| Two staples of all post-Soviet presidential elections
-- Communist Party chief Gennady Zyuganov and ultranationalist Liberal
Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky -- have decided at party congresses
not to run in the March election.
With Yabloko leader Grigory
Yavlinsky, the other candidate in all post-Soviet elections, already
out of the way, President Vladimir Putin faces no serious challengers
in the March 14 vote and is on course to secure a resounding victory,
political analysts said.
The Communists picked Agrarian Nikolai Kharitonov, 55, as their presidential
candidate at their congress Sunday, while LDPR chose Oleg Malyshkin, a
50-year-old former boxer and a political unknown, as its candidate Friday.
Zyuganov refused to run after the Communists suffered disappointing
losses in this month's State Duma elections, securing only 12.61 percent
of the vote, and he is thought to have put forward Kharitonov's candidacy.
"I thinks it is a complete collapse of the Communist party, its
ideology. It is a total fiasco," said Lyubov Sliska, a deputy speaker
in the previous Duma who was re-elected on the pro-Kremlin United Russia
Kharitonov beat out wealthy businessman Gennady Semigin, a candidate
supported by Zyuganov's deputy Valentin Kuptsov, in the congress vote
Sunday. Two other Communists were shortlisted for the nomination -- former
cosmonaut Svetlana Savitskya and former prosecutor Viktor Ilyukhin --
but they withdrew before the vote in favor of Kharitonov.
Zyuganov earlier supported the candidacy of former Krasnodar Governor
Nikolai Kondratenko, but Kondratenko, who is well-known for making anti-Semitic
remarks, refused to run, citing health problems.
Vladimir Pribylovsky, political analyst with the Panorama think tank,
said Kharitonov's candidacy was a compromise aimed at keeping the party's
traditional electorate from leaving for other parties.
"The Communists were forced to pick someone or they risked losing
their electorate to someone else, to Glazyev, for example," he said,
referring to Sergei Glazyev, the co-leader of the recently formed nationalist
Pribylovsky said keeping the voters also was important because the Communists
would need their support if they decide to later call for a boycott of
the presidential election. He said Kharitonov might register as a candidate
and then, closer to the vote, abruptly pull out and call for a boycott
on the grounds that his rights as a candidate had been violated.
Rodina co-leader Dmitry Rogozin predicted that Kharitonov's nomination
for presidency would lead to "the complete degradation and marginalization
of the Communist Party." He said Zyuganov got so carried away by
a power struggle inside the party that he did not find time to pick a
Irina Khakamada, a leader of the Union of Right Forces, said Kharitnov
was not really in opposition to the Kremlin as in the previous Duma his
Agrarians often voted for pro-Kremlin bills.
Zhirinovsky on Friday gave little reason for his decision not to run
in the election. The day after the Dec. 7 Duma elections -- when preliminary
results showed that LDPR had done astoundingly well, taking 11.45 percent
of the vote -- Zhirinovsky announced that he would run for the presidency
"I will intentionally avoid taking part in the presidential election
personally, but I will persistently promote LDPR's program and campaign
for our candidate," Zhirinovsky said Friday.
LDPR's appeal to disgruntled voters lies squarely with Zhirinovsky's
personal performance and charisma, and recent opinion polls indicate that
he could have won about 5 percent in the presidential election.
Despite being in the political opposition, LDPR has always backed the
Kremlin in the Duma.
Yavlinsky decided at a Yabloko congress a week ago not to run for president.
Putin's application to seek re-election was filed with the Central Election
Commission last Wednesday.
Nikolai Petrov, a political analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center, said
the lack of familiar faces in the presidential race is an indication of
how the political landscape has been reshaped over the four years of Putin's
presidency. Now, he said, it is all but impossible for opposition parties
to take part in any elections.
At the same time, an election in which Putin has to run against "extras"
is not very favorable for him, either, Petrov said.
"The outcome of the 2000 presidential election also was clear long
before the election took place, but in that race Putin won over weaker
candidates who were still the strongest challengers out there," Petrov
"The weaker the rival, the less sound the victory will be,"
the original at
Presidential elections 2004