Putin’s rival faces disqualification over paperwork irregularities

An election official said on Friday that some of the signatures supporting Boris Nadezhdin, a Russian candidate who criticizes Putin and his military intervention in Ukraine, belonged to dead people.

Cartoon image depicting an election official holding a document labeled "Boris Nadezhdin" while pointing at a list of signatures. In the background, there are tombstones with names written on them, symbolizing the signatures belonging to deceased individuals.

An election official said on Friday that paperwork submitted by Boris Nadezhdin, a Russian candidate who opposes the war in Ukraine, had irregularities. Nadezhdin had given the electoral commission more than 100,000 signatures from supporters across Russia this week, hoping to get his name on the ballot paper for the election on March 15-17.

However, Nikolai Bulayev, the commission’s deputy chairman, said some of the signatures belonged to dead people. This raised the possibility that Nadezhdin could be disqualified on technical grounds, after he had drawn attention with his sharp criticism of President Vladimir Putin and his military intervention in Ukraine. The commission will reveal next week which candidates are eligible to run.

Nadezhdin, 60, is unlikely to win even if he is allowed to join the race, as Putin has a strong grip on the state and a long record of power. But Nadezhdin’s campaign has appealed to people who reject the Kremlin’s description of its action in Ukraine as a “special military operation”. Nadezhdin has called it a “fatal mistake” by Putin and vowed to end it through dialogue.

Bulayev said at a televised meeting of the commission that they had almost finished verifying the signatures of another candidate, Sergei Malinkovich, and were working “non-stop” on Nadezhdin’s. He said some errors in the lists were normal. “But when we see dozens… of people who are no longer alive, and they signed, the question arises about the honesty of the ethical standards being used, including by the person who collected the signature. And the candidate is partly responsible for this.”

Nadezhdin joked about the issue in a message to his supporters on Telegram. “You and I are the most alive of the living. If someone thinks they see dead souls in my signature lists – well friends, that is not a question for me. It’s more for the church, or an exorcist,” he said. The term “dead souls” was popularized in Russia by Nikolai Gogol’s classic 19th century novel “Dead Souls”, in which a swindler buys up landowners’ dead serfs as part of a financial scheme.

Some analysts think Nadezhdin’s rising prominence is irritating Putin, 71, and that the Kremlin might look for an excuse to stop him. In the past, election officials have rejected candidates whose signatures from supporters were deemed invalid.

The Kremlin has said it does not consider Nadezhdin a serious threat to Putin, who it says will win the election based on the overwhelming popular support he has gained during more than two decades in power as either president or prime minister.

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