Russian liberal opposition leader Grigory Yavlinsky is accusing the Kremlin of dirty tricks after his Yabloko Party was banned from participating in local elections slated for March in St Petersburg.
"This ruling is absurd," Yavlinsky told the Interfax agency. "This is revenge against us for our opposition stance."
St Petersburg's electoral commission on Sunday barred Yabloko from taking part in polls to choose the city's 50-seat legislature, after it allegedly found ten per cent of the signatures on the party's registration papers to be "forged".
Yabloko has been Russia's main liberal party since 1993, and Yavlinsky has run twice for the presidency. The party, which regularly won about 8 per cent of the votes in the 1990s, has gone into decline since the enormously-popular President Vladimir Putin came to power.
Yabloko was squeezed out of the State Duma in 2003 parliamentary polls for failing to meet the minimum 5 per cent requirement.
Russia's once powerful Communist Party complained last week that it has been stricken from the ballot in the upcoming regional elections in Dagestan and Tyumen, two key Russian provinces, over similar problems with its paperwork.
Experts say the removal of major political parties from competition in local votes, attributed to technical reasons, may signal a new get-tough Kremlin policy aimed at keeping the opposition from staging a comeback in national parliamentary elections due in December.
"This means that neither the liberals nor the Communists are going to be permitted to get a foot in the door in future," says one expert.
"Elections will be open only to loyal parties who don't oppose the Kremlin in fundamental ways, and serious opponents won't be invited to take part."