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24 Jan, 2008 17:33

Fraud probe may sink Russian presidential hopeful

Four candidates have been officially registered to run in Russia's presidential election. Independent candidate Andrey Bogdanov will contest the March 2 poll. However, it appears unlikely that former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov will be allowed to stan

Andrey Bogdanov is known as a strong advocate of Russia's integration into Europe. Bogdanov is not backed by any party in Parliament. Independent candidates have to collect two million signatures before being included on the March 2 ballot.

Under Russian law a candidate can be barred from running if more than 5 per cent of the signatures are found to be invalid – something that's proved a stumbling bloc for Kasyanov.

“More than 13 per cent of signatures submitted by Kasyanov are invalid. That exceeds the 5 per cent limit. The total number of valid signatures is less than two million. So we have two reasons to reject Kasyanov's candidacy,” declared Nikolay Konkin of the Central Election Commission.

A former Russian Prime Minister turned outspoken critic of the Kremlin, Kasyanov has already contested the findings of the Central Election Commission and remains optimistic.

“We insist that this is simple propaganda – that signatures are not real. We insist that the quality of all signatures is the best, of high level. That's why there is no reason not to register,” Mikhail Kasyanov says.

Election officials are now looking into his objections. But analysts believe Kasyanov's chances of running are slim.

Meanwhile, recent polls firmly place the Kremlin-backed Dmitry Medvedev in the lead with almost 61 per cent of electorate.

Both Mikhail Kasyanov and Andrey Bogdanov have around one per cent of voters' support.

A final verdict on Kasyanov's candidacy is expected no later than January 27.