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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

3 Parties Consider Boycotting Election

Leaders of the liberal and communist opposition said Wednesday that they may form a rather unusual alliance to boycott the March presidential election, which incumbent President Vladimir Putin is widely expected to win in a first round.

Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov said it will be up to his party's plenum later this month to decide whether to boycott the vote or field a candidate, while Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky said he may not run altogether.

"I don't intend to participate in the elections of the president of the Russian Federation because I consider these elections to be undemocratic," Yavlinsky said.

He added, however, that it will be up to a Yabloko congress Sunday to decide whether to field a candidate.

Yabloko deputy head Sergei Mitrokhin told Interfax that his party may enter consultations with the Communists on whether to boycott the election if a Yabloko-Communist count of ballots cast in recent State Duma elections reveals massive falsification.

Union of Right Forces co-leader Irina Khakamada went a step further, saying SPS, Yabloko and the Communist Party may join forces to boycott the elections.

"SPS and Yabloko could together with the Communists boycott the Russian presidential election and urge their electorate not to go to the polls," Khakamada said on Ekho Moskvy radio.

The presidential vote would be declared invalid if less than 50 percent of eligible voters participate, if more people vote "against all" than for any single candidate, or if only two candidates are running and neither secures a simple majority.

Central Elections Commission chairman Alexander Veshnyakov told NTV television on Wednesday that an alliance of the Communists and other opposition parties is "theoretically possible but would hardly lead to a disruption of the election."

The law forbids calls for an election boycott, but political leaders can still discourage their supporters from voting by publicly announcing that they will not participate in the race.

"A boycott of the election would amount to political suicide" for the three parties and their leaders, said Nikolai Petrov, a political analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center.

He said the Kremlin could easily draw from a vast pool of second-tier liberal or hard-line opposition leaders to field two or more candidates and give the election the semblance of being democratic.

Also, the Kremlin could take a stick-and-carrot approach to convince any of the three parties' leaders to change his mind and run against Putin, Petrov said.

Another problem is that voters may not heed a boycott even if one is called, he said. Furthermore, the three parties secured some 20 percent of the vote in the recent Duma elections and, if extrapolated to the presidential poll, the result would not be enough to derail the vote or prevent Putin from winning in a second round, he said.

Yabloko and SPS leaders have been discussing the possibility of fielding a single candidate, but no decision has been made -- even though the deadline for nominating a candidate is less than three weeks away.

A SPS source told Interfax on Wednesday night, however, that his party has already lost hope that it will agree on a single candidate with Yabloko.

"Talks continue ... but there is virtually no chance to find a mutually acceptable candidate," the source said.

Opinion polls show Putin's popularity hovering above 70 percent. A nationwide poll conducted by the independent VTsIOM-A polling agency in November put his popularity at 78 percent. The poll had a 3 percent margin of error.

If the election were to be held this month, Putin would win in the first round, with 71.7 percent of the vote, according to an opinion poll by the state-backed VTsIOM polling agency and released Wednesday.

VTsIOM set the margin of error at 3 percent.