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Russia bars liberal candidate from presidential election

Russia's electoral commission has disqualified veteran liberal politician Grigory Yavlinsky from running against Vladimir Putin, showing that Putin's 'managed democracy' is still at work.

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Many critics believe the decision to block Yavlinsky was made to favor Mikhail Prokhorov, the billionaire owner of the New Jersey Nets basketball team, who announced his candidacy last month and easily sailed through the registration process this week.

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Mr. Prokhorov is youthful and energetic and talks a liberal line that might well appeal to Russia's disgruntled urban middle class. But he is also one of Russia's widely-despised "oligarchs," who earned his fortune in the murky 1990s privatizations of Soviet state assets, and a jet-setting playboy who, critics insist, stands zero chance of appealing to restive voters in Russia's far-flung conservative and working-class hinterland.

Prokhorov has denounced the decision to bar Yavlinsky from running.

"I have always stood for fair competition in politics," Prokhorov wrote on his LiveJournal blog about the Yavlinsky ruling. "This is what our citizens, who've been going to rallies, are demanding. A victory in the presidential elections should be won only by fair means."

With the ballot now finalized, the permitted candidates, besides Prokhorov, include Communist Party chief Gennady Zyuganov, whose ability to attract protest votes beyond his traditional supporters is sharply limited by the negative attitudes of many Russians toward the party that led the Soviet Union. Another is ultra-nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who has run in every Russian presidential election since 1990. His Liberal Democratic Party, whose name is widely seen as a misleading misnomer, is a fixture in the parliament and has never voted against any Kremlin-approved policy.  

Yet another contender is former speaker of the upper house of parliament Sergei Mironov, a former Putin crony who polled less than 1 percent when he ran against him in 2004. Mironov's most notable quote in that campaign was, "We all want Vladimir Putin to be the next president."

According to a public opinion poll released Friday by the state-run Public Opinion Research Center, Putin remains the most popular candidate, with 49 percent of respondents supporting him. Mr. Zyuganov is far behind with 11 percent, Mr. Zhirinovsky with 9 percent, and Mr. Mironov with 6 percent. Prokhorov received 4 percent of the votes, but pollsters point out that his support has doubled in the past week, indicating strong momentum. 

"Speaking personally, I would have gladly voted for Yavlinsky, but I will never support Prokhorov because I think he's as bad as Putin, even if he isn't an outright Kremlin project," says Mr. Strokan, the columnist. 

"I'm surely not the only one who thinks that way. I know an awful lot of people who would like to see an acceptable protest candidate on the ballot, an anti-Putin option that they could vote for with clear consciences," he adds. "Now there isn't one." 

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