A Russian politician calling for peace in Ukraine is rejected as a presidential candidate


MOSCOW (AP) — Russia’s main election authority on Thursday refused to allow a politician opposing Moscow’s military action in Ukraine on the ballot for the upcoming presidential election.

Boris Nadezhdin, a local legislator in a town near Moscow, was required by law to gather at least 100,000 signatures in support of candidacy. The requirement applies to candidates put forward by political parties that are not represented in the Russian parliament.

The Central Election Commission declared more than 9,000 signatures submitted by Nadezhdin’s campaign invalid, which was enough to disqualify him. Russia’s election rules say potential candidates can have no more than 5% of their submitted signatures thrown out.

Nadezhdin, 60, has openly called for a halt to the conflict in Ukraine and for starting a dialogue with the West. Thousands of Russians lined up across the country last month to sign papers in support of his candidacy, an unusual show of opposition sympathies in the country’s rigidly controlled political landscape.

Speaking at the Election Commission on Thursday, Nadezhdin asked election authorities to postpone the decision and to give him more time to rebut their arguments, but they declined. The politician said he would challenge his disqualification in court.

“It’s not me standing here,” Nadezhdin said. “Hundreds of thousands of Russian citizens who put their signatures down for me are behind me.”

The presidential election is scheduled for March 15-17. President Vladimir Putin is almost certain to win the reelection given his tight control of Russia’s political system. Most of the opposition figures who might have challenged him have been either imprisoned or exiled abroad, and the vast majority of independent Russian media outlets have been banned.

Putin is running as an independent candidate, and his campaign was required to gather at least 300,000 signatures in his support. He was swiftly allowed on the ballot earlier this year, with election officials disqualifying only 91 signatures out of 315,000 his campaign submitted.

Three other candidates registered to run were nominated by parties represented in parliament and weren’t required to collect signatures: Nikolai Kharitonov of the Communist Party, Leonid Slutsky of the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party and Vladislav Davankov of the New People Party.

The three parties have been largely supportive of the Kremlin’s policies. Kharitonov ran against Putin in 2004, finishing a distant second.

Exiled opposition activists threw their weight behind Nadezhdin last month, urging their supporters to sign his nomination petitions.

Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has said the Kremlin doesn’t view Nadezhdin as “a rival” for the incumbent president.

On Thursday, Nadezhdin urged his supporters not to give up.

“One thing happened which many could not believe: citizens sensed the possibility of changes in Russia,” the politician wrote in an online statement. “It was you who stood in long lines to declare to the whole world: ‘Russia will be a great and a free country.’ And I represented each of you today in the auditorium of the Central Election Commission.”

Nadezhdin is the second pro-peace hopeful to be denied a presidential bid. In December, the election commission refused to certify the candidacy of Yekaterina Duntsova, citing problems such as spelling errors in her nomination paperwork.

Duntsova, a journalist and a former legislator from the Tver region north of Moscow, announced plans last year to challenge Putin in the March election. Promoting a vision of a Russia “that’s peaceful, friendly and ready to cooperate with everyone on the principle of respect,” she said she wanted the fighting in Ukraine to come to a swift end and for Moscow and Kyiv to come to the negotiating table.

Abbas Gallyamov, a former Putin speechwriter who became a political analyst, said on Facebook Thursday that the decision to keep Nadezhdin off the ballot showed that “all of Putin’s mega-popularity, which official sociology constantly broadcasts, all that ‘rally around the national leader’ that Peskov regularly talks about is, in fact, a highly artificial and unstable structure that does not withstand any contact with reality.”

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