Contains selective news articles I select

Archive for November, 2019

Russian election chief defends ban on Moscow candidates

August 29, 2019

MOSCOW (AP) — The head of Russia’s election commission is standing by a decision to keep a dozen independent candidates from running for the city legislature in Moscow, but concedes after weeks of protests drew unusually large crowds, thousands of arrests and unfavorable attention that the qualification rules are outdated.

The Central Election Commission said earlier this month that 13 opposition candidates failed to gather enough valid signatures to appear on the ballot next month. Many outraged Muscovites saw the candidates’ disqualification as a sign of how determined the Kremlin was to prevent President Vladimir Putin’s opponents from gaining even lowly positions of power.

The commission’s chief, Ella Pamfilova, insisted in an interview with The Associated Press this week that there was nothing she could do to stop what blew up into a major political crisis. Pamfilova argued that domestic Russian politics are outside her competence.

“As an individual, as a citizen I really wanted to allow the widest competition possible so that everyone gets registered,” Pamfilova, who was a veteran opposition politician herself when she took the post in 2016, said. “The law that is in place — we have to stick to it to the letter, unfortunately.”

She also noted that several candidates were reinstated upon appeal and that competition for the City Duma — about five candidates per seat — is high. In Moscow, independent Duma candidates are required to submit the signatures equivalent to 3% of their districts’ voters to appear on the ballot, a prerequisite that independent election observers have said is designed to keep opposition candidates out of office.

The candidates excluded from the Sept. 8 election said they had presented the required number of signatures, but first Moscow election authorities and then Pamfilova’s commission invalidated enough due to a variety of flaws to prevent their participation.

The violations included minor clerical mistakes or erroneous personal data that was entered by election officials. Pamfilova insisted that these mistakes were serious enough for disqualification. Hundreds of voters including celebrities spoke out after their signatures were dismissed as suspected forgeries. The most vocal government opponents were not only barred from running but ended up in jail for weeks for calling for the unsanctioned protests.

A trained engineer, Pamfilova entered politics at the age of 36 when she won a seat at the Soviet Supreme Council in 1989 in what was regarded as the Soviet Union’s first free election in decades. She served as social welfare minister in Russia’s first-post Soviet government for three years, and was a vocal opponent of the federal government’s brutal military campaign in Chechnya. She made multiple trips to the region, negotiating the release of Russian troops captured by Chechen separatists.

Pamfilova’s appointment was expected to end brazen corruption in Russia’s elections. Putin had vowed to clean up election commissions that for years had ignored or directly participated in vote-rigging to favor Kremlin candidates at all levels.

Although Russian election observers initially hailed Pamfilova’s efforts to clamp down on the most blatant voter fraud, this summer’s Moscow City Duma campaign brought about questions of whether she has the power to overhaul the entire system.

Pamfilova, 65, who is proud of her democratic credentials and a track record of defending Kremlin opponents, said the commission looked into the forgery claims and reversed course on hundreds of signatures but it didn’t change the outcome for any candidates: they still had too few valid signatures.

Although standing firm on the decision to disqualify the candidates, Pamfilova said this summer’s election campaign has highlighted the flaws in the federal and local election legislation. “The good thing about what happened – it has showed that the system is outdated, that society is not going to forgive us for this,” she said, adding that her commission will come up with amendments to streamline the signature collection for candidates and cut down the number of signatures required.

When asked if candidates like Lyubov Sobol, who was on hunger strike in protest for a month, would have been on the ballot under the new, simplified rules, Pamfilova was adamant that Sobol and other candidates had made too many mistakes in their filings. She recalled her own political career — Pamfilova ran as an independent candidate for Russian president in 2000 when Putin was first elected — and said the opposition should toughen up and comply with the laws the way they are.

Authorities initially refused to issue permits for opposition-led protest rallies that started in July after the commission’s decision. Riot police were deployed to the protests and on July 27 beat up and brutally detained hundreds of people who offered no resistance. In an apparent attempt to ward off more protests, authorities arrested 14 people and charged them with rioting even though the July 27 rally did not see any property damage or major violence.

Three of the detained men had collected signatures for opposition candidates. Like the others they now face up to eight years in prison if convicted. Pamfilova said she wasn’t familiar with the circumstances of the case but said she wished the three arrested activists had spoken to her beforehand to find out what was wrong with signatures they collected instead of attending the unsanctioned protest.

Pamfilova accused several candidates, including Sobol, of manipulating their supporters but conceded that the anger and frustration expressed in Moscow in the past six weeks were genuine. “People are asking for more,” she said. “It’s a young, well-off generation that grew up under Putin, and we have to be mindful of that, and we have to understand that this generation… they need find their place here, in Russia. They need social mobility.”

Sobol rejected Pamfilova’s claim in Tuesday’s interview with the AP that she had spearheaded the July protests because she could not collect enough signatures, and dismissed the Central Election Commission chief as a “talking head” toeing the Kremlin line.

