MOSCOW -- In a move that could drastically alter the Russian political landscape -- and hobble the nation's democratic movement -- the Central Electoral Commission yesterday barred the leading reformist party from the December parliamentary elections.
The commission ruled that the Yabloko bloc -- headed by economic reformist and politician Grigory Yavlinsky -- had broken election rules by dropping six candidates from its election list against their will.
It was the second party during the weekend to be barred from the elections, both on the same technicality.
Yabloko -- which means "apple" in Russian but is an acronym for the names of the party's founders -- regularly polls far ahead of other liberal groups. And Mr. Yavlinsky -- a candidate for parliament -- is consistently among the top three most popular politicians nationally and is a likely candidate for the June presidential elections.
The commission's decision was a shock to a political establishment already jittery over President Boris N. Yeltsin's hospitalization for a heart condition.
If Yabloko is off the ballot, Communists and other nationalist and hard-line forces could become stronger. They already have been given a boost by Mr. Yeltsin's illness, as they questioned his capability to govern.
Yabloko will appeal to the Supreme Court today. Because election cases have first priority in the court, by law the party can expect a decision within three days.
In rejecting Yabloko's election registration application, commission Chairman Nikolai Ryabov said: "We understand the degree of our responsibility. We understand that a big electorate is lost, but we must stand by the law."
The commission's decision prompted an immediate outcry across the political spectrum.
Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov said he thought it was an attempt to "undermine the elections."
Former President Mikhail S. Gorbachev said it was a "flagrant provocation designed to cancel the elections."
Retired Gen. Alexander Lebed, the popular and probable nationalist presidential candidate, said the commission was using the electoral rules as a "crowbar" on the electoral process.
And Yegor T. Gaidar, an economist and leader of the Russia's Choice party, which occupies the right wing alongside Yabloko, vowed to boycott the parliamentary elections if the decision is not reversed.
Even one of Mr. Yeltsin's closest political advisers, Georgy Satarov, signaled the Kremlin's disapproval, saying that he expects the Supreme Court to decide the appeal in favor of Yabloko.
What is in question are irregularities in the paperwork of six candidates on Yabloko's parliamentary ticket of more than 200 candidates.
On Saturday, the commission also barred from the December elections for similar reasons the party of Alexander Rutskoi, a leader of the 1993 revolt against Mr. Yeltsin. Of the 270 candidates listed on Mr. Rutskoi's Derzhava (Great State) party ticket, 86 had failed to formally confirm their participation or announce their withdrawal from the list.
In both cases, the infractions are considered minor and within the discretion of the commission to overlook or to have each party correct.
But the commission is claiming that the parties, in collecting signatures to qualify their tickets, misled voters by listing candidates who really weren't going to run for office.
Yabloko leaders note that the party collected close to 1 million signatures to qualify for the ballot. They say that the six candidates in question actually had agreed to be taken off the list and that the candidates are from such far-flung regions and are so minor that they could not have been the lure for so many Russian voters to sign the party's registration petition.
Many political analysts scratched their heads over the meaning of the commission's decision -- wondering whether it was politically inspired, and if so, from which direction.
But a Yabloko parliamentary member -- Vladimir Averchev -- said he didn't think there was any "grand political design" in the decision, but rather an overzealous application of the letter of the law, instead of the spirit of it.
"Mr. Ryabov [the commission director] is not the best example of the new breed of Russian politician. He, as a Russian bureaucrat, is trying to play his own role," Mr. Averchev said.
The election commission already has registered 14 parties and movements for the elections in which half of the 450 seats of the State Duma, the parliament's lower house, will be elected from single-mandate constituencies. The other half will be chosen from a federal list of candidates.