Russian Opposition Blocked From Standing in Local Elections

Russian opposition barred from elections
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny attends a news conference on opposition joint efforts at local elections in 2015, in Moscow April 22, 2015. Maxim Shemetov/Reuters

Russia's joint Democratic Coalition, led by renowned anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny and the supporters of the late opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, has been refused the right to run for election across all the regions where they opted to campaign on the grounds of irregularities in their applications, Russian national daily Kommersant reports.

Local council elections in Russia will be held in September and the Democratic Coalition, which is made up of several of the biggest opposition movements to Russian president Vladimir Putin's regime, was due to contest four constituencies.

Activists from Nemtsov's Parnas party, as well as Navalny's Party of Progress, had to collect signatures from locals in the Magadan, Kostroma, Novosibirsk and Kaluga regions and present them to the electoral commission in order to be included on the voting register in the constituencies. This is uniform practice in Russia, with the number of signatures required varying from region to region.

Each region had its own deadline for submitting signatures, starting with Novosibirsk last month, but a number of the opposition's signatures were deemed invalid, and the electoral commission denied them registration. Navalny, who campaigned in Novosibirsk, expressed his doubts that the electoral commission, headed by Sergey Neverov who is a member of Putin's United Russia party, had treated the opposition fairly.

Opposition activists denied that the signatures were not eligible, and Navalny accused Neverov of stifling the opposition deliberately, while opposition candidate Vladimir Volkov launched a hunger strike against the commission's decision, which lasted for 12 days.

The commission explained that the decision to throw out the signatures was because the passport numbers of some of the signatories did not correspond to the ones on their records. Volkov wrote on his blog that he had told the commission these discrepancies were due to local records not being up to date, and older residents being still listed with their Soviet-era passports.

A similar scenario has now repeated itself in two of the remaining three constituencies where the Democratic Coalition intended to field candidatesin Magadan and, last weekend, in Kostroma. In Kaluga the opposition ended its campaign prematurely, accusing pro-Kremlin activists of deliberately signing their petitions with false details.

Kostroma was the final constituency where the Democratic Coalition was still in the running to be registered for the elections, but last week Ilya Yashin, a close ally of Nemtsov's, tweeted that the commission had thrown out more than 300 signatures collected by the coalition, leaving them 78 signatures short of the requirement.

On Saturday the coalition appealed the decision with a legal expert at their side, asking for the commission to review their signatures again. Video footage of the appeal uploaded on Sunday shows Yashin urge the commission to "remember the mission [they] have been chosen to fulfil" and act according to "common sense and the rule of law."

Shortly after the panel votes unanimously to throw out the coalition's signatures, thus stopping them from standing for election. The opposition's lawyer is not answered when he asks whether or not the panel reviewed any of the concerns raised by his clients concerning the decision behind not registering the party.