Sunday, January 27, 2008

Not On The Ballot

The Kremlin has barred a former Russian prime minister from standing in the presidential election due in March. Mikhail Kasyanov served under Vladimir Putin, but has since become a leading critic of the regime. He says the decision to disqualify him from the election is to prevent any real opposition to Mr Putin's candidate in the election, Dmitry Medvedev.

This is another extraordinary sign of how far the Kremlin will go to shut down its critics. Mr Kasyanov would have struggled to get much more than one or two percent of the vote in the election, but as the only liberal candidate, would have been possibly the only contender to really take the gloves off in the campaign. Any criticism of the Putin/Medvedev regime, especially from a former senior member of it, just isn't acceptable to Moscow.

Three opposition candidates have so far been allowed to get their names onto the ballot, and two are very familiar. There's the Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov - narrowly beaten by Boris Yeltsin back in 1996 - and the flamboyant nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovksy - still best known for this outburst on Russian TV after he was taunted for boasting of his thousands of lovers. Both are too popular for the Kremlin to silence, but neither is nearly popular enough to challenge for outright victory. In just a few weeks' time Mr Medvedev will be Russia's new president, probably with Mr Putin as prime minister. There's no sign the Kremlin's hardline attitude to just about everything is going to change anytime soon.

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