban on the issue of “non-transparent employment quotas, the introduction of special visas for those seeking employment in Russia, and also raising the insurance contributions to be paid by those employers who hire foreign workers. The LDPR candidate, Mikhail Degtyaryov, says in his just-published program that he would prohibit all migrants not having foreign travel passports from entering Moscow.
Alexey Navalny says in his program that the crowds of illegal migrants cause crime rates and social tensions to soar. He promises Muscovites to prevent the emergence of criminal enclaves and to open schools for migrants’ workers.
The acting mayor, Sergei Sobyanin, has been trying to deal with this problem by creating temporary shelters to house illegal migrants waiting for deportation.
Each of the candidates has saddled his hobby horse. Communist Ivan Melnikov says care of the retirees and the disabled is a priority. He guarantees a surplus to the retirement pension that would take the overall sum to 18,000 roubles (the current pension in Moscow is about 14,000 roubles, or about 450 dollars).
LDPR candidate Mikhail Degtyaryov follows in the footsteps of the party’s extravagant leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky to complement his program with a promise to grant each employed woman two extra days off during her period.
The leader of A Just Russia, Nikolai Levichev, says he is determined to fight against the monopolization of the housing and utilities sector.
Moscow - a megapolis with a population ranging from 10 million to 15 million residents - is a conglomerate of ecological, transport, criminal and social problems. Each mayoral candidate vows to have all problems eradicated by 2015. It should be remembered, though, that apart from Sergei Sobyanin, a former governor of the Tyumen Region and chief of the staff of the Russian president and of the prime minister, none of the contenders has ever had any experience of running a municipal body of power or an industrial enterprise.
It is noteworthy that all mayoral candidates build their programs on the issues that are most sensitive to the Muscovites - housing and sky-high migration rates. In the meantime, the Russian economy in May-June showed zero growth. Without cheap guest work force the economy will be hardly able to achieve anything, say many experts of authority. The Finance Ministry has suggested cutting social programs in order to save at least one trillion roubles of budget money.
How realistic it is to promise a reduction in housing and utility bills and drive illegal migrants out of the city at a time of stagnation and recession? A deputy director of the Political Technologies Centre, Boris Makarenko, has told Itar-Tass in an interview “Moscow’s acting mayor Sergei Sobyanin gives no promises to lower the prices of utility services. “Sobyanin as the most likely winner is perfectly aware that in making populist statements the authorities must be aware of how far they will be prepared to go in reality. In case you win you will have to act on your pledges. Or explain to the people why you have failed to keep your word.”
As for the other candidates, Makarenko believes they have arranged their election campaign on the basis of the whatever-you-would-care-to-order principle. The oppositional parties, he said, have opted for the same win-win tactic. “They keep telling the Muscovites everything they would like to hear the most - that life will be getting better, cheaper and merrier. But they keep quiet about how they plan to bring this about,” he said.