Russia bars ex-journalist Duntsova from running in presidential election

Former TV journalist and opponent of Ukraine war had filed documents seeking to challenge Vladimir Putin.

Former Russian television journalist Yekaterina Duntsova, who had put her name forward as an independent candidate in Russia’s upcoming presidential election, has been barred from running against President Vladimir Putin.

On Saturday, Russia’s Central Electoral Commission rejected Duntsova’s application – which had been filed on December 20 – citing “mistakes in documents”, according to Russian television reports.

The commission’s chief, Ella Pamfilova, said the members unanimously rejected Duntsova’s bid to stand in the March 17 vote that Putin is expected to win comfortably.

Duntsova had planned to run on a platform of ending the war in Ukraine and freeing political prisoners.

Critics of the president will see the torpedoing of her campaign as evidence that no one with opposition views will be allowed to stand against him in the first presidential election since Russia invaded Ukraine.

The Kremlin says Putin will win because he enjoys genuine support across society, with opinion poll ratings of about 80 percent.

The commission said Duntsova could not go on to the next stage of gathering thousands of supporters’ signatures.

“You are a young woman, you have everything ahead of you,” Pamfilova told Duntsova.

‘Fear must not win’

The 40-year-old sent in her candidacy documents on Wednesday, to challenge Putin, 71, who is almost certain to win a fifth term as president, allowing him to continue leading Russia’s invasion of neighbouring Ukraine.

Putin has been in power for 24 years, including an eight-year stint as prime minister.

When a reporter asked Duntsova if the commission would give her permission to stand against Putin, she questioned why it was necessary to talk “about permission” if it was her “right according to the law”.

Putin has so far not faced competition in the presidential campaign, with opposition leaders such as Alexey Navalny serving long prison sentences and other leading Kremlin critics either behind bars or outside of the country because of the risk of arrest.

Pamfilova from the commission said on Saturday that 29 people have filed to run for the presidency.

In an interview with the Reuters news agency last month, Dunstova called for the release of political prisoners, including Navalny.

She also avoided using the word “war” in the interview to describe the Russia-Ukraine conflict, which Putin has called a “special military operation”, acknowledging she was afraid.

“Any sane person taking this step would be afraid, but fear must not win,” she added.

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