Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin faces four opponents in the presidential election on March 4. Reformers such as Grigory Yavlinsky have been barred from running. Is Putin's victory in the first round certain?
The list of candidates was finalized only five weeks before the presidential election in Russia. But none of the candidates seems to represent a serious threat to Vladimir Putin. After four years as prime minister, Putin wants to be president again, as the candidate of the ruling party United Russia.
Most of the challengers are well-known politicians who have already unsuccessfully run for the presidency several times. They have represente their respective parties in parliament for years: Vladimir Zhirinovsky, leader of the populist Liberal Democratic Party; Sergei Mironov, from the Kremlin-allied party, A Just Russia; and Gennady Zyuganov, leader of the Communist Party. The only newcomer among the presidential candidates is businessman Mikhail Prokhorov. Observers question his independence from the Kremlin.
Other candidates were eliminated because the Central Election Commission decided they had not gathered the required number of signatures. Among them was the founder of the reform-oriented Yabloko party, Grigory Yavlinsky. The commission said a quarter of the signatures he submitted did not meet the guidelines.
After Yavlinsky was shut out, the billionaire Prokhorov could hope that reform-minded voters would now vote for him. For some time he has tried to portray himself as the candidate of the disaffected. The third-richest man in Russia hopes to appear as a representative of those members of the middle class who have been demonstrating for free elections and democracy in Russia since early December. "I've put your ideas into practice in my electoral program," Prokhorov wrote in his blog.
"A politically motivated decision"
Yavlinsky election staff described the decision of the Electoral Commission as "politically motivated." Many Russian observers share this view. "After Grigory Yavlinsky was stopped from taking part, there is no one I can vote for," the chair of the Moscow Helsinki Group, Lyudmila Alekseyeva, told Deutsche Welle. The human rights activist said a majority of democratically minded voters would have voted for Yavlinsky on March 4. There is no doubt the decision of the Election Commission was politically motivated, she said.
That's exactly how it looks to Sascha Tamm of the Moscow branch of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation, affiliated with Germany's pro-business Free Democrats. "It's a purely political decision," Tamm said.
Observers are especially critical of the short time the registration process allowed the candidates for their signature-gathering campaigns. Andrei Busin of the independent Russian non-governmental association Golos ("Vote" or "Voice"), which monitors elections in Russia, says that it was virtually impossible to collect two million signatures honestly within a month, and especially not during the Christmas and New Year holidays. "How the registered candidates were able to get together enough signatures is a mystery. If the other candidates couldn't do it, it's doubtful any of them could," he said.
Observers in Moscow think that the rejection of Yavlinsky's candidacy should ensure a Putin victory in the first round of voting. But if it should come to a second ballot, the most likely scenario is that Putin and Communist Party leader Zyuganov would compete in a runoff election. Polls show Putin's support at between 37 and 45 percent. Other candidates would hardly be able to keep up with him, said Lev Gudkov, director of the Levada Center, an independent opinion research institute. Putin leads Zyuganov, his closest rival in the polls, by more than 20 percent.
Author: Jegor Winogradow / Markian Ostaptschuk / sb
Editor: Joanna Impey