For Vladimir Putin, winning Russia's presidency may be the easy part
The Russian election has been engineered for a Vladimir Putin victory. His true challenge will come afterward, when he has to rule a country increasingly dissatisfied with his rule.
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Another drearily predictable quantity is Vladimir Zhirinovsky, leader of the ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party, who has run in every presidential election since 1990 and usually nets about 10 percent of the votes. Mr. Zhirinovsky is often a fiery orator who laces his speeches with anti-Western rhetoric and the occasional racist barb, but his parliamentary caucus has never voted against a single Kremlin-approved policy.Skip to next paragraph
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Yet another is Sergei Mironov, a former Putin ally who received less than 1 percent of the votes when he ran for president in 2004. At the time, he claimed he was only in the race to ensure there would be a non-Putin choice on the ballot.
The only splash of color is provided by metals tycoon Mikhail Prokhorov, owner of the New Jersey Nets basketball team, who announced his candidacy after December's mass demonstrations. He pledged to speak for a rising middle class and gained a bit of traction, despite widespread suspicion that he's a Kremlin stalking horse (the last superwealthy Russian to challenge Putin, oil magnate Mikhail Khodorkovsky, is in his ninth year in a Siberian penal colony).
But Mr. Prokhorov is a jet-setting playboy and one of the handful of 1990s "oligarchs" who are widely reviled for getting rich through murky privatizations of former Soviet state assets while the economy collapsed. Pollsters give him no chance of gaining favor in Russia's vast, conservative, working-class hinterland.
"Prokhorov has shot from 2 percent backing to 8 percent since the beginning of the election campaign," says Lev Gudkov, director of the Levada Center. "In Moscow, where there are alternatives to state-run TV and people know him, his support is growing. In opposition circles he's viewed as an important protest candidate, but even there his personality doesn't attract much sympathy."
True opponents kept off the ballot
Not on the ballot are representatives of nine parties that the Justice Ministry has refused to register. That includes the leaders of the liberal Party of People's Freedom, all of them formidable, experienced politicians such as former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, former Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov, and former independent Duma deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov. Veteran left-wing activists such as Sergei Udaltsov, a leader of the recent street opposition, have also not been permitted to run.
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