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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

2 Bashkortostan Candidates Cry Foul After Poll Snub

Two would-be challengers for the presidency of Bashkortostan are alleging foul play after the Volga republic's elections commission refused to register them for forthcoming presidential elections.

The removal of Marat Mirgazyamov and Rafis Kadyrov from the race comes just days after the commission refused to register another leading challenger, State Duma Deputy Alexander Arinin, and means strongman President Murtaza Rakhimov will run effectively unchallenged in the June 14 election.

Bashkortostan's Central Election Commission ruled last week that Kadyrov and Mirgazyamov could not be registered as candidates because checks had shown that some signatures on their nominating petitions were either falsified or obtained under false pretenses.

But Mirgazyamov, a former prime minister of Bashkortostan, said Tuesday that the violations had been invented in order to give Rakhimov a safe path to reelection. He said he had filed an appeal against the ruling with the republic's Supreme Court.

"I almost expected this to happen. There is practically no opposition to Rakhimov. All mass media is completely under his control. There were five of his portraits in today's issue of [the newspaper] Sovietsky Bashkortostan alone," Mirgazyamov said in a telephone interview.

He added that police officers who made some of the checks on behalf of the commission had intimidated voters. "The police went around the houses over the May Day holidays, demanding documents and requesting the copies of signatures. Of course many got scared and withdrew their signatures," Mirgazyamov said.

Rafik Khazhipov, the head of Bashkortostan's presidential press service denied that the decision of the committee was in anyway influenced by the president.

"I think it is just a matter of conscience in gathering signatures. And besides if they represent opposition they should have expected that the lists in their support will be thoroughly checked," Khazhipov said.

Bary Kinzyagulov, the chairman of Bashkortostan's Central Election Commission, said he had acted in strict accordance with electoral law in excluding Mirgazyamov and Kadyrov. The absence of complaints from voters disproved claims that residents had been pressured into retracting their signatures, he added.

He said it was unlikely the Supreme Court would rule in the plaintiffs' favor. "It is all pointless," Kinzyagulov said in a telephone interview Tuesday.

With Arinin, Mirgazyamov and Kadyrov out of the race, Rakhimov's only remaining challenger is Rif Kazakkumov, an ally of the president and forestry minister in the republic's government. But Kazakkumov's candidacy is widely seen as a ruse to comply with electoral law -- an election is considered invalid if there is only one candidate.

Rakhimov was elected the president of Bashkortostan, a republic with a large Moslem population and which enjoys considerable autonomy from Moscow, in 1993.

The conflict over the registration of candidates is not the first incident when the president has come under fire for using strong-arm tactics. Earlier this year the authorities closed down the republic's only genuinely independent newspaper, Vecherny Neftekamsk, prompting criticism from human rights groups.

Nikolai Petrov, an expert on regional politics at the Moscow Carnegie Center, said Rakhimov simply played safe in his approach to the elections.

"It was rather unnecessary for him, since his rating is strong enough anyway. ... But it is alluring for any regional leader to have 100 percent confidence in victory," Petrov said.

According to Petrov, official Moscow is unlikely to show any reaction to the election affairs in Bashkortostan. "Moscow's general position is to turn a blind eye to any elections violations as long as regional leader is loyal," Petrov said.

Mirgazyamov said that if Bashkortostan's Supreme Court fails to reinstate him on the ballot, he will pursue the case in the federal Supreme Court.