Leading liberal shut out of Russian presidential race

By bne IntelliNews January 25, 2012

bne -

Veteran liberal politician Grigory Yavlinsky - touted as the likely beneficiary of votes from the recent protest movement in Russia - has been ejected from the presidential race due to a high percentage of invalid signatures on his application documents, the Central Elections Commission (CEC) said on January 24.

Yavlinsky was required to collect 2m signatures in support of his bid to run for president since his party, Yabloko, is not represented in parliament, but according to CEC secretary Nikolai Konkin, 25.66% of the signatures were found to be invalid. The election law specifies a maximum of 5% of signatures may be invalid. "The commission will hold a session later this week to officially refuse to register Grigory Yavlinsky" for the March 4 vote, Konkin said.

The CEC also rejected the application of Irkutsk governor Dmitry Mezentsev for the same reason. Blunder-prone Mezentsev was a rank outsider and pundits suggest his calamitous political gaffes - including hitting the national headlines for using his power to hold an Aeroflot flight on the runway for over an hour when running late - earned him the dubious honour of running as a patsy for Vladimir Putin, whilst other candidates were ejected from the race. Russian election law dictates a vote cannot go ahead without at least two candidates.

Apparently unaware of the size of his latest gaffe in failing at the simple task of losing an election to the still hugely popular Putin, Mezentsev called the CEC's decision to reject his application "fair and wise," according to newswires.

At the same time, the commission waved through the signatures collected by faux-opposition candidate and oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov, reinforcing pundits' belief that he is actually running with the blessing of the Kremlin to offer a show of choice to voters. Some analysts suggest that given the short time available to collect the huge number of signatures, both Yavlinsky and Prokhorov probably failed to meet the legal requirements.

Commentators saw Yavlinsky as the candidate with the most potential to benefit most from the protest vote, with the possibility of uniting both liberal and left-leaning voters upset by political and economic stagnation. Some suggest he may have been able to poll enough in the initial vote to push Putin into a second round - an event the Kremlin would like to avoid.

Meanwhile, fellow liberal and former finance minister Aleksei Kudrin proposed an alliance with Yavlinksy on January 24. Kudrin twittered "I'm ready to cooperate with Yavlinsky to consolidate democratic forces."

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