Putin’s opponents run in parliamentary polls

Putin’s opponents run in parliamentary polls
September 18 06:05 2016

As millions of Russians vote in parliamentary elections this
 weekend, one of the stand-out features of the campaign has
been the presence of the opposition.
In past votes, most opposition candidates have been 
blocked or excluded. But in this election, taking place on
 Sunday, hundreds of Kremlin critics have been allowed to
run for office.
Some have even been given air time on Kremlin-controlled
 state television, which is normally free of any opposition 
voices.
”[The authorities] think they should create some kind of
picture that elections are free and fair in accordance with
international standards,” said Mikhail Kasyanov, leader of
the PARNAS opposition party.
 But that picture is not accurate, say critics.
 Opposition figures have complained of threats and
harassment.

Sinister videos

Kasyanov, a former prime minister turned vocal critic of 
Russian President Vladimir Putin, has been targeted
repeatedly.
 In one incident, caught on camera, he was attacked in a 
restaurant by two men wielding a cream pie.
 In what critics say was another bid to humiliate and
 discredit the former premier, a secretly-filmed sex tape was
also circulated showing the opposition leader in a 
compromising embrace with a married associate.
 And it gets more sinister: One video posted online showed
 Kasyanov and another opposition figure in the cross-hairs of
 a sniper’s rifle.
The head of the Chechen republic, Ramzan Kadyrov — a key
 Putin ally — said he posted the clip, insisting it was a joke.
But in a country where critics of the Kremlin are routinely
 murdered, it is no laughing matter.

Opposition figure killed

In February 2015, another leading Russian opposition figure,
Boris Nemtsov, was gunned down on a bridge near the
Kremlin, as he walked home from a restaurant.
Kasyanov and Nemtsov were close associates.
In May last year, another opposition figure, Vladimir Kara-
Murza, fell violently ill and was initially diagnosed with
poisoning.
After being released from hospital, Kara-Murza said he
believed he had been targeted by Kremlin supporters.
”These days in my country, unfortunately, everyone should
be scared about the behavior of the authorities or other
people,” Kasyanov told CNN at his party headquarters.
”Me too. I am a normal person, that is why I am also scared
and I can expect something to happen to me and my
family.”
”But I have to continue this mission, this job, which we are
already committed to do,” he added.

Rare television debate

Despite the ratcheting up of pressure on activists, Kasyanov
says the current official willingness to allow Kremlin critics
to stand for election and be given air time is an opportunity
for the political opposition.
He was recently invited to take part in a rare televised
debate on state television, where most Russians get their
news.
In a stunt during the live proceedings, a pro-Kremlin
candidate planted a US flag on Kasyanov’s lectern, shouting
that it was a reminder of which country’s interests Russia’s
opposition defended.
But Kasyanov says the fact he was on state television at all
is what is important.
Up until that debate, he said, he had not been invited to
appear on national television for nearly a decade.
”It’s angering some people, but others are starting to wake
up,” said Kasyanov says. “They wake up and say it is
possible — even in a situation where everything seems to be
under total control of Putin — to appear on the first channel.
”And they started thinking that something could be changed
in the country.”

(CNN)