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No Contest in Russian Presidential Election


Russians go to the polls on Sunday for a presidential election in which the victory of Kremlin-backed candidate Dmitri Medvedev is considered a foregone conclusion. VOA Moscow Correspondent Peter Fedynsky reports that Medvedev's path toward high office has been very different from the one facing American presidential hopefuls.

Russians today are witnessing the twists and turns of an exciting presidential campaign.

But … it is not their own.

Russia's presidential contest stands in sharp contrast to America's hotly-contested presidential primaries.

Unlike his American counterparts, Dmitri Medvedev - the candidate of the ruling United Russia Party - did not need to submit his ideas, style and political record to the scrutiny of open competition, in which various party constituencies select their nominee based on discrete interests, be they regional, social, industrial, or financial.

Instead, Medvedev was nominated in private, though the exact procedure is unknown. Word of his candidacy came in December after the leaders of several parties, not just United Russia, presented his name to current president Vladimir Putin. But it is widely believed Mr. Putin selected Medvedev himself.

The 42-year-old candidate also did not have to agree to a single debate against his opponents. President Putin says there is no need.

The Kremlin leader asks why should Medvedev participate in debates and discuss problems that will be clearly formulated in a populist key. He continues, "Did we not have the opportunity to tell citizens what we have done and what we will do? In essence everything has been said."

Mr. Putin says the opposition candidates - political unknown Andrei Bogdanov, Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov, and populist firebrand Vladimir Zhirinovsky - have been granted every opportunity to publicize their programs.

But none has challenged the front-runner's platform and opposition campaign advertising is barely visible. Televised political promotions are not frequent, and the candidates have little outdoor advertising.

The most prominent election publicity amid a sea of commercial ads is a generic series of small billboards with a reminder that March 2 is Election Day. Another series billboards in Moscow shows prominent Russians - Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, well-known actor Leonid Yakubovych, or Viktor Sadovnychy, an honorary citizen of the capital, announcing merely that they will vote.

The advertising seems aimed at increasing voter turnout. Although denied by the Kremlin, political analysts say large institutions such as factories, hospitals and universities are being pressured to secure a 65 percent turnout to promote the legitimacy of the election.

Public opinion polls indicate Dmitri Medvedev will win handily in the first round. Muscovite Andrei Borodin intends to vote for him.

The Russian voter says everybody fundamentally understands that Medvedev is Putin's successor, adding that he is very pleased with Putin's policies and considers them to be those of order. Borodin says most Russian citizens feel the same.

Russia's March second vote comes eight months before the U.S. election. By January, both countries will have new leaders, who will have arrived in office after completely different campaigns. But outgoing Russian president Vladimir Putin says it will be in the interests of both countries for their new leaders to cooperate.

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