The Moscow Times reports that just as before the last presidential election Putin's chief rival Mikhail Khodorkovsky was sent to prison so he couldn't make a challenge to the Kremlin, now Putin's own former prime minister gets the same treatment this time:
Prosecutors announced Tuesday that they had opened a criminal investigation into purportedly forged signatures submitted by former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov in his attempt to register as a candidate in the March 2 presidential election. Evidence that Kasyanov's campaign workers forged thousands of signatures on petitions to get him on the ballot has been uncovered in the Marii-El republic and the Yaroslavl region, Prosecutor General's Office spokeswoman Tatyana Chernyshyova said. "A criminal investigation has been opened … into the falsification of election documents," Chernyshyova said in televised comments.
Independent candidates must submit 2 million signatures in support of their bids to the Central Elections Commission, which then verifies the signatures. The case involves Rustam Abdullin, the head of Kasyanov's campaign headquarters in Ioshkar-Ola, the capital of Marii-El, who was detained Jan. 11 on suspicion of forging 50,000 signatures, which police found in a bag he was carrying. He has been released, but ordered not to leave the city. Ioshkar-Ola prosecutors determined that 12,000 of those signatures were forged, Chernyshyova said. If charged and convicted with forging election documents, Abdullin could face up to three years in prison.
Reached by telephone Tuesday, Abdullin said the petitions were genuine and accused authorities of pressuring signatories to testify that someone had signed the petitions for them. "We are used to this," Abdullin said. "The authorities are hunting down all the honest politicians. Our work is, and has always been, clean." A criminal case is to be opened as well in the Yaroslavl region city Rybinsk, where prosecutors have uncovered 3,500 forged petitions, Chernyshyova said.
There have been several criminal cases and convictions throughout the country on charges of forging signatures on election documents, including for the independent candidacies of Irina Khakamada, Sergei Glazyev and Ivan Rybkin in the 2004 presidential election. At a hastily called news conference Tuesday at his office in southwest Moscow, Kasyanov said authorities began carrying out a "massive, large-scale campaign of intimidation" against his staff after his preliminary registration as a potential presidential candidate. "The authorities are scared of a genuine political fight," Kasyanov said.
Meanwhile, Central Elections Commission member Nikolai Konkin said that of the 400,000 signatures in support of Kasyanov inspected by the commission as of Tuesday, more than 15.5 percent were invalid. Should Kasyanov make it onto the ballot, polls this week suggest he would suffer an overwhelming defeat: Less than 1 percent of respondents said they would vote for him in a VTsIOM poll released Tuesday. Among the three candidates that have successfully registered, First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev had 60 percent; Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov had 7.5 percent; and Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky had 6 percent in the VTsIOM poll.
The only independent candidate other than Kasyanov trying to make it on the ballot, Democratic Party leader Andrei Bogdanov, will likely be registered as a candidate, Konkin, the Central Elections Commission member, said Tuesday. Of the signatures that Bogdanov submitted and have been inspected by election officials, only around 3 percent are invalid, Konkin said. If more than 5 percent of the signatures submitted by a prospective candidate are invalid, he cannot by law be registered.
The commission is to consider Bodgdanov's registration Thursday.