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RUSSIA

Signature Woes End Kasyanov's Bid

Former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, a vocal and charismatic critic of the Kremlin, has been barred from running for president by the Central Elections Commission, which said too many of the signatures on his nomination petitions were deemed invalid.

The commission said Sunday that it was leaving Kasyanov off the ballot for the March 2 election because over 13 percent of the signatures from two different samples checked were filled out improperly. The maximum allowed is 5 percent.

Kasyanov, because he was running without the backing of a party in the State Duma, was required by law to submit at least 2 million signatures to the commission along with his application.

Commission member Elvira Yermakova told the commission Sunday that checks had found 80,261 signatures that had either been counterfeited or improperly documented.

"The decision was made in accordance with legal norms and court practice," she said, Interfax reported.

Kasyanov said Sunday that he had not decided whether to appeal the decision in court.
"I need to discuss it with my fellows in arms," he said, Interfax reported. "There are differing opinions as to the advantages or hazards in such a move."

He did pledge, however, to continue his activities in opposition.

Speaking before the commission's announcement Sunday, Kasyanov's representative to the body, Konstantin Merzlikin, called the basis for the ruling "a formal and negligible pretext."

The decision by the commission came as little surprise, as members had made a number of comments over the preceding week about difficulties with Kasyanov's application.

Kasyanov stood virtually no chance in the election, as only 1 percent of respondents in a Jan. 18-21 poll of 1,600 Russians by the Levada Center polling agency said they were prepared to vote for Kasyanov, compared with 82 percent who were ready to vote for First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.

In the meantime, Kasyanov and a number of prominent civil rights figures said Sunday that barring him from the vote would render the election illegitimate and nondemocratic. Kasyanov added that his ratings in polls had been intentionally under-reported.

"Popular support [for me] grew from day to day, and it would have been no less than 25 percent," he said.

Along with Medvedev, who was nominated by the pro-Kremlin United Russia party and is backed by President Vladimir Putin, three other candidates were registered by the commission. These include Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov and Liberal Democratic Party head Vladimir Zhirinovsky, whose parties' nominations meant that they did not have to gather signatures.

The third candidate, Democratic Party leader and political campaign specialist Andrei Bogdanov, was registered Thursday, after election officials said the number of invalid signatures on his nominating petitions was below the maximum limit. In the Dec. 2 elections for the State Duma, Bogdanov's tiny party, which is largely considered a Kremlin-backed body aimed at splitting off votes from democratic opposition parties, drew fewer than 90,000 votes.
According to the biography of Bogdanov posted on his campaign web site, from 2002 to 2003 he served on the executive committee of United Russia and prior to this, in 2001, he was elected to the party's central political council.

(The Moscow Times 28.i.08)