Russia disqualifies ex-PM Kasyanov

Russia disqualifies ex-PM Kasyanov
# 24 January 2008 11:54 (UTC +04:00)
Kasyanov was Putin’s first prime minister but became a Kremlin critic after losing his job in 2004.
"The number of valid signatures (in support of Kasyanov) is less than two million, which is grounds for refusing the candidate’s registration for the post of Russian president," said Commission secretary Nikolai Konkin, according to TASS news agency.
Commission officials could not immediately be reached for comment on the reports.
All independent candidates who want to run as candidates for the March 2 election must provide at least two million signatures in support of their bid. No more than 50,000 names may come from any one of Russia’s 85 regions.
Yelena Dikun, a spokeswoman for Kasyanov, disputed the election commission’s findings.
"The number of forged signatures is negligible ... Our lawyers are preparing objections and we will be insisting that the Central Election Commission take these into account," she said.
Opinion polls give Kasyanov no chance of beating Kremlin frontrunner Dmitry Medvedev in the election, but if he is disqualified it could leave Russia open to accusations that the contest is one-sided.
"A total of 13.38 percent of signatures collected in Mikhail Kasyanov’s support were concocted," Russian news agencies quoted Central Election Commission member Gennady Raikov as saying earlier on Thursday.
Prosecutors this week opened a criminal investigation into Kasyanov’s campaign, saying some of the signatures he submitted to back his bid were forged. Kasyanov says the Kremlin is trying to sabotage his campaign.
Russian election chiefs have officially registered three candidates for the election: Medvedev, nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky, and Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov.
All three are exempt from the signature requirement because their parties are represented in Russia’s State Duma (lower house of parliament). Officials are checking the signatures submitted by another candidate, independent Andrei Bogdanov.
Zhirinovsky avoids criticism of Putin and his party usually votes with Kremlin loyalists in parliament.
Officials in Zyuganov’s party said this week they did not rule out his withdrawing from the election because it was slanted in Medvedev’s favour, though Zyuganov himself later said no decision had been made. Reuters