HARD-LINE political groups have accused the Russian leadership of sanctioning harassment and rigging ballots to disqualify them from next month's parliamentary elections and are vowing to campaign as independent candidates.
Eight of the 21 political parties and organizations that submitted petitions to compete for seats in the new State Duma, or lower house of parliament, were knocked out of the race last week for violating election rules.
Several opposition parties and coalitions are among them, including the August bloc, which includes the Economic Freedom Party chaired by Konstantin Borovoi, and the Russian All-People's Union, headed by outspoken nationalist Sergei Baburin.
``Slowly but very surely, both opposition structures and those that could form part of the opposition are being eliminated,'' the daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta editorialized Thursday. ``It is curious that those who broke the rules were exclusively `politically inconvenient' blocs.''
The remaining 13 include several pro-government coalitions, among them the popular front-runner Russia's Choice, led by President Boris Yeltsin's chief economic adviser, Yegor Gaidar. They also include some opposition groups, such as the Liberal Democratic Party, headed by nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky, and the Russian Communist Party.
The blocs still in the race ``represent the entire spectrum of political forces in our society,'' Central Election Commission Chairman Nikolai Ryabov told reporters Wednesday. ``This is an absolutely normal situation, natural for the current political situation in the country and a society that strives to build a democratic state.''
Mr. Ryabov said the disqualified parties either failed to obtain the required 100,000 signatures of support by the Nov. 13 deadline or did not include 15,000 signatures from at least seven different Russian regions.
But Mr. Baburin, a leading figure in the parliamentary opposition against Mr. Yeltsin that led to the military assault on Moscow's White House last month, says the exclusion of certain groups is part of a government plot to hobble the noncommunist opposition.
Baburin told reporters earlier last week that his Russian All-People's Union has recently been the target of government harassment, including a raid on his party's headquarters earlier this month by armed men - some dressed in Interior Ministry uniforms. They stole a list with 22,000 signatures on it, he claimed.
These events have ``shattered the myth of the possibility of free and honest elections under conditions of a totalitarian regime'' and are ``the next step toward full-scale civil war,'' Baburin's party warned in a statement distributed Friday.
Viktor Aksyuchits, chairman of the disqualified hard-line Christian Democratic Movement, has also accused the government of hampering the free collection of signatures, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported.
A 34-year-old lawyer who sports a Lenin-style goatee, Baburin still plans to run as an independent candidate in his Siberian hometown of Omsk, as half of the 450-seats in the Duma will be elected from constituencies on a simple majority basis.
Baburin predicted that members of his party will transfer their support to the Communist Party, which could make it one of the most powerful parliamentary blocs.
In a similar attempt to keep their vote from being split, Gennady Burbulis, a Russia's Choice leader and close Yeltsin aide, has called for preelection agreements between reformist parties.