9 Independents File to Run for President

Nine independent candidates, including former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov and Soviet-era dissident Vladimir Bukovsky, have been registered as potential contestants in the March 2 presidential election, the Central Elections Commission said Wednesday.

Independent candidates had until midnight Tuesday to submit documents confirming that they had at least 500 voters backing their bid to enter the race, in which First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev is the likely front-runner after receiving the support of President Vladimir Putin.

The Central Elections Commission received documents from 26 candidates claiming 500 supporters but approved only nine of those candidates, commission members said Wednesday.

Their documents will be scrutinized until Saturday, after which the commission will publish its first preliminary list of independent candidates, commission member Nina Kulyasova told a news conference.

Senior Central Elections Commission official Nikolai Konkin said later Wednesday that former Politburo member Oleg Shenin and St. Petersburg pensioner Nikolai Zubkov were denied registration for failing to submit the necessary paperwork, Interfax reported.

Only two candidates have been confirmed on this preliminary list, Kulyasova said: Kasyanov and Andrei Bogdanov, who is running as an independent rather than from the Democratic Party, which he heads.

Bukovsky, who was taken by force from the Soviet Union in 1976 for his opposition activities, is not expected to make it onto the ballot because he has both Russian and British citizenship. Election laws forbid dual citizens from running for office, but Bukovsky is waiting for a ruling from the Constitutional Court on the issue.

Independent candidates who make the preliminary cut Saturday still face the formidable task of collecting and submitting 2 million voter signatures by Jan 16.

Candidates backed by parties represented in the State Duma are exempt from this requirement.

Independents will also be tightly screened by authorities, Kulyasova said.

"We will ask the Foreign Ministry and the Federal Migration Service for help," she said, adding that she could not rule out the Federal Security Service's participation in the process.

While the deadline for independent presidential hopefuls expired Tuesday night, candidates representing registered political parties have until Saturday to file their documents.

So far only two party-backed candidates have submitted registration documents, Kulyasova said: Vladimir Zhirinovsky of the Liberal Democratic Party and Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov.

Kulyasova said she expected to receive documents for Medvedev, the candidate from pro-Kremlin party United Russia, and for Boris Nemtsov, from the liberal Union of Right Forces, by the end of the week.

"Everything will be done within the given deadline," senior United Russia official Andrei Vorobyov said Wednesday.