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Russian liberals call on ex-Yukos head to run for parliament

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MOSCOW, August 10 (RIA Novosti) - Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the jailed former chief executive of embattled oil company Yukos, is considering running in a by-election for the lower chamber of parliament, a leading business daily reported Wednesday.

Vedomosti wrote that his chances of getting elected to the State Duma were close to zero, but experts told the paper that it was the taking part, not the winning that mattered.

A source close to Khodorkovsky said that democratic politicians mentioned in an article the published on August 1 - members of the liberal Yabloko party, Duma deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov and ex-member Irina Khakamada - had proposed that the imprisoned magnate run for parliament.

Under Article 32 of the Russian Constitution, Khodorkovsky may run in Moscow's 201st University electoral district, whose representative, Mikhail Zadornov, gave up his seat for a position in banking giant Vneshtorgbank this summer.

Alexander Shemelyov, the director of the Moscow Bureau of Political Law, told the paper that a pre-trial detention center, where Khodorkovsky is currently being held in custody, was technically not a prison. The expert said that under Russian law this meant the ex-chief executive's embezzlement conviction would not come into force until his appeal had been heard. And that meant he had a constitutional right to stand for office.

Suren Avakyan, the head of the chair of constitutional and municipal law at the law department at Moscow State University, said: "Had he been under investigation in the pre-trial detention center, he would have had the right to stand in an election, but a verdict has been returned in his case and the Central Election Commission may use this argument to refuse to register him."

Another expert, Stanislav Belkovsky, the director of the National Strategy Institute, described that idea of running for parliament as a "win-win project."

"If he [Khodorkovsky] is denied registration, this will prove that the authorities fear him," the political scientist said. "If he is registered, he will use the election campaign to criticize the authorities, which will mobilize his supporters and cause a fall in the president's ratings."

Political scientist Dmitry Oreshkin said: "If he is ready to accept the idea that he will die of a prison disease, he may try running for parliament. The attempt will only confirm that he intends to continue his energetic work in society."

But all the experts were unanimous that Khodorkovsky would not get parliamentary immunity one way or another, because his appeal would be heard as soon as possible and his conviction would be upheld.

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