Revolution possible if democracy wasn't embraced, Russian presidential candidate says
Mikhail Prokhorov is challenging current Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin for the presidency in March.
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"If there are no changes in Russia, from day to day this risk will increase," Prokhorov said. "Because 15, 20 percent of the population, the most active ones living in the big cities, want to live in a democratic country."Skip to next paragraph
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Prokhorov cast himself as the candidate for the upwardly mobile Russians who, wearing white ribbons or clutching white carnations in a symbol of protest, turned out in force last month for the biggest opposition rallies of Putin's rule.
"I think the era of 'managed democracy' is over," Prokhorov said. "I am in the habit of being very active, and I feel that it is time for politics."
He said that feeling was sweeping Russia, with debate over the future heard "in the kitchens, on the streets, in the elite -- everywhere. Now we are just crazy about politics... Just half a year ago, nobody had any interest in it."
He said he had proved he was his own man in September when he quit after a brief stint leading Right Cause, widely seen as a party controlled by the Kremlin to win liberal support.
Many opposition politicians, however, suspect Putin is using him to shunt middle-class anger into a safe channel in the presidential vote and to blunt opposition in its aftermath.
Russia's third richest man trod carefully around Putin.
Prokhorov distanced himself from the prime minister by saying they had not met since April and that his "first act" if elected would be to free Khodorkovsky, the jailed former oil tycoon Kremlin critics say was singled out for punishment by Putin during his 2000-2008 presidency.
Prokhorov said he had no evidence that corruption, one of Russia's biggest problems, reached to the top.
"I am a very practical man, and I like to have evidence."
He voiced one of the key demands aired at the street protests, calling for a new parliamentary election after reforms to let more parties seek seats in the State Duma, Russia's lower house, and run in other votes.
If he wins the presidency, he said, he would dissolve the Duma elected Dec. 4 and hold a new vote in December 2012.
Prokhorov's fun-loving party image took a sour turn in 2007 when French police detained him on suspicion of arranging prostitutes for guests at the Alpine ski resort of Courchevel. He denied any wrongdoing and was later cleared.
His riches and reputation are a hurdle in a country where millions see the 'oligarchs' as a criminal class whose wealth comes from corruption and misplaced government largesse.
Prokhorov, who attended the biggest rally in Moscow, on Dec. 24, but did not address the crowd, offered measured praise for some of the street protest leaders.
But he echoed Putin's assessment that opposition leaders were disorganised, though in nicer terms than those employed by Putin, who likened them to chattering monkeys from Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book.
"They know how to bring people out onto the street, but then what? They have no position, no programme," he said. A veteran of boardroom battles and business negotiations, he suggested his own brand of politics is more practical and productive.
Prokhorov made clear he intended to use the campaign to carve out a lasting, leading role in Russian politics as a liberal leader.