January 28, 2008 in Nation/World

Russian candidate removed from race

Megan K. Stack Los Angeles Times
The Spokesman-Review photo

(Full-size photo)

MOSCOW – The most outspoken opposition politician vying for the Russian presidency was thrown out of the race Sunday, accused by elections officials of forging tens of thousands of signatures.

The disqualification of former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov was immediately decried by opposition figures and analysts, who said the decision was a politically motivated attempt to silence a vocal government critic and maintain an image of uncontested Kremlin popularity.

Russia’s Central Elections Commission accused Kasyanov’s campaign of forging more than 80,000 of the signatures needed to get onto the ballot. It unanimously voted to disqualify him from the race. Running as an independent, Kasyanov needed to collect a minimum of 2 million signatures to register as a candidate for the presidency.

Sunday, Kasyanov denied that any forgery had taken place, and he accused President Vladimir Putin of blocking him from the race.

“I have no doubt that Putin personally made the decision not to register my candidacy,” he said in a statement.

The race for the presidency was widely viewed as a fait accompli when the popular and powerful Putin anointed longtime friend and First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev as his preferred successor. After last month’s endorsement, Medvedev signaled that Putin would become prime minister.

Despite Kasyanov’s claims that he could capture one-quarter of the vote, he wasn’t regarded as a serious obstacle to a Medvedev victory. He served as prime minister in the early years of Putin’s presidency and emerged as a Kremlin critic only after being fired from the government in 2004.

Still, analysts said, the Kremlin was determined to carry out a smooth transition and was leery of giving a platform to a well-spoken candidate who was apt to make sharp criticisms.

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