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Saturday, December 02, 2006

Kasyanov Calls for Election Boycott

Reuters reports that former Prime Minister and future presidential candidate Mikhail Kasyanov has called for a boycott of next year's Duma elections in order to galvanize oposition in the runup to the 2008 presidential ballot:

Russia's opposition should boycott next year's parliamentary election because it is set to be an "imitation of democracy", opposition leader and former prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov told Reuters on Thursday.

Kasyanov -- expected to be the liberal opposition's main challenger in a 2008 presidential election -- said the Kremlin under President Vladimir Putin was preparing to manipulate the parliamentary vote so only parties loyal to it win seats.

The December 2007 election to the lower house of parliament is seen as a dress rehearsal for the presidential race, when Putin is to step down, and a litmus test of whether the Kremlin is prepared to allow a truly democratic vote.

"If the elections were tomorrow, I do not think there is a reason to simply participate in some kind of imitation of democratic processes. That would be my recommendation to political forces right now," Kasyanov said in an interview.

"We still have time before the parliamentary elections but taking into account the environment we have now, ... real, independent political parties should ultimately come to the conclusion that there is no possibility for free and fair elections and for them there is no chance to get in (to parliament)," he said.

Any boycott would be embarrassing for the Kremlin, which is already under fire from rights groups and Western governments which say it is rolling back democratic reforms, an accusation Putin has denied.

The death in London from poisoning of former Russian spy and Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko has put Putin under renewed international scrutiny. Putin has dismissed Litvinenko's death-bed accusation that the Kremlin wanted him dead.

Kasyanov, who was sacked by Putin in 2004 and now heads a political movement called the Popular Democratic Union, does not speak for all of Russia's liberal opposition.

But as their most heavyweight candidate in the presidential elections his view on a boycott is significant. The Yabloko party, which is in the same camp as Kasyanov, has already said it is actively considering a boycott.

Speaking in his suite of offices that occupies the top floor of a skyscraper overlooking southern Moscow, 48-year-old Kasyanov said he still planned to run for president.

He said despite a growing economy, many voters were "fed up" with official corruption, rising prices and curbs on democracy. He said he hoped Kremlin leaders too would realise Russia was heading in the wrong direction.

"They are also people," Kasyanov said in fluent English. "That's why I aim for the scenario when the authorities will understand that the only chance for everyone is free and fair elections."

Putin's opponents say that in the 2007 parliamentary vote, the Kremlin will use its tight grip on the media, bureaucratic muscle and new election rules to thwart genuine opposition parties.

Critics say the only parties that will win seats in 2007 are either openly loyal to the Kremlin or are masquerading as opposition groups but in fact take their orders from the Kremlin.

Russia's liberal opposition favours closer ties with the West and market reforms. Their leaders are feted in the West but they are marginalised at home, where Putin's brand of tough, patriotic politics is hugely popular.

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