MOSCOW (Reuters) - Veteran liberal politician Boris Nemtsov withdrew from Russia’s presidential race on Wednesday, saying the opposition needed to put forward a single candidate in the March election to withstand the Kremlin’s “foul play”.
Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov, officially registered as a presidential candidate on Wednesday, said he might yet decide not to run if he felt the Kremlin was not playing according to the rules during the campaign.
In a statement on his personal Web site, the former deputy prime minister and Union of Right Forces (SPS) presidential candidate said the Kremlin had turned democratic elections into “a clear-cut farce”.
“(The Kremlin) is using Goebbels-esque propaganda, law-enforcement and administrative resources against opposition candidates,” Nemtsov said, referring to Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels.
“The democratic opposition needs a single candidate. Therefore, I have made the decision to withdraw from participation in the presidential election.”
Nemtsov had little chance of beating Vladimir Putin’s chosen candidate Dmitry Medvedev. Polls show most Russians will back whomever the highly-popular president backs.
Zyuganov said on Wednesday he might drop out if he saw a repeat of what he said was a “massive stealing” of votes cast for his party in the December 2 parliamentary election.
The Communists finished distant second in the election to the State Duma lower house of parliament, trailing the pro-Putin United Russia party which alone will have a constitutional majority in the chamber.
“In my mind, if all this filth and disgusting things go on, it will make no sense to take part in the (presidential) election,” Zyuganov told reporters.
Zyuganov, an experienced political heavyweight, took the late Boris Yeltsin to a second round in a presidential election in 1996 but was trounced by Putin four years later. He did not run against an increasingly popular Putin in 2004.
Nemtsov’s SPS, which advocates free-market economics and political liberalism, scored well in the 1999 parliamentary election soon after its creation.
But with Putin’s rise to power months later, the party went into decline. It won no seats in the Dec 2 parliamentary vote, scoring less than one percent of the vote.
Nemtsov told editorially independent Ekho Moskvy radio later on Wednesday that if Zyuganov decided not to run for presidency, this would “make the election politically illegitimate”.
“If they (Communists) are courageous and honest, they will decide not to run,” Nemtsov said. “But if they collude with the authorities, this will discredit the Communist Party.”
Additional reporting by Aydar Buribayev
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