Russia’s election commission on Thursday blocked pro-peace politician Boris Nadezhdin from next month’s presidential election, ending his surprise bid to oust President Vladimir Putin from the Kremlin.
In power for more than two decades, Putin is set to secure another six-year term in the March 15-17 contest, from which all major opposition politicians have now been barred.
Only three other candidates — all from ceremonial opposition parties that are backed by the Kremlin — will take part.
At a Moscow hearing on Thursday, Russia’s Central Election Commission said it had ruled to “refuse to register Boris Nadezhdin as a candidate in the presidential election.”
Nadezhdin blasted the widely expected decision and pledged to go to Russia’s Supreme Court.
He vowed to continue campaigning against Putin, at a time when major opposition figures have either been jailed or exiled from the country.
“Sooner or later I will be president of the Russian Federation,” he told a press conference.
“I wish it would be sooner.”
– Surprise candidate –
Election officials said they found flaws with more than 9,000 of the 105,000 signatures Nadezhdin submitted from people backing his candidacy — above the permitted five-percent error rate.
Ahead of the decision, Nadezhdin’s team said the alleged “errors” found by the commission included minor typos that happened when handwritten submissions were put into its computers.
But his chances of overturning the ruling on appeal are non-existent, with the Kremlin exercising total control over elections.
The 60-year-old’s calls to stop Russia’s military offensive against Ukraine brought out crowds of Russians across the country last month supporting his bid to get on the ballot, catching the Kremlin off-guard.
Images of long queues of people waiting to sign his nomination papers punctured the official narrative that Russian society is united behind Putin’s campaign against Ukraine.
Russian authorities have a record of using alleged administrative infringements and bureaucratic procedures to block opposition candidates from getting on ballot papers.
On Thursday, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the election commission “clearly follows the rules that are set for candidates.”
– ‘Tens of millions’ –
“Tens of millions of people were going to vote for me,” Nadezhdin said at the commission hearing in central Moscow.
He claimed to be running in “second place, behind Putin.”
Russia’s usually fractured opposition — from jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny to exiled former oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky — had backed him, saying support for Nadezhdin was a legal and safe way to protest against the Kremlin.
Since ordering troops into Ukraine in February 2022, Russia has tightened already strict laws against public dissent and thrown dozens in prison for speaking out against its intervention.
In an interview with AFP in January, Nadezhdin — whose name shares a root with the Russian word for “hope” — described the conflict in Ukraine as “catastrophic” and said he wanted to “free political prisoners” in Russia.
A local councillor in a town outside Moscow, he spent 30 years in second-tier Russian politics, mostly as a member of various opposition parties.
Once aligned with murdered Kremlin critic Boris Nemtsov, Nadezhdin also previously rubbed shoulders with Putin and other Kremlin insiders in the early years of Putin’s rule.
Putin, 71, has led Russia as either president or prime minister since the final day of 1999.
In power he has quashed all serious domestic opponents, throwing them in prison or forcing them into exile, banned independent media, outlawed protests and stifled political and civic freedoms.
Moscow has drastically stepped up its control over free speech and independent media in the last two years, with a raft of new censorship laws and fresh targeting of critics.
In 2020, the Kremlin leader pushed through controversial constitutional amendments to reset presidential term limits, paving the way for him to stay in power until at least 2036.