Russians are gearing up to elect a new president Sunday, widely expected to put Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in office for a third non-consecutive term.
There are four opposition candidates, but Putin's United Russia party is widely expected to win, despite massive opposition towards him and the party.
Russians have taken to the streets in protests not seen since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Protesters say they can not stomach the thought of Mr. Putin ruling the country for another six to 12 years. They claim the prime minister, who was president from 2000 to 2008, runs the country through a tightly controlled political system and corruption.
In his 20s, Sasha, who did not want to use his last name, says he is tired of Mr. Putin and his authoritarian rule. He is voting for Independent billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, co-owner of the New Jersey Nets basketball team.
He is voting for Mr. Prokhorov because he is young, he says. He adds Mr. Putin has already shown all that he can do and he has already got enough money.
Anya, who also preferred not to use her last name, says she is looking forward to Putin returning to the presidency because he has done a lot for the country. She says he helped bring Russia out of economic collapse in the late 90s.
She says she thinks Putin will win because he is the most qualified and believes the elections will be clean.
So-called clean elections have been a sticking point in Russia. Following the country’s December parliamentary elections, in which ruling party United Russia won the most seats, many voters maintain the party won by ballot-stuffing and vote-rigging. A charge the party vehemently denies.
In response to the demonstrations, Mr. Putin promised to put cameras and monitors in the polling stations in an attempt to prohibit voter fraud.
Natasha, who also did not want to use her last name, says she is not even going to bother to vote because she knows that ruling United Russia will cheat and Mr. Putin will win.
She does not think the elections will be clean unless cameras are installed as (Mr. Putin) has promised, she says.
The last public opinion poll before the election by an independent surveyor, The Levada Center, indicates Mr. Putin will win with 62 to 66 percent of the vote, avoiding an embarrassing runoff.
Russian presidents are limited by law to two consecutive six-year terms. If Mr. Putin is elected again, he will be the longest-serving leader in Moscow since former Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.
The Russian presidential candidates:
|Vladimir Putin||President from 2000-2008. Currently serves as prime minister, and is running on the United Russia party ticket. His popularity is waning among the Russian middle class, but is expected to win the March election.|
|Mikhail Prokhorov||Russia's third richest man. He is running as an independent, but was formerly part of the pro-business Right Cause party. He is highly critical of Russian corruption and overinflated bureaucracy, and is poising himself as the middle class's candidate.|
|Gennady Zyuganov||The Communist Party leader, running for the fourth time since 1996. He is considered most likely to have a runoff with Putin. He aims to strengthen Russia by increasing social welfare through the nationalization of state resources.|
|Sergei Mironov||A Just Russia party candidate. Aims to build an effective Social Democratic political system. He was criticized for not taking a stronger stance against Putin. Mironov believes Russia and American diplomatic efforts are "doomed to agreements, collaboration and partnership."|
|Vladimir Zhirinovsky||The founder of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, running for president for the fifth time since 1991. He is the most outspoken candidate promoting a nationalistic, anti-American agenda.|