Pamfilova insisted that even putting the signatures aside there was a major flaw in Sobol’s application: she did not fill in a form listing the candidate’s foreign property. Sobol told the AP that she left it blank because she has no foreign property and quoted a presidential decree to prove her point.

Sobol and her allies have called on Muscovites to come out for another protest rally on Saturday after authorities turned down the opposition’s multiple requests for an authorized gathering. “We did all we could to get the approval,” Sobol said. “They are taking away from people the right to gather peacefully, unarmed, in a protest to defend their voting rights.”

Rally, pickets call for fair Moscow elections

August 17, 2019

MOSCOW (AP) — About 4,000 people have held a rally in Moscow to demand fairness in upcoming city council elections, and solo pickets protesting the exclusion of some opposition and independent candidates are taking place at prominent monuments.

The actions Saturday have been much smaller and less heated than recent weekend protests over the issue. Two unauthorized demonstrations were previously harshly broken up by police, with more than 2,000 people detained altogether; a sanctioned demonstration last week attracted as many as 60,000 people, the largest protest in several years.

The authorized rally on Saturday was organized by the Communist Party. The solo pickets are following a law that demonstrations by a single person do not require official permission. No detentions have been reported.

Rejected Moscow candidates likely to lose another round

August 06, 2019

MOSCOW (AP) — A working panel of Russia’s Central Elections Commission is recommending refusing the appeals of five opposition politicians who were denied spots on the ballot for the Moscow city council election, an issue that has sparked protests and mass arrests in the Russian capital.

The recommendation indicates it’s almost certain that the full commission will reject the appeals when it meets Wednesday. The Moscow elections commission last month refused to register 19 candidates, including several well-known opposition figures, because of alleged signature irregularities on their nominating petitions.

Unsanctioned protests denouncing the decision took place in Moscow on July 27 and Aug. 3, both of which were harshly dispersed by police, who beat some demonstrators. More than 1,400 protesters were detained in the first demonstration and 1,001 in the one last Saturday, according to an arrests-monitoring group.

Nearly 1,400 detained in Moscow protest; largest in decade

July 28, 2019

MOSCOW (AP) — Nearly 1,400 people were detained in a violent police crackdown on an opposition protest in Moscow, a Russian monitoring group said Sunday, adding that was the largest number of detentions at a rally in the Russian capital this decade.

OVD-Info, which has monitored police arrests since 2011, said the number of the detentions from Saturday’s protest reached 1,373 by early Sunday. The overwhelming majority of people were soon released but 150 remained in custody, OVD-Info and a lawyers’ legal aid group said Sunday.

Crackdowns on the anti-government protesters began days before the rally. Opposition leader Alexei Navalny was arrested and sentenced Wednesday to 30 days in jail for calling for Saturday’s protest against election authorities who barred some opposition candidates from running in the Sept. 8 vote for Moscow city council.

Navalny was unexpectedly hospitalized Sunday with a severe allergy attack, his spokeswoman said. Kira Yarmysh said Navalny, who did not have any allergies beforehand, was taken from the Moscow jail to a hospital in the morning, arriving with severe facial swelling and red rashes. Hours later, she said Navalny was in a “satisfactory condition.”

Russian police violently dispersed thousands of people who thronged the streets of Moscow on Saturday to protest the move by election authorities. Several protesters reported broken limbs and head injuries. Police justified their response by saying that the rally was not sanctioned by authorities.

Along with the arrests of the mostly young demonstrators, several opposition activists who wanted to run for the Moscow City Duma were arrested throughout the city. Police eventually cordoned off the City Hall and dispersed protesters from the area, but thousands of demonstrators reassembled in several different locations nearby and a new round of arrests began. Russian police beat some protesters to the ground with wide truncheon swings while others tried to push the police away.

Police said the protesters numbered about 3,500 but aerial footage from several locations suggested at least 8,000 people turned out. Dmitry Gudkov, an opposition figure who was barred from running for city council office in Moscow, was detained Sunday afternoon as he delivered food to some of the Moscow protesters still in jail.

The U.S. Embassy in Moscow on Sunday decried the violent crackdown as “use of disproportionate police force” and the Russian presidential human rights council said it was concerned about the police brutality.

Russian President Vladimir Putin stayed away from Moscow over the weekend. On Sunday, he led Russia’s first major naval parade in years, going aboard one of the vessels in the Navy Day parade in St. Petersburg, on the Gulf of Finland. The parade included 43 ships and submarines and 4,000 troops.

Russian police crack down hard on Moscow election protest

July 27, 2019

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian police cracked down hard Saturday on demonstrators in central Moscow, beating some people and arresting hundreds of others protesting the exclusion of opposition candidates from the ballot for Moscow city council. Police also stormed into a TV station broadcasting the protest.

Police wrestled with protesters around the mayor’s office, sometimes charging into the crowd with their batons raised. OVD-Info, an organization that monitors political arrests in Russia, said 638 people were detained. Moscow police earlier said 295 people had been taken in, but did not immediately give a final figure.

