MOSCOW (AP) — The leader of Russia's leading liberal party said Monday that election officials' refusal to clear his candidacy for March's presidential election reflects the government's fear of genuine competition.
Grigory Yavlinsky, the leader of Yabloko party, said authorities want to prevent him from challenging Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's bid to extend his 12-year rule by reclaiming the presidency. He said other contenders are only nominal rivals who are following the Kremlin's guidance.
"They aren't letting me to join the race, because they don't want to allow an alternative — political, economic and moral," Yavlinsky said at a news conference.
The Central Election Commission said Monday that more than 20 percent of signatures collected in support of Yavlinsky's candidacy were found to be invalid. It said it would make the final decision on Yavlinsky's candidacy after checking another sample of more than 2 million signatures required by law for a candidate to qualify for the race.
Putin's presidential bid has been challenged by massive protests against vote-rigging in favor of his party in December's parliamentary election that drew tens of thousands in the largest show of public anger since the Soviet collapse two decades ago.
Yavlinsky's party, which failed to clear a 7-percent threshold required to win seats in parliament, fielded thousands of observers, who documented evidence of official fraud in favor of Putin's United Russia in December's vote.
Under the law, observers at the polls can only be named by participants in the race. Yavlinsky charged that a decision to bar him from running also was rooted in the authorities reluctance to allow strong monitoring of the presidential vote.
The election commission already has registered Putin and three other contenders: Communist Party chief Gennady Zyuganov, ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky and socialist Just Russia leader Sergei Mironov. Since their parties are represented in the parliament, their registration is easier than for other potential candidates.
Election officials also signaled Monday they would register billionaire tycoon Mikhail Prokhorov, saying that a preliminary check of lists of signatures in his support had shown they correspond to legal norms.
Yavlinsky said that all these candidates represent "different faces of the government" and warned that the refusal to allow him to join the race would undermine the vote's legitimacy and could foment unrest in the future.
"The refusal to allow an alternative, a choice would erode trust in the vote and deal a blow to its legitimacy," he said. "The less trust and legitimacy are there, the more unpredictable and violent the situation in the country will be."