2nd Aspirant To Russia's Presidency Quits Race

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By Peter Finn
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, December 27, 2007

MOSCOW, Dec. 26 -- For the second time this month, a leading Russian opposition figure has withdrawn from March's presidential election complaining of a political landscape that has made open competition impossible.

"It's clear that the presidential election, like the parliamentary elections, will be a farce, since candidates do not have equal opportunities to campaign," Boris Nemtsov, a deputy prime minister in the 1990s and a leader of the Union of Right Forces party, said in a statement Wednesday. "Goebbels-like propaganda, force and bureaucratic pressures are being used against the opposition."

Joseph Goebbels was Adolf Hitler's propaganda chief.

Nemtsov's withdrawal follows the decision of Garry Kasparov, the chess grandmaster and critic of President Vladimir Putin, not to seek registration as a candidate. Kasparov said the authorities had blocked his attempts to hold a nominating convention this month.

Neither Kasparov nor Nemtsov presented any real threat to the Kremlin's anointed candidate, First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, according to opinion polls. Medvedev is backed by Putin and the pro-Kremlin United Russia party, and he enters the race as the overwhelming favorite.

Medvedev has said he would like Putin to remain on as prime minister, a prospect that burnishes the untested candidate's standing with the electorate and ensures that the current president will continue to wield considerable influence in Russia after he leaves the Kremlin.

Nemtsov called on the remaining two candidates who are independent of the Kremlin to also withdraw unless they receive pledges that they will have equal access to the news media and that state resources will not be used to damage their campaigns.

"I think that if authorities refuse to fulfill these absolutely justified demands, this will be serious grounds not to take part in the elections," Nemtsov said, directing his plea to Gennady Zyuganov, head of the Communist Party, and Mikhail Kasyanov, a former prime minister under Putin who later broke with the Kremlin.

Nemtsov said the Kremlin should agree to meet four conditions: Medvedev must take part in televised debates; all candidates must have equal access to state-controlled TV channels; national TV channels must stop blacklisting certain members of the opposition; and the use of state resources to promote Medvedev and marginalize his opponents should be barred.

"Your participation in the elections add to their legitimacy," Nemtsov said, addressing Zyuganov and Kasyanov. "I call on you to give up taking part in the election campaign."

Kasyanov responded that he was not considering dropping out; Zyuganov told reporters he didn't rule out quitting. "I have been nominated by my party, but if the government keeps using dirty tricks, my party will question my further participation," he said.

"There is even greater administrative pressure in the course of the current election campaign than was the case during the parliamentary elections," he said. That vote took place Dec. 2.

Zyuganov said he had spoken to Nemtsov by telephone Wednesday. The Communist leader said that Nemtsov had suggested demanding specific governmental measures to guarantee honest elections and that this was an "interesting" suggestion.

To get on the ballot, Kasyanov still faces the formidable task of gathering 2 million signatures by Jan. 16. Zyuganov, because he is backed by a party with seats in parliament, doesn't have to meet that requirement.

Also running are Vladimir Zhirinovsky, an ultranationalist, and Andrei Bogdanov, head of the Democratic Party, a tiny group that ostensibly advocates such steps as Russia joining the European Union. Their candidacies are backed by the Kremlin, which political analysts say sees them siphoning votes from Medvedev's opponents.

Russian officials also said Wednesday that they will not issue invitations to international election observers until the end of January and that approximately the same number of observers will be invited as took part in the parliamentary elections this month.

The region's principal election monitoring group, the observation arm of the 56-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, refused to observe the parliamentary elections, citing visa delays and obstruction by the Russian authorities.


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