MOSCOW – Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev harshly criticized recent regional elections in Russia, describing them as a mockery of democracy in an interview published Monday.
Gorbachev said the Oct. 11 vote had discredited Russia's political system, according to Novaya Gazeta newspaper.
"The elections have turned into a mockery of the people and showed utter disrespect for their votes," Gorbachev was quoted as saying. "The result which the ruling party needed was achieved through the discrediting of political institutions and the party itself."
The United Russia party, led by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, swept the Oct. 11 ballot by winning more than 7,000 local elections in 75 of Russia's 83 regions. United Russia is a power base for Putin, who has not ruled out a return to the presidency in 2012.
Independent election observers and opposition parties, including the Communists, insisted there were mass electoral violations during the voting. They cited evidence of multiple voting and ballot stuffing, while opposition candidates claimed they were hindered from campaigning and some were denied places on the ballot.
The election results prompted all parliament factions except United Russia to briefly walk out in protest last week. It was the first such protest in the Kremlin-controlled parliament in nearly a decade.
"If people, who are so well-disciplined, cautious and close to the government, risked to take such a step, that means that confidence in elections as a political institution has been lost completely," said Gorbachev, who resigned as the Soviet Union's last president when the Cold War superpower disintegrated in 1991.
Gorbachev has criticized United Russia in the past, saying that it's less democratic that even the Soviet Communist Party he once led. But like in the past, he avoided personal criticism of Putin in Monday's interview.