Opposition party denied registration for accepting dead members

Co-chairmen of the PNS Boris Nemtsov and Mikhail Kasyanov (RIA Novosti / Vitaliy Belousov)
Russia’s Ministry of Justice has refused to register a new opposition movement - the People’s Freedom Party – for serious procedural violations including listing minors and the dead amongst its members.

According to the ministry, the charter of the People’s Freedom Party “For a Russia free from abuse and corruption” – also known as Parnas or simply PNS – contains regulations that contradict the Federal Law on Political Parties. In particular, it does not stipulate for the rotation of the heads of the governing body.

In addition, random checks revealed that the party’s documents “contain information about citizens who had died before the party’s founding congress on December 13, 2010, the registration of minors, and citizens who were not registered at the stated address of permanent or predominant residence in the corresponding Russian constituent region," the ministry said in a press release cited by Interfax agency.

The regional departments of the Justice Ministry received “handwritten statements from citizens denying their alleged party membership or that they had attended the general meeting".

Subsequently, the decision was taken to deny official registration to the PNS.

Co-chairmen of the party – Mikhail Kasyanoav and Vladimir Ryzhkov – believe the decision was politically motivated.

In an interview with the radio station Echo Moskvy, Ryzhkov said the news did not come as a surprise for Parnas. The party was ready for both possible scenarios – whether it received registration or was refused it. The latter means that there will not be fair parliamentary election in December, the politician stated.

Commenting on violations revealed in the PNS charter concerning the rotation of the heads of the governing body, Ryzhkov said it was “complete rubbish” and the document was “identical to standard charters”. As for the dead and minors being members of the party, Ryzhkov noted that even if “by mistake” “one or two” such members were registered, “it does not change anything” as there are “45,000 living people in the party”. However, Parnas is not going to appeal the decision as they “see no sense” in doing so.

The ministry’s decision was met with criticism from other members of the Russian opposition. Sergey Mitrokhin, leader of liberal party “Yabloko”, said he was “indignant” over the authorities’ actions.

“We do not share many of the political views of Parns, but we believe that this movement reflects the ideas of a particular part of society…,” he told Interfax. According to Mitrokhin, the denial to register Parnas “is not only a denial of rights to its members, but also to those who support them”.

The chair of Russia’s oldest human rights organization, the Moscow Helsinki Group, Lyudmila Alekseeva, said it was “sad news” which shows that the upcoming State Duma election will bring no changes and the same parties – created by the authorities rather than citizens -will remain in power. “If there was some hope for a fair election, now it’s gone,” she stated.

Earlier, Justice Minister Aleksandr Konovalov ruled out any political motivation behind the decision on whether to register a party or not and assured that officials would not fabricate any violations.

“I am not a politician and I cannot assess the pre-election prospective of one or another political party,” he said in an interview with Profile magazine, which was published on Monday. The official stressed that the ministry acts strictly within its authority and its task is only to make sure that the registration documents comply with the law. He said that he could not “anticipate the results of the [PNS documentation] inspection, but I can guarantee that no one is going to manufacture violations,” Konovalov stressed.

The minister observed though that when analyzing the reasons to deny registration to a public movement or a party, he often gets puzzled. “I cannot understand why these organizations make obvious…mistakes,” he noted.

Established in December 2010 by Mikhail Kasyanov, Boris Nemtsov, Vladimir Ryzhkov, and Vladimir Milov, the new opposition party PNS, also known as Parnas, held the founding congress for its first regional branch in Moscow back in February. On May 23, the party submitted documents to the Ministry of Justice for registration. The party’s aim was to take part in the parliamentary election in December 2011.

Under federal law, to be successfully registered, a political party must have at least 45,000 members and regional departments in at least half of Russia’s 83 constituent units.