Russia said on Wednesday it had refused to register a liberal opposition bloc as a political party, barring the Kremlin’s most vociferous opponents from taking part in a December parliamentary election.
The decision, announced in a terse statement by the Justice Ministry, is likely to underscore Western concerns about the legitimacy of the parliamentary poll and the March 2012 presidential election.
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev have both refused to say who will run for president, but Putin has sought to garner support for his ruling party by creating a broad political movement ahead of the parliamentary election.
Liberal opposition leaders formed the Party of People’s Freedom last December in the hope of uniting the splintered and marginal opposition to whittle away at the Kremlin’s dominance of the elections.
“The upcoming elections cannot be regarded as free,” Mikhail Kasyanov, one of the leaders of the bloc, said after the ruling, which cited legal technicalities. Another official of the group said it would not appeal against the decision.
Kasyanov, prime minister from 2000 to 2004 in Putin’s first term as president, said the decision showed Russia’s 58-year-old paramount leader was worried about the ballot.
“I regret that Putin has made a decision not to allow our party to take part in the elections. He is clearly scared by the risks,” said Kasyanov, 53.
Two decades after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, rights groups and Kremlin opponents say the authorities often use technicalities to bar some opponents from elections and distort the voting results in favour of the ruling party.
Electoral officials dismiss such claims.