Russia’s chief election official has defended his decision to bar liberal opposition leader Grigory Yavlinsky from taking part in the country’s upcoming presidential election, saying the number of violations in his application to run for the post was “shocking.” “We didn’t expect to face such a great number of irregularities in the signatures collected in support of Grigory Yavlinsky,” Vladimir Churov, head of Russia’s Central Election Commission, said in an interview with the news magazine Itogi published on Monday. “It came as a genuine shock to us.”
Yavlinsky, leader of the liberal Yabloko party and two-time presidential candidate, was disqualified last week after officials judged that 25.6 percent of the 2 million signatures submitted as part of his application were invalid or fake. He denied the accusations, saying the ban was a “purely political decision” aimed at preventing Yabloko from deploying its election monitors at the March 4 vote which is widely predicted to land Prime Minister Vladimir Putin with his old job in the Kremlin.
Sergei Mitrokhin, Yabloko’s chairman, said Yavlinsky’s ban was a “prologue to chaos on March 4.” Opposition activists maintain Putin could not avoid a second round without widespread fraud. Claims of ballot-stuffing in favor of Putin’s United Russia party at the December 4 parliamentary election triggered the biggest anti-government protests seen in Russia since Soviet times.