Last Opposition Candidate Pressured to Step Down in Russia

As the electoral campaign swings forward in Russia, there is little doubt that Dmitri Medvedev, President Vladimir Putin’s chosen successor, will sweep the vote. With a nod from Putin and weak campaigns from other pro-Kremlin contenders, no other candidate is polling anywhere close to the Gazprom chairman.

The liberal opposition isn’t faring much better. In fact, all but one of the original candidates, including Garry Kasparov, Vladimir Bukovsky, and Boris Nemtsov, have stepped down or been pressured out of the race. Now, the last remaining opposition candidate, Mikhail Kasyanov, looks fated to join them.

Kasyanov, who served as Putin’s prime minister before becoming a vocal critic of the administration, described the non-stop pressure from above against his campaign.

With references to orders by higher authorities, people are threatened, pressed to confess to alleged illegal activities, forced to abandon membership in the political party,” Kasyanov wrote in an online statement.

Kasyanov, who heads the People’s Democratic Union, is running as an independent for the March 2nd election. In order to complete his registration, he was required to collect two million signatures. As soon as these were submitted for review, the problems began with the Central Electoral Commission (CEC).

According to the candidate’s press-secretary, representatives of Russia’s Registration Agency met the party’s signature-takers in 30 regions. The officials demanded that the activists sign a statement saying the signatures were bought, and told them to admit that their party didn’t exist.

On January 22nd, the CEC claimed that of the 400,000 names they checked, over 15% of the signatures were falsified and invalid. Only a 5% rate of error is allowed under Russian law. The Commission will examine 200,000 more signatures, and will then most likely disqualify Kasyanov from the race.

Apparently, disqualification may not be enough for authorities. On Tuesday, the Prosecutor-General’s office announced the launch of a criminal investigation on grounds of “falsification of election documents” in two Russian regions.

Kasyanov has stood firm in the face of what supporters call “political pressure.”

“I am decidedly protesting against the anti-constitutional and provocative actions of the authorities which are supposed to guard law and order,” Kasyanov wrote.

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