Court legalizes campaigning for none of the above

Boris Nemstov (RIA Novosti / Andrey Stenin)
The detention of prominent opposition politician Boris Nemstov for promoting the “none of the above” ballot option during recent municipal elections in St Petersburg was deemed illegal by a magistrate court in Moscow.

The court said that Nemtsov’s actions were not in violation of Russian law. Nemtsov’s latest political project, the unregistered Party of People’s Freedom (Parnas), have said that the court ruling can be considered a direct instruction in support of the recently founded Nakh-Nakh movement.

One of the leaders of the Solidarnost and Parnas political movements, Boris Nemtsov was detained in St. Petersburg on August 14 as he was campaigning for the “none of the above” ballot option during the municipal elections in St. Petersburg. The elections were formally of minor importance, though they allowed Valentina Matviyenko, then the city’s governor, to join the Upper House of the Russian Parliament, where she is poised to become speaker and technically the third highest ranking offical in Russian politics.

Initially, Nemtsov was charged with violating election campaign rules, but the magistrate court on Friday ruled that the politician’s actions were not a crime and refused to open an administrative case against him. The court quoted the decision of the Russian Constitutional Court regarding a similar case in 2005. At that time, a court in the southern Russian city of Kursk was fined for promoting the “none of the above” ballot option, but the Constitutional Court nullified the fine after a set of appeals.However, the “none of the above” option was still present on the ballots in 2003, and in accordance with election rules, if most citizens voted for none of the above, the election results were to be nullified and a rerun was to take place.Subsequently, none of the candidates who took part the first time around were able to participate in the next batch of elections. The option was removed from ballots in 2006.

Nemtsov himself also spoke of the 2005 case in court and said that the violation he was being charged with was only applicable to candidates who were directly participating in the elections and were therefore using state funds to finance their campaign. Nemtsov was not running in the August 14 municipal elections in St. Petersburg. Valentina Matviyenko won by a landslide, though voter turnout was relatively low.

While commenting on the court ruling, Nemtsov said that he was awaiting a separate decision connected with the August 14 municipal elections – the politician sued the police for not preventing some young people, who according to Nemtsov were members of the pro-Kremlin movement Nashi, from hurling eggs at Nemtsov’s car.

He also reminded the press about the recently founded Nakh-Nakh movement that also calls for the “none of the above” vote in the forthcoming parliamentary and presidential elections. As there is currently no such option, Nakh-Nakh has instructed its supporters to deface the ballots. Despite the fact that the movement unites politicians and journalists, its members said in press interviews that they were not fighting the authorities for power, but rather battling with the inertness of the common people’s minds.