Jailed Yukos boss Mikhail Khodorkovsky has announced that he is considering standing for election to the State Duma in an upcoming by-election.
"I am absolutely confident that they will not allow me to run. But if I receive letters from people whose opinions are important for me, I will agree, even being aware of the fact that, firstly, they will not let me win the elections, and, secondly, that renewed repression will follow," Khodorkovsky’s lawyer Yury Shmidt quoted the former Yukos CEO as saying.
According to a report in Vedmosti, quoted by RIA Novosti, several senior liberal politicians have already asked Khodorkovsky to run.
At first glance, the chances of Khodorkovsky running for the Duma would seem absurd. After all, he’s in jail. However, the deputy head of the Central Election Commission has gone on record to confirm that Khodorkovsky is eligible to stand in the by-election, although he does cast some doubt on whether he will actually be able to:
"Under the law, he [Khodorkovsky] has this right. Time will show if he is registered [on time]," Deputy Chairman of the commission Oleg Vilyashev told reporters on Wednesday, commenting on press reports that some right-wing politicians had advised Khodorkovsky, 42, to run for a seat in the lower chamber of parliament, the State Duma, in a Moscow by-election.
Vilyashev went on to clarify that Khodorkovsky was eligible because, although he had been convicted, his appeal against the conviction had not yet been confirmed.
If Khodorkovsky does stand for election (is allowed to stand for election?) and goes on to win a seat in the Duma, this will really set the cat amongst the pigeons in Russian politics. It would show that Khodorkovsky is a credible challenger to Putin (or whoever is nominated to succeed Putin) in an electoral contest.
If Khodorkovsky were to become a Duma representative, it would pose a real question as to his legal status. As a Duma representative, Khodorkovsky would have immunity from prosecution, guaranteed under the Constitution.
- Deputies to the Federation Council and deputies to the State Duma shall possess immunity throughout their term in office. A deputy may not be detained, arrested, searched except when detained in the act of perpetrating a crime, and may not be subject to personal search except when such search shall be authorized by law to ensure the safety of other people.
- The question of stripping a deputy of immunity shall be decided on the recommendation of the Prosecutor-General of the Russian Federation by the corresponding chamber of the Federal Assembly.
I’m certainly no expert on Russian law, though, so I have to say I have no idea as to whether this applies to someone who has already been convicted of a crime, but is appealing the verdict. I’d imagine it’s probably something that Russian lawyers don’t agree on, though, and it could spark yet another huge legal case.
I’m still in shock about this announcement, and these are just my initial reactions. Take them for what you will and bear in mind that Khodorkovsky still has to overcome three major obstacles:
- First, Khodorkovsky must persuade himself that it is worth running and that he wants to take this risk – especially when he considers that his popularity is greater outside of Russia than it is within Russia. If he harbours political ambitions and loses in what is perceived as a fair fight, this could destroy his political career.
- Second, the Central Election Commission must confirm that he is eligible to run. His opponents will place huge obstacles in his way but he appears to have the law on his side.
- Finally, he must actually win the election…
Update: I’d been meaning to post on the news that Khodorkovsky was recently moved to a new cell with 10 other inmates, but the news that he might stand for election superceded it. The change of cell means that not only is Khodorkovsky now living in far more crowded accomodation, but has lost most of his priviliges (fridge, tv, etc).
Earlier today, speculation as to the motives for the move centred around Left Turn, an article that Khodorkovsky had recently written. Prison officials denied that the move was in response to the article, and explainted that he had been moved because his original cell was being "renovated." This explanation was, as you would expect, greeted with much scepticism.
In the light of today’s news, I’m forced to wonder if the Kremlin somehow got news that Khodorkovsky was considering standing for election, and decided to give him just a tiny warning of their power over him…
Or is that just me being overly cynical again?
Update 2: This excellent overview report in The Moscow Times gives a few further details, including the district in which Khodorkovsky may run:
Analysts said the Kremlin would be unlikely to allow Khodorkovsky to run, since he would have a good chance of winning in the Universitetsky district, an area that is home to many of the city’s intelligentsia.
Update 3: Nothing much more to write at this stage – the only key variable at the moment is whether Khodorkovsky decides to run or not, and we’ll have to wait for the man himself to find the outcome of that decision.
In the meantime, two posts worth checking out on the affair: First, Robert at Publius Pundit notes that yesterday also brought the announcement that a group of Far Eastern lawmakers have drafted an amendment to the constitution that would allow Putin to run for a third consecutive term:
Maybe we should just go ahead and change his title to President-for-life Putin while were ahead of the game. That way it wont come as any shock when the rubberstamp Duma eventually approves a constitutional amendment like this.
And Lyndon at Scraps of Moscow has a roundup of all the major stories in Russia yesterday, including the Khodorkovsky will he won’t he, including plenty of links to Russian news sources on the story in both Russian and English.
I don’t think the lack of privileges for Khodorkhovsky is the point. But if he has been put in a cell with a gang of thugs and the other gang of thugs running the prison turn a blind eye, then who knows what could happen to him. It happens in British prisons with paedophiles, so I would not be too hopeful about an “accident” not happening, just to teach him a lesson.
Actually, I think the chances of Khodorkovsky being beaten up while in prison are relatively slim. In fact, I’d imagine that the word has been put out that he is not to be touched. Mainly because, if a beating were to take place it would be immediately blamed on the Kremlin, whether they planned the attack or not. And, although I’m often a critic of an unsubtle Kremlin, I don’t think they are so unsubtle as to try beating Khodorkovsky up as a tactic. Not when they already have him in jail.
And if that isn’t enough of a deterrent, I’d also imagine that Khodorkovsky still has enough cash and respect (respect for his cash) to protect him from most random attacks.