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Russia: Opposition Duma Deputy Speaks Out On 'Farce' Of Elections

Vladimir Ryzhkov (RFE/RL) September 12, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- The Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) party has scheduled its preelection congress for September 21, amid speculation that the party might be able to cross the 7 percent threshold in the December Duma elections and gain seats in the new lower house. However, the party's prospects depend considerably on how the powers in the presidential administration are disposed toward it.

There have been reports in the Russian media recently that the Kremlin is pressuring SPS not to include any vocal oppositionists among the top three candidates on its party list. According to sources within the party, the SPS list will be headed by party leader Nikita Belykh and party co-founder Boris Nemtsov, but the third spot remains undecided. Proposals to give the spot to youth activist Maria Gaidar, daughter of former acting Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar, reportedly met with strong opposition both within and outside the party. Among those also under consideration is unregistered Republican Party co-founder Vladimir Ryzhkov, one of the most outspoken Kremlin opponents in the Duma.

RFE/RL's Russian Service asked SPS Political Council member Boris Nadezhdin if the party had had hints from the Kremlin regarding its party list. "For one thing, the Kremlin doesn't give hints," Nadezhdin said. "There is an absolutely concrete list of names of people who cannot be shown on television. And there are a lot of people on it -- [former Prime Minister Mikhail] Kasyanov is there, [Other Russia leader Garry] Kasparov is there, and all the rest. But the Kremlin does not, thank God, run our party."

Ryzhkov spoke with RFE/RL on September 11 and commented on the Kremlin's management of the upcoming elections.

RFE/RL: SPS representatives have quietly but firmly made clear that they don't want to see you on the party list. What will you do now?

Vladimir Ryzhkov: I see the situation differently. I think the SPS wanted to see me and a bunch of other representatives of the Republican Party on the list. But the SPS has to operate within the framework provided today by the Kremlin. And that framework is such that no party can exist, be registered, participate in elections if it does not take into consideration the circumstances and demands made by the authorities. And, as far as I understand, the Kremlin has no desire to allow representatives of the real opposition to participate in the upcoming elections.

RFE/RL: And who are they, the real opposition?

Ryzhkov: They are those people who have taken up independent positions, who haven't coddled the presidential administration. On the left, it would seem, there is [Duma Deputy] Sergei Glazev; on the right, [Duma Deputy] Dmitry Rogozin; on the liberal flank, you can mention me, Garry Kasparov, Mikhail Kasyanov. That is, there is a whole list of politicians who take independent political positions, who are fairly critical in relation to the current authorities, and who the authorities would not like to see in parliament or even in election campaigns.

RFE/RL: You mean there's a ban on speaking out?

Ryzhkov: De facto, we are talking about an unspoken ban on speaking out -- a spoken ban would be impossible, except under the law on extremism. But this is unspoken and unconstitutional. Because what we are talking about, for all intents and purposes, means that all parties, including SPS and other parties, must weigh all the risks that are presented to them. And this [calculation] determines whether this or that politician will participate in the elections or not.

RFE/RL: And how are the SPS officials treating you? Sources close to them quote them as saying, "We can't invite Ryzhkov [to be on the party list] because the Kremlin is calling him a CIA agent."

Ryzhkov: What they call me is their business. It is too bad they don't say that publicly, because I would immediately sue them and get satisfaction if they are saying such despicable and false things.

But I regard the situation with SPS, with Yabloko, and with other parties calmly because I myself have participated in four election campaigns. I myself have been engaged in party-building, and I understand what it means to be under pressure from the Kremlin.

Right before our eyes a whole bunch of parties have been destroyed, including some relatively popular ones like Rodina [Motherland]. Just four years ago, it was one of the four winners in the parliamentary elections. Now it does not exist; it was destroyed by the Kremlin. So, everyone is under pressure; everyone is in the vice. I view this situation with understanding.

RFE/RL: Are you going to continue your work within Other Russia?

Ryzhkov: It is hard to say what will become of Other Russia. There are some rather large internal disagreements there. So, we'll live and we'll see.

RFE/RL: Does that mean that Mikhail Kasyanov is right when he says we need to boycott the elections?

Ryzhkov: I think it is our duty to explain to citizens, voters, all the farce of these elections and every citizen must come to his own conclusion about what to do in this situation.

Boris Nemtsov At RFE/RL

Boris Nemtsov At RFE/RL

Boris Nemtsov speaking to an RFE/RL event in Prague on June 11 (RFE/RL)

'SOFT DICTATORSHIP.' Former Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov, a member of the Political Council of the Union of Rightist Forces party, told an RFE/RL gathering that Russia is facing a watershed moment with its 2008 presidential election.


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