Moscow has been canceling en masse the registration of opposition candidates for municipal elections next month as the Kremlin clamps down on dissent.
Russian authorities have historically not concerned themselves much with municipal elections because they tend to focus on very local issues, such as apartment building repairs and park improvements.
However, Russian President Vladimir Putin has intensified his crackdown on any sign of dissent since he launched an unprovoked invasion of Ukraine and it is now filtering down to the lowest levels of government, opposition members say.
Vladimir Zalishak, a deputy representing Moscow’s Donskoi district, told RFE/RL that nearly a hundred would-be opposition candidates had been disqualified by local election commissions on the alleged violation of a controversial administrative clause.
He said the clampdown on potential municipal candidates was a sign that the authorities are “hysterical and panicking.”
Zalishak said police were launching administrative investigations into would-be candidates on the ground that they had publicly demonstrated “prohibited symbols.” Those found guilty are banned from running for office for a year.
Russia last year jailed opposition leader Aleksei Navalny, outlawed his Anti-Corruption Foundation on extremism charges, and banned symbols associated with his group.
Police are now scrolling through the social media accounts of opposition members looking for old posts that contain the symbols before they were banned, he said.
Zalishak said his registration was canceled after police found a Navalny-related symbol on a post from 2019.
Maria Volokh, a member of the liberal Yabloko party, did not have any posts on her social media but the authorities still found a way to cancel her registration, she told RFE/RL.
The police sent a letter to Volokh’s local election commission, claiming falsely that she had Dutch citizenship. Volokh studied in the Netherlands for several years but never received citizenship.
She said she intended to contest the decision.
Volokh was seeking to run for a seat on the council representing Moscow’s Tver district.
Volokh already had two administrative cases opened against her: one for holding a piece of paper with stars on it that was deemed discrediting to the Russian armed forces and another for taking part in a two-person, anti-war picket.
Zalishak said most of the individuals who had their candidacy canceled were opponents of Russia’s war in Ukraine.