By Christina Berger
Special Features Editor
MOSCOW, Russia — Russia’s Ministry of Justice refused to approve the registration application of a new political party founded by prominent opposition members. This refusal will effectively bar the party from participating in the upcoming Duma (Russian assembly) elections in December and presidential elections in March 2012.
Russian federal law requires that a political party must have at least 45,000 members and regional departments in at least half of Russia’s 83 constituent units in order to be registered. The new liberal political party, the People’s Freedom Party (known as PARNAS), which was founded by Russian opposition leaders, including former prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov and former deputy prime minister Boris Nemtsov, “for a Russia free from abuse and corruption,” claims 53 regional offices and 46,000 members.
The Ministry of Justice claimed they denied the application to register PARNAS because the submitted charter does not comply with federal law on political parties, mainly the regulation that charters must provide a stipulation for the rotation of heads of the governing body. The Ministry also said that the party’s required 45,000 signatures contained violations because some of the party members were dead, underage, or not legal residents of the region where they signed. Additionally, the Ministry said they received written statements from citizens disavowing their signatures as members of PARNAS or denying they attended the PARNAS general meeting.
PARNAS leadership claimed that the charter was identical to standard charters, and that they had the requisite eligible 45,000 members. Also, Kasyanov and others have reported that some people who joined the party, which held its founding Congress in December 2010, were summoned by police officers and questioned about joining the opposition party, as well as whether they realized they could lose their job or their children would lose the opportunity to study at university. Nemstov stated that he wasn’t surprised because Russia’s ruling party is “deadly afraid” of the opposition and their elections “are nothing but a farce.”
President Dimitri Medvedev recently pledged to increase political competition in Russia , and if the PARNAS registration application was the first test of that pledge, many feel it was a failure.
Kremlin critics claim that authorities often use technicalities to deny registration to opposition parties. Leaders outside of Russia have also found this decision troubling. U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton said in a statement, “[the U.S. is] troubled by reports of pressure from authorities in the regions designed to intimidate PARNAS (the party’s) supporters, prompting them to resign positions or disavow their signatures on required lists.”
A spokesperson for the European Union’s foreign-policy chief also expressed concern at the denial, saying “[t]he difficulties faced by political parties in registering for elections effectively constrain political competition in Russia, reduce the choice available to its electorate, and show that there are real obstacles to political pluralism in the country.”
Lyudmila Alekseeva, the chair of Russia’s oldest human rights organization The Moscow Helsinki Group, said, “If there was some hope for a fair election, now it’s gone.”
For more information, please see:
MSNBC — New Russian opposition party barred from election — 22 June 2011
CNN — Russia refuses to register liberal party; U.S. ‘disappointed’ — 22 June 2011
BBC — Russia rejects new opposition party registration — 22 June 2011
Russia Today — Opposition party denied registration for accepting dead members — 22 June 2011
RFE/RL — Russian Opposition Party Denied Registration — 22 June 2011