Though his hand-picked successor has been all but named, Russian President Vladimir Putin urged voters Friday, Feb. 29, to go to the polls in the presidential elections on Sunday. Critics have called the vote a "farce."
Ready for voting
In televised statement to the nation, the outgoing president stressed that his successor would need a citizens' trust and a broad mandate to run the country efficiently.
"We all understand what a great and responsible role the leader of a state such as Russia is -- and how important it is for him to have the faith of his citizens," Putin said in a short address on Russian television. "He needs it for effective and confident work in his presidential post, to ensure stability in the country."
The Kremlin leader had tipped his Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev as his successor two weeks after Putin's party United Russia won a solid majority in the parliamentary vote last December.
Putin, who after two consecutive four-year terms as president is barred from running for the office again, has said he would become prime minister under a Medvedev presidency and is considered by many to be the one source of Medvedev's power.
Securing the Putin Plan's future
Some wonder how long the prime minister's mainly domestic duties will please Putin
Friday was the last day for official campaigning before the "day of silence" ahead of Sunday's elections.
But Putin's encouragement was tepid compared to bristling rhetoric he used ahead of the December parliamentary election when he said the vote was needed to protect the country against enemy "jackals," and "wolves." After winning in December, Putin no longer had to fear a defeat in March, according to Vitaly Ivanov, an analyst with the Center for the Study of Current Political Events.
"In essence, the two election campaigns were seen by Putin as two stages of a single campaign, which would first lead to the renewal of the regime and, second, to securing the continuity of his policy line," he said in comments published by state newspaper Izvestia.
The "political squabbles" of democracy
With Russia in the midst of an economic boom, mainly due to record prices for gas and oil, Medvedev has said he will have little to do other than continue Putin's policies.
Medvedev said he'll continue the policies Putin put in place
"If I am entrusted with leading the state I will simply be obliged to continue the policies ... of President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin," the 42-year-old Medvedev said. "I hope if we continue to work in this format, as a pair, it will benefit our country."
In a press conference this month, Putin said he was pleased that Medvedev was able to continue in his official duties as deputy prime minister.
"Otherwise the country could have run the risk of sinking into endless political squabbles," he said.
Putin's critics, however, have said that Medvedev's decision not to take part in political debates and the blanket coverage he receives by the media has turned the election -- which also features three other candidates -- into a one-sided race.
Medvedev triples opposition's combined support
Medvedev enjoyed 70 percent support in recent polls by state-owned pollster VTsIOM. Nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky was in second place on 11 percent, Gennady Zyuganov third with 10 percent and Andrei Bogdanov polled at 1 percent.
Most Western election observers are not monitoring the vote, citing obstruction by the authorities and the lack of any real choice or even political debate.
Putin may have to make room for Medvedev -- at least on a few channels
"Television broadcasts naturally give a very one-sided view as they are controlled by the state," Friederike Behr, an Amnesty International Russia researcher told a news conference in Berlin on Tuesday. "There is no real opposition ahead of the election. There is no real electoral campaign battle."
She added that only people in Russia's two largest cities, Moscow and St. Petersburg, had access to opposition media.
The corruption watchdog Transparency International said on Thursday that between Dec.1 and Feb.15, Medvedev had received more coverage in national media than his three rivals combined.
Former world chess champion and Kremlin opponent Garry Kasparov said he has plans to hold street protests the day after the election that would "show the authorities that we're prepared to stand up to their plans to destroy democracy."
"Western media have to stop using words like campaign and election," he said. "You are misleading your public. In Russia, instead, we are talking about a farce."