| Russia's main liberal party said Sunday it would boycott
presidential elections, joining the protest of the other wing of the
democratic opposition crushed in recent legislative polls.
Two-time Russian presidential candidate, Yabloko leader Grigory
Yavlinsky, announced after a two-day party congress that his party
had decided in a vote not to field a candidate for the March 14 elections.
"The current political situation in Russia is such that free, fair
genuinely competitive elections are not possible. In these conditions,
party considers it impossible to put forward its candidate," said
The Yabloko no-show followed the example of another major liberal party,
the Union of Right Forces (SPS), whose leaders announced on Saturday that
it would not take part in the poll.
SPS leaders said that the dominant state-controlled media was too
deferential to Russian President Vladimir Putin and that the liberal
opposition stood no chance in the upcoming elections.
Yavlinsky echoed this complaint, saying: "There is no point in
participating in the elections when you cannot put across your point of
view or address the electorate."
The walkout by liberal forces is likely to be embarassing for Putin,
affecting the international legitimacy of the poll, but analysts say the
two small parties themselves will suffer the most from their political
Pro-Putin factions swept to power in a December 7 vote to the State
lower house of parliament. The Kremlin now holds a majority in the chamber
that could allow it to alter the Russian constitution.
Both SPS and Yabloko lost most of their Duma seats and have only a handful
of representatives in the 450-seat chamber, down from nearly 50 in the
They have argued for years over joining forces -- as both are emblems
the post-Soviet struggle to introduce Western economic reforms and modern
values on human rights -- but have failed.
The overwhelmingly popular Putin used a national television address
announce Thursday that he would run again.
SPS party members have not yet officially endorsed the decision to boycott
But SPS leader Boris Nemtsov, who signed a statement Saturday urging
non-participation in the election, commented on Yabloko's decision by
saying that it was regrettable the two parties had not managed to field
Yavlinsky expressed the hope that the democratic forces could unite,
pointedly did not mention SPS by name.
"Yabloko has set the aim of forming a major party in the next four
which will act as the democratic opposition. We will cooperate with all
other democratic forces," he said.
The main opposition Communist party, which was heavily defeated by
supporters of Putin in the parliamentary elections, backtracked last week
on a threat to boycott the March presidential poll.
"I don't know what motivated Yavlinsky's decision, but I believe
to take part in the elections," top Communist party member Alexander
Kuvayev told Echo Moscow radio.
A nationalist politician whose party stormed to a surprising success
parliamentary poll, gaining more than nine percent of the votes, branded
the liberals' protest as a "self-withdrawal" from the political
"This will mark the end of their political career," Dmitry
co-leader of Rodina (Motherland), told the Interfax news agency.
Recent opinion polls gave Putin an approval rating of up to 80 percent,
suggesting that he would sweep to victory. His nearest potential rivals,
including Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov, draw a maximum rating of
around five percent.
State Duma elections 2003