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St Peterburg Times, December 23, 2003

Yabloko Won't Stand In Presidential Poll

By Valeria Korchagina

MOSCOW - Yabloko said Sunday that it will not field a presidential candidate but stopped short of calling for its electorate to boycott the March election altogether.

"The political situation in the country is such that just and equal presidential elections are impossible," Yabloko deputy head Sergei Mitrokhin said Sunday at the end of a two-day congress in the Moscow region, Interfax reported.

Yabloko leader and two-time presidential candidate Grigory Yavlinsky reiterated complaints Sunday by his party, the Union of Right Forces, or SPS, and the Communists that the results of the Dec. 7 State Duma elections had been rigged.

Yabloko and SPS both failed to clear the 5 percent threshold to win seats in the next Duma.

"Our biggest mistake was we should have understood earlier that to win 5 percent in Russia, 20 percent of the vote must be gathered de facto," Yavlinsky was quoted by Interfax as saying.

Yabloko and SPS tried unsuccessfully last week to come up with a single presidential candidate to run against President Vladimir Putin. None of the potential candidates tapped by SPS would agree to enter the race, and Yabloko only half-heartedly supported the initiative - causing some observers to suggest that Yavlinsky had made his mind up to run as the single candidate representing the liberal electorate.

Also, speculation swirled in the local media last week that Putin was pressing Yavlinsky to run for president in an attempt to give the election the aura of democracy. Yabloko and the Kremlin have denied the rumors.

Yabloko's decision not to field a presidential candidate could be interpreted as a call for supporters to boycott the election on March 14. But the congress Sunday did not publicly make such a call - despite talks last week by Yabloko, the Union of Right Forces, or SPS, and the Communists about the possibility of teaming up for a boycott.

Yavlinsky expressed hope Sunday that the liberals will be able to create a unified democratic opposition.

"Yabloko aims to create a big, serious party that will truly unite the democratic opposition over the next four years," he said at the congress.

SPS leader Boris Nemtsov said Sunday that despite failure to agree on a single presidential candidate, recent talks between SPS and Yabloko ended up being "much more meaningful" than all of the talks they have had in the past, Interfax reported.

The Yabloko congress voted Sunday to join forces with a democratic coalition with SPS and other liberal voices. Six prominent Yabloko members - Mitrokhin, Vladimir Lukin, Alexei Arbatov, Igor Artemyev, Boris Misnik and Viktor Sheinis - will represent Yabloko on the leadership council of the coalition when it is formed.

In a separate development, another liberal-minded group, the Assembly of the Democratic Community, met Friday and called on the public to boycott the presidential election or vote against all candidates.

The organization appears to unite some of the early 1990s democrats who have drifted into the shadows of big politics in recent years, including human rights activists like Konstantin Borovoi, Lev Ponomaryov and Valeria Novodvorskaya.

"Today, honest elections and honest vote counts are not possible in Russia," the organization said in a statement carried by Interfax. "Therefore, the only way is to not participate in the upcoming election - which is not going to offer any alternatives - by boycotting it or voting 'against all.'"

But while many liberals were struggling to find a new place in Russian politics, some appeared ready to cooperate with the pro-Kremlin Duma winners.

Pavel Krasheninnikov, one of only three SPS members who made it into the next Duma by winning single-mandate districts, joined United Russia last week. Krasheninnikov, a former justice minister, will be able to keep his SPS membership.


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Presidential elections 2004

St Peterburg Times, December 23, 2003

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