Putin challenger Yavlinsky faces possible disqualification

Putin challenger Yavlinsky faces possible disqualification

MOSCOW - Agence France-Presse
Putin challenger Yavlinsky faces possible disqualification

The liberal Yabloko party chief Grigory Yavlinsky speaks during his press conference in Moscow, on January 23, 2012. AFP photo

Russia's election authorities said Monday they may reject the presidential candidacy of liberal opposition leader Grigory Yavlinsky after finding alleged violations in his registration papers.

The veteran Yabloko party chief made a surprise return to Russian politics last year after refusing to challenge Vladimir Putin or his hand-picked successor Dmitry Medvedev in two past polls that he termed undemocratic.

He needed to gather two million signatures to qualify for the March 4 vote against Putin -- an ex-KGB agent who hopes to return for a historic third term -- because his party failed to make it to parliament in December elections.

A top election official said nearly a quarter of the signatures submitted by Yavlinsky had problems in
the first sample of papers examined thus far.

"The number of questionable and invalid signatures stands at 23.07 percent" in the first sample of 200,000 signatures, elections commission official Nikolai Konkin was quoted as saying by the state news agency ITAR-TASS.

Independent candidates are disqualified if problems are found with five percent of the signatures. Officials said they would conclude a second probe by the end of the week.

An unnamed election official had earlier told Russian news agencies that Yavlinsky had already been
disqualified from the race. But another commission member Yelena Dubrovina said the Yabloko leader "still has a chance." Yavlinsky immediately denounced the announcement as politically motivated and illegal.

"This is a purely political decision that has nothing to do with specific signatures or anything else of the sort," Yavlinsky told reporters.

"The situation with the March 4 elections is now even clearer," Yavlinsky told reporters.