Along with the arrests, several opposition activists who wanted to run for the council were arrested throughout the city before the protest. Alexei Navalny, Russia’s most prominent opposition figure, was sentenced Wednesday to 30 days in jail for calling for the unauthorized gathering Saturday in the heart of the Russian capital.

The protesters, who police said numbered about 3,500, shouted slogans including “Russia will be free!” and “Who are you beating?” One young woman was seen bleeding heavily after being struck on the head.

Helmeted police barged into Navalny’s video studio as it was conducting a YouTube broadcast of the protest and arrested program leader Vladimir Milonov. Police also searched Dozhd, an internet TV station that was covering the protest, and its editor in chief Alexandra Perepelova was ordered to undergo questioning at the Investigative Committee.

Before the protest, several opposition members were detained, including Ilya Yashin, Dmitry Gudkov and top Navalny associate Ivan Zhdanov. There was no immediate information on what charges the detainees might face.

Once a local, low-key affair, the September vote for Moscow’s city council has shaken up Russia’s political scene as the Kremlin struggles with how to deal with strongly opposing views in its sprawling capital of 12.6 million.

The decision by electoral authorities to bar some opposition candidates from running for having allegedly insufficient signatures on their nominating petitions had already sparked several days of demonstrations even before Saturday’s clashes in Moscow.

The city council, which has 45 seats, is responsible for a large municipal budget and is now controlled by the pro-Kremlin United Russia party. All of its seats, which have a five-year-term, are up for grabs in the Sept. 8 vote.

Barring of Moscow council candidates draws 12,000 to protest

July 20, 2019

MOSCOW (AP) — About 12,000 people have turned out to protest the Moscow election commission’s decision to reject several opposition figures as candidates in the Russian capital’s city council election.

The commission last week rejected signatures the candidates gathered to get on the fall ballot. Demonstrator Maria Semyonova said at Saturday’s rally: “They are making North Korea of our country, depriving us of freedom and rights.”

Alexi Navalny, Russia’s most prominent opposition figure, told the crowd that if the barred candidates were not allowed to register by next Saturday, he would call for protests at the office of Moscow’s mayor and “we won’t leave.”

Moscow police said the protest was sanctioned and no arrests were reported.

A look at the 2 candidates for North Macedonia’s presidency

May 04, 2019

SKOPJE, North Macedonia (AP) — Newly renamed North Macedonia heads to the polls on Sunday for runoff presidential elections. Two candidates, both university professors, are competing for the post after the third candidate was knocked in last month’s first round.

Although the president has a largely ceremonial position, with some powers to veto legislation, the outcome of the vote could trigger early parliamentary elections in a country deeply polarized between the governing Social Democrats and the opposition VMRO-DPMNE conservatives. Turnout will be crucial, with 40% needed for the election to be valid. The first round barely made it past that point, with a turnout of 41.8%.

Campaigning in the first round centered on a recent deal the Balkan country reached with neighboring Greece to rename itself North Macedonia in exchange for Athens dropping objections to it joining NATO and the European Union. This time round, the candidates have focused more on the issues of corruption, crime, poverty and brain drain.

Here is a look at the two contenders for North Macedonia’s presidency.

Gordana Siljanovska Davkova, 63 — The first woman to run for president since the country declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1991. Known for her love of yoga and rock ‘n’ roll, Siljanovska, a constitutional law professor, first emerged as a non-partisan candidate promoted by her university. Her nomination is now supported by the main conservative opposition VMRO-DPMNE party.

Siljanovska campaigned under the slogan “Justice for Macedonia, fatherland calls.” She has been a vocal opponent of the deal with Greece that changed the country’s name to North Macedonia and had hinted she would challenge the name agreement in the International Court of Justice in The Hague. But last week, Siljanovska said during a debate on national television MTV she will not “spend the whole mandate in reviewing the name agreement with Greece.”

“I will fight for democratization of the undemocratic Macedonian political system,” she added.

During a campaign speech, Siljanovska said her country needs a “radical reversal,” and described it as being “in many elements a failed state.”

Siljanovska served as minister without portfolio in 1992-1994 in the first government after independence and participated in writing the country’s first constitution.

Stevo Pendarovski, 56 — A former national security adviser for two previous presidents and until recently national coordinator for NATO, this is Pendarovski’s second bid for the presidency after being defeated by Gjorge Ivanov in 2014.

Pendarovski is running as the joint candidate for the governing social democrats and the junior governing coalition partner, the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration party. His candidacy is also supported by 29 smaller political parties.

He has defended the name deal with Greece, arguing it paved the way for the country to nearly finalize its NATO accession and led to hopes EU membership talks will begin in June.

His slogan “Forward Together” reflects his main campaign platform of unity, and he has made NATO and EU membership a key strategic goal, saying they will bring foreign investment, jobs and higher wages and prevent young people leaving the country.

“People should know what is at stake, they should not stay passive,” he said during the television debate. “They have to go out and choose between two concepts – the one that is for progress, cohesion and integration in the strongest international organizations, (and) the other that draws the country back in time.”

Tag Cloud