Predictably, former prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov has been disqualified from running for president by Russia's Central Elections Commission. The move clears the way for a nice smooth run for Vladimir Putin's chosen successor, Dmitriy Medvedev. He will now run virtually unopposed in the Russian Federation's fifth presidential elections since the fall of the Soviet Union.
Yes, there will be opposition, but only of the token sort. Medvedev's remaining "opponents" are a pair of multi-time losers in Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov and ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky, as well as a virtual unknown, Andrey Bogdanov. Kasyanov was the only figure Russia's fractured liberal opposition could potentially have rallied around.
Opinion polls showed him trailing badly with less than 2 per cent support (compared to somewhere between 60 and 82 per cent for Medvedev, if the numbers are to be believed), but Kasyanov and his supporters never expected to win power through the Kremlin-controlled ballot boxes.
Though the odds were long, their aim was always to replicate Ukraine's Orange Revolution, with masses crowding Red Square on election day to peacefully protest a vote that everyone knows in advance will be deeply flawed. For that to have any chance of working, they needed a Viktor Yushchenko, a popular candidate to rally around.
One by one the other potential Yushchenkos dropped out or were forced out of the race by the Kremlin: Garry Kasparov, Vladimir Bukovsky, Boris Nemtsov. Now Kasyanov's gone too. So, by and large, is any lingering hope of peaceful democratic change in Russia in the near future.
(It's worth noting here that even Belarus's tyrannical Alexander Lukashenko at least allows an opposition candidate or two to run for president every five years... as did Putin in 2004 when he was confident of his personal popularity. It appears that despite the opinion polls, the Kremlin is less sure than it's letting on about Medvedev's real popular appeal.)
The Kremlin understood the stakes, which is why it pulled out one of the most farcical excuses in their playbook: the falsified signatures charge.
Anyone who doubts this is a canard only has to look back at how it's been used in Russia and across the former Soviet Union over the last 17 years. Either there's a very organized ring of international signature forgers at work (usually in league with those opposed to oppressive regimes) or the autocrats are scared to put their so-called popular support to a real test.
Here's an incomplete list of the invalid signatures phenomenon in post-Soviet elections:
November 1993: The Russian All-People's Union, which included elements of the old Communist Party, is barred from running in the first post-Soviet Duma elections due because of 20,000 falsified signatures.
July 1995: Eight parties barred from Armenia's first post-Soviet parliamentary vote because of falsified signatures.
March 2000: Konstantin Titov, Yevgeny Savostyanov, Ismail Tagi-Zade, and Umar Dzhabrailov are all barred from running for president over allegations of, well, falsified signatures. The elections, you may have heard, were eventually won by a Vladimir Putin.
October 2000: Citing falsified signatures, Azerbaijan's Central Election Committee bans the National Democratic Party from taking part in parliamentary elections .
September 2003: Malik Saidullayev disqualified from Chechnya's presidential elections over falsified signatures. Eventually all serious candidates are forced out of the race, clearing the way for the pro-Kremlin Akhmat Kadyrov (the deceased father of Ramzan) to run almost unopposed.
July 2004: Belarussian human rights group Viasna-96 (or Spring-96) loses its legal standing over charges that it falsified signatures on its registration papers.
December 2004: All opposition parties (all the real ones, anyway) in Uzbekistan are barred from parliamentary elections over signature issues.
November 2006: Opposition candidate Andrei Safonov is barred from running for the post of "president" in Moldova's pro-Russian breakaway province of Transdniestria. Wanna guess the reason?
March 2007: The liberal Yabloko party is barred from running in St. Petersburg municipal elections over falsified signatures.
October 2007: Russia's Green Party, along with the People’s Union and the Party for Peace and Unity, is barred from running in Duma elections over illegal John Hancocks.
January 2008: Kasyanov disqualified.
The list speaks for itself. Managed democracy, indeed.
Ah hell, why not take credit on this rare instance that it's due? As the Why Democracy? website notes in its weekly news roundup, "Canadian journalist Mark MacKinnon predicted Putin's falsified signatures approach a week ago." (See last post.)
I wish it hadn't been so easy. Like I said at the start - sigh.