Russia's Justice Ministry on Wednesday denied registration to a new political party created by three prominent opposition leaders, effectively barring them from participating in upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections.
The decision on whether to register the People's Freedom Party was seen as a test of President Dmitry Medvedev's pledges to increase political competition in Russia. Opposition parties were squeezed out of politics under his predecessor, Vladimir Putin, who remains powerful as prime minister.
Mikhail Kasyanov, who served as Putin's prime minister from 2000 to 2004 and is now one of the opposition party's leaders, bluntly described Medvedev's pledges as empty words.
"Nothing that has been said or promised by Medvedev during these past three years has materialized," Kasyanov said in an interview this week with The Associated Press. "It has only gotten worse: that is more pressure on political opponents, even more falsification in regional elections."
The Justice Ministry gave a number of reasons for denying the People's Freedom Party registration, including that its charter does not provide for a rotation of its leadership as the ministry says is required by law.
The ministry's one-page written decision also said it had found violations in the required 45,000 signatures the party had submitted with its application. Some of those who signed as members of the party were dead, under age or not legal residents of the regions where they signed, the ministry said.
Some people listed as party members had provided written confirmation denying their membership, the ministry said.
Kasyanov, who insisted the party had met all the legal requirements for registration, said some people who joined the party had been summoned by police or security officers, who asked why they had joined the opposition party and whether they understood they could lose their job or their children would lose the opportunity to study at university.
the ministry’s decision received criticism from other members of the Russian opposition. The People's Freedom Party is not going to appeal the Justice Ministry's decision as they “see no sense” in doing so.