Little Chance Left of Kasyanov Candidacy

The Central Elections Commission said Thursday that former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov should not be registered as a candidate for the March 2 presidential election because of invalid documentation.

An examination of the petition Kasyanov was required to submit because he was not nominated by a party represented in the State Duma revealed that over 13 percent of the 2,067,000 signatures it contained were invalid, commission secretary Nikolai Konkin said in a statement.

"In this case, the number of valid signatures is less than 2 million, which provides grounds to refuse registration as a candidate," the statement said.

"For this reason, Kasyanov should be excluded from participation as a candidate in the presidential election," Konkin later told reporters at the commission's headquarters.

The announcement came on the same day the commission registered Andrei Bogdanov, head of the Democratic Party of Russia, for the vote.

Lawyers for Kasyanov are currently studying the commission's findings, said Yelena Dikun, his spokeswoman.

The final decision on Kasyanov's application is expected to be announced Sunday.

In the meantime, Kasyanov's lawyers will be locked in debate with commission officials, Dikun said.

"We maintain that more than 2 million people have voted for Kasyanov," Dikun said.

Kasyanov, in Brussels on Thursday for a conference with European Parliament members, dismissed the commission's findings as "simple propaganda," despite which he expected to be registered.

Dikun said an insignificant number of the signatures thrown out by the commission were determined to be forgeries. Most of the examples that were declared invalid failed to past the test because of errors by the signatories like the inclusion of incorrect passport numbers and dates.

Konkin said a total of 80,261 signatures were invalid.

If more than 5 percent of the signatures on a petition are declared invalid, the would-be candidate is disqualified.

On Tuesday, prosecutors announced that they had opened a criminal investigation into forged signatures submitted by Kasyanov's team. In response, Kasyanov filed a complaint to Prosecutor General Yury Chaika claiming that law enforcement agencies in the regions were conducting a coordinated campaign of pressure on people collecting the signatures for him.

Bogdanov, meanwhile, is the fourth candidate to make the ballot and the only independent so far. He encountered little trouble in the registration procedure, with the commission declaring just over 3 percent of his signatures to be invalid.

Many consider Bogdanov's party a Kremlin creation aimed at fragmenting the opposition.

The three other candidates -- Dmitry Medvedev, who was put forward by United Russia; the Liberal Democratic Party's Vladimir Zhirinovsky; and Gennady Zyuganov from the Communists -- were all spared the signature requirement because of their party backing.

Zyuganov, however, said during a visit to China on Thursday that he might rethink his decision to run.

We are considering such an option, but we still hope for some common sense from the authorities," Zyuganov said, Itar-Tass reported. "I treat this matter seriously."

Zyuganov is known to be angry that, among other things, presidential campaigns in Russia do not include live television debates and that candidates do not receive equal coverage on state-owned media outlets.

Earlier, the elections commission said it would award a medal to the head of a group of election observers from former CIS countries for their work during December's State Duma vote.

In contrast to the criticism from international observers as to the fairness of the parliamentary elections, the CIS team said it found no serious violations.