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Russia's Liberal Parties Will Not Participate in Presidential Elections - 2003-12-21


Russia's two liberal parties have decided not to run candidates in the March presidential election. Both groups say that under President Vladimir Putin, Russian opposition groups have no chance of succeeding.

The two parties announced their decisions at weekend meetings called to assess the landslide victory for parties loyal to President Putin two weeks ago in the parliamentary election.

Both parties, Yabloko and the Union of Right Forces, were crushed in that vote. They failed to get the five percent required to get party seats in the next parliament, or Duma.

Party officials acknowledge this outcome was partly due to the failure of the two groups to unite before the election. But they insist the main reason is the Kremlin's near-total domination of Russian politics.

With all television networks under state control, parties loyal to the Kremlin enjoyed favorable media coverage while opposition candidates and supporters were harassed by militia and even disqualified due to technicalities.

For all of these reasons, leaders of both parties say they see no reason to field candidates in the March 14 vote, which President Putin is expected to win with no difficulty.

Since election boycotts are illegal under Russian law, the two parties have only said they won't run candidates in the March poll.

The Communists also suffered a drastic loss of support in the Duma election, partly due to the success of a new, nationalist bloc called Motherland which analysts say was created by the Kremlin in order to weaken the Communists.

Last week Communist party leader Gennady Zyuganov said he was considering not running for president as a way of protesting the current political climate in Russia.

Mr. Zyuganov was the main opposition candidate in the past two presidential elections, in 1996 and 2000. If he decides to sit out the upcoming vote, President Putin will face no real opposition in March.

Last week he said it would be "stupid and harmful" if opposition candidates refuse to run. He said it could have a negative impact on Russia's economy.

The two liberal parties have long been seen in a favorable light by Western countries. Some of them, including the United States, criticized the conditions under which campaigning for the Duma vote was held. International election observers also said the Duma election failed to meet democratic standards, calling the vote "free, but not fair."

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