Opposition leaders and Russian observers say they are seeing widespread violations in elections that are expected to return Vladimir Putin to the Kremlin. Putin, who was president in 2000-2008, is expected to easily win the Sunday election against four challengers. But if credible evidence of vote manipulation emerges, it would bolster the determination of opposition forces to continue the unprecedented wave of protests that arose in December. Lilia Shibanova of the independent elections watchdog agency Golos said her organization is receiving reports of so-called “carousel voting,” in which busloads of voters are driven around to cast ballots multiple times. Mikhail Kasyanov, who was Putin’s first prime minister and later went into opposition, said “These elections are not free … we will not recognize the president as legitimate.”
Russia denied registration of a key opposition political party Wednesday, effectively barring it from upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections that the Kremlin had hinted might be open to some competition.
The refusal signals the government plans to tightly manage the elections, critics said, despite avowals from President Dmitry Medvedev that he would like to see some opening up of Russia’s political life.
“This is an announcement that there will be no elections, because there will be no opposition parties,” said Boris Nemtsov, one of the leaders of the People’s Freedom Party, which was cobbled together by four prominent Kremlin critics in December. “The decision comes from the very top.”
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.