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Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Sunday Persecution

A letter to the editor of the Moscow Times:

Editor,

So Andrei Lugovoi allegedly assassinated Alexander Litvinenko. And that's fine -- he becomes a hero, gets elected to the State Duma and is appointed second head of the LDPR party list. He also gets asked if he will run for president.

Vitaly Kaloyev, the architect from the Caucasus region of North Ossetia, assassinates Peter Nielsen, a Swiss-based air-traffic controller, and Kaloyev gets a senior government job in his hometown.

Now, just what message about Russian society and morals does that send?

Giles Cattermole
Sonning-on-Thames, U.K.

A Moscow Times Editorial:

The harassment this week of campaign workers trying to get Mikhail Kasyanov registered for the March 2 presidential election is a clear, a well-coordinated effort designed either to discredit the former prime minister or force him out of the race altogether.

First police and Federal Security Service agents detained Rustam Abdullin, the head of Kasyanov's campaign headquarters in Ioshkar-Ola, the capital of Marii-El. Abdullin was detained on suspicion of forging 50,000 signatures, and prosecutors then opened a criminal case against him. He maintains that the signatures are legitimate. Federal prosecutors also announced on Tuesday that a similar case had been opened in the Yaroslavl region.

According to Kasyanov campaign representatives, officers from the Interior Ministry's organized crime and terrorism unit also found time in their busy schedules to go door to door in several regions for "informal" talks with those collecting signatures for Kasyanov. The campaign officials say this was an attempt to intimidate the collectors into making false statements that they had faked signatures.

The Central Elections Commission is expected to announce whether Kasyanov will be allowed to run on Sunday, but its secretary, Nikolai Konkin, has already made it clear that the answer will likely be no. Konkin said Thursday that the commission had determined that 13 percent of the signatures submitted by his campaign were invalid, and that this was proper grounds to refuse his candidacy.

Kasyanov, meanwhile, maintains that the commission's decision will have nothing to do with signatures and everything to do with whether President Vladimir Putin -- who has already named First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev as his preferred candidate -- wants him in the race.

We don't know if Kasyanov is right in his assessment or, if there is a campaign against his supporters, who is coordinating it and at what level. But if those supporting Medvedev's candidacy want his election to seem a legitimate exercise in democracy rather than a carefully scripted and fully orchestrated charade, then the most intelligent approach would be to leave Kasyanov's people alone. The Central Elections Commission should be guided by evidence and the law when deciding if Kasyanov should be allowed to run.

What makes the authorities' behavior so puzzling is that Kasyanov has virtually no chance of winning. Medvedev is already the choice of over 80 percent of voters, according to the latest nationwide survey by the Levada Center, while Kasyanov's level of support was below the margin of error. The prospect of his supporters hitting the streets in a successful Orange Revolution-style protest that so concerns the Kremlin is difficult to take seriously. Thus, lifting the pressure from Kasyanov's campaign team and allowing him to run would be no threat to Medvedev. On the contrary, both Medvedev and the country's image stand to gain from holding an open campaign in compliance with election law and democratic principles.

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