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AFP, December 21, 2003

Russia's liberals threaten boycott of 2004 presidential vote

Leaders of one of the two wings of Russia's democratic opposition said in a statement obtained by AFP they would boycott next year's presidential elections.

The heads of the Union of Right Forces (SPS) said state-controlled media that dominates the nation was too obedient to Russian President Vladimir Putin and that the liberal opposition stood no chance in elections scheduled for March 14.

And so, they said, there was no reason to run.

Pro-Putin factions swept to power in a December 7 vote to the State Duma lower house of parliament. The Kremlin now holds a majority in the chamber that could allow it to alter the Russian constitution.

The second main liberal opposition front in Russia -- the Yabloko party run by Grigory Yavlinsky -- opened a two-day meeting Saturday to decide whether it would stand.

An announcement from Yabloko was expected Sunday.

The overwhelmingly popular Putin used a national television address to announce Thursday that he would run again.

The opposition letter obtained by AFP led off with the name of SPS leader Boris Nemtsov and included the support of the widow of Nobel peace prize winner Andrei Sakharov, Yelena Bonner.

The statement accused the Kremlin of "manipulating public opinion, censorship, (and) the absence of an independent media" in the Duma vote.

"Under these circumstances, the presidential elections will inevitably end up being a farce in which reasonable and decent people should not participate.

"For this reason we have only one choice: not to take part in these elections -- either to boycott, or to vote against all."

The statement said this would become a vote against the "return of totalitarianism in Russia."

The dramatic letter also hinted at worries that Yabloko would still nominate its candidate Yavlinsky -- and said firmly that he would not be supported by their group.

"We will view any candidate claiming to represent the democratic movement as a person who is taking part in a Kremlin bid to steal the elections," the statement read.

Both SPS and Yabloko lost most of their Duma seats and there are less than a dozen of their representatives in the 450-seat chamber.

They had argued for years over joining forces -- both being the emblems of the post-Soviet struggle to introduce Western economic reforms and introduce new values on human rights -- but have failed.

Most attribute this to personality clashes between the two parties.

Yet Russia's democratic opposition force, according to analysts, is being gripped by uncertainty, and some of their members are willing to work with the Kremlin, perhaps even being willing to be recruited into its ranks.

Putin said in his address that he wanted to recruit more democratic opposition forces into his administration.

And this indecision appeared evident Saturday. Hours after the liberal's statement composed at a meeting of opposition leaders Friday reached AFP, one of the top SPS leaders appeared to waver.

"Most speakers (at Friday's meeting) advocate a boycott of the presidential election," Interfax quoted Boris Nadezhdin as saying.

But he added: "The Union of Right Forces has not made an official decision on whether to participate in the elections."


See also:

Presidential elections 2004

AFP, December 21, 2003

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