MOSCOW – Former Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov was barred on Sunday from running for president in a March election, a move he said was taken to block any real challenge to Kremlin chief Vladimir Putin’s chosen candidate.
The Election Commission’s decision seemed certain to stir fresh criticism by Kremlin opponents that the March 2 vote will not be fair. The opposition says it is slanted in favor of Dmitry Medvedev, 42, the first deputy prime minister who Putin has backed as his successor.
In a swift reaction, Kasyanov said Russia under Putin was now on “the slippery slope towards thievish totalitarianism” and he urged citizens to boycott the election.
The Commission voted unanimously to refuse to register Kasyanov, 50, because it said hundreds of thousands of the signatures he had to submit in support of his candidacy were either forged, incorrect or spoiled.
Kasyanov, who had little chance of winning the election, denied so many signatures were invalid and said Putin had personally made the decision to bar him from election.
“The authorities were afraid of an open battle,” Kasyanov told reporters in southern Moscow. “The authorities are scared of the people and so they prevented me from running.”
“I call on citizens not to vote, not to take part in this farce,” he said.
The election will be closely monitored by the United States and the European Union after international observers said last year’s parliamentary vote was skewed by interference from the authorities. Kremlin officials say they want a fair vote.
Kasyanov, who served as Putin’s first prime minister, said his former boss had created a political system that would eventually collapse because it failed to accept any renewal or dissent.
“This system, like the U.S.S.R., does not allow any improvement from within or from without,” he said. “Despite its seeming durability it will inevitably collapse under the weight of its own vices and crimes.”
Medvedev is expected to win a landslide after being chosen as successor last month by Putin, who has said he could work as prime minister after he steps down as president.
Putin, 55, is immensely popular after presenting the image of stability and presiding over the longest Russian economic boom since the 1970s.
When asked what he thought of Medvedev, Kasyanov said: “They are both taking the country on a path to destruction so for me they are just the same.”
“He (Medvedev) is just a representative of the regime, these people are not men of principle,” Kasyanov said.
The Election Commission said problems were found with 13.36 of the 2 million signatures Kasyanov submitted to be registered. Rules allow just 5 percent of signatures to be invalid.
“What we did with Kasyanov is in accordance with the rules of the Russian Federation to ensure the proper registration of candidates,” Nikolai Konkin, secretary of Russia’s Central Election Commission, told reporters.
Konkin said the move meant four candidates would take part in the presidential election: Medvedev, Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov, firebrand nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovksy and Democratic Party leader Andrei Bogdanov.
Kasyanov, formerly a suave career bureaucrat who served as prime minister for the first four years of Putin’s rule, turned on his former boss after being sacked in 2004.