In St. Petersburg, the Yabloko party has suffered a blow in the March 11 City Hall election even before going to the polls: the city election commission has refused to register the list of the party candidates.
The election law in St. Petersburg is one of the most draconian in the country. In order to register for the election, Yabloko, as a party not represented in the State Duma, had two options. One was to submit a huge, 90 million rubles (comparing to 15 million in Moscow), election bond. Yabloko has chosen not to do that — apparently because of the lack of funds.
Instead, Yabloko decided to submit a list of supporting signatures. The city law defines the number of required signatures very narrowly — between 36,000 and 40,000 — and places very tough margin for errors, no more than 10 per cent (20 per cent in the rest of the country). Yabloko was denied registration because the verification of a 7,000 sample had revealed 13 per cent of invalid signatures; the election officials charged that some of them were falsified.
Needless to say, Yabloko officials were quick to call this decision politically motivated. Plausible elsewhere as it might, such an explanation will find few sympathizers in St. Petersburg, where Yabloko has been traditionally strong. Besides, this is not for the first time that the party is denied registration due to a sloppy paperwork: since 2004, there have been five cases like that.
An answer to the question "What’s wrong with Yabloko?" begins to emerge in an interview Yabloko leader, Grigory Yavlinsky, gave recently to Izvestia. When reading it, one cannot help but remembering a popular Russian saying: a fish rots from the head.
In five full pages of half-ranting, half-whining filled with self-pity and narcissism, Yavlinsky has failed to provide any single reason why votes anywhere, including St. Petersburg, should vote for Yabloko.
Rumors have it that Yabloko is seriously contemplating boycotting the next Duma election. To the extent that past performance predicts future behavior, these rumors may come true. If in 2005, Yabloko took part in 12 of 20 regional elections held, then in 2006, it bothered to participate in only 1 of 18.
From this perspective, skipping the St. Petersburg poll does not seem to be a big deal at all.