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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bashkiria Leader Accused Of Blocking Election Bid




A would-be candidate for president of Bashkiria has accused the incumbent, Murtaza Rakhimov, of blocking his candidacy by sending police to browbeat his supporters into retracting their signatures on nominating petitions.


Alexander Arinin, a State Duma deputy from the republic and a leading opponent of the powerful regional leader, described Rakhimov as "the main policeman in a police state," Kommersant Daily newspaper reported Thursday.


The Bashkiria elections commission, however, accuses Arinin's campaign staffers of misleading people while circulating the petitions by saying they were taking a census. The commission refused to register his candidacy.


The Federal Election Commission was reviewing the actions of officials in the Volga River republic, a spokesman said Thursday.


Arinin filed his petitions April 30 and the local commission provisionally accepted them but expressed doubts about some of the 64,862 signatures and sent them to the local Interior Ministry for further investigation.


What happened next, according to a written statement by Arinin supporter Sergei Fufayev, the head of his nominating effort, is that from May 1 to 3, police went to the homes of people who had signed -- sometimes late at night -- and exerted "moral pressure" on them to retract their signatures and say they had been tricked into signing.


On May 4, the commission said it was refusing to register Arinin for next month's elections.


Arinin has filed suit with the local courts and vows to press his case to Russia's highest court.


In addition to the president, three candidates have been registered: Marat Mirgazyamov, the former prime minister of the republic; former banker Rafis Kadyrov; and the republic's timber minister, Rif Kazakkulov.


The timber minister, Fufayev said, "is viewed by the authorities as a double of Rakhimov, necessary to create the impression that the election is a real contest."


Officials with the Bashkiria administration could not be reached Thursday.


It's not the first time that Rakhimov, a former oil refinery manager who was elected president in 1993, has been accused of strong-arm tactics. The republic's authorities shut down a small independent newspaper, Vecherny Neftekamsk, after it published articles alleging official corruption. The Committee to Protect Journalists, a human rights watchdog, describes the news media in the republic of 4 million people as mostly controlled by local government officials.


Nikolai Petrov, an expert on regional politics at the Moscow Carnegie Center, said Rakhimov had made things more difficult for his opponents by moving up the election date from the fall to June 14.


Petrov described Arinin as one of the most active and open opponents of Rakhimov. "He ran [for the Duma] with significant opposition from the local authorities, who to a significant extent controlled the elections."


Nonetheless, Arinin was elected twice, in 1993 and 1995. Although he ran as an independent, he is a member of the Our Home Is Russia pro-government group in the Duma, Russia's lower house of parliament.