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Gazeta.ru, December 23, 2003

Putin and the "half-wits"

By Yelena Shishkunova

Vladimir Putin has officially announced his intention to run for a second term and has already submitted the relevant documents to the Central Electoral Commission. So far, Russia's incumbent has only one rival - the coffin-maker and radical nationalist German Sterligov.

On MondayPutin personally went to the Central Electoral Commission to submit a request to register a group of voters who back him as a presidential candidate. Putin's papers were accepted by Olga Zastrozhnaya, the head of a special group, the commission's secretary Nina Kulyasova and other members of staff. The commission's chairman, Aleksander Veshnyakov, has said that after the initiative group is registered it will start collecting signatures in Putin's support. The law stipulates that at least two million names need to be collected.

To recap, Putin first announced his intention to run for a second term during a live televised address to the population on December 18. When asked if he intends to run for President again, Putin answered that in principal a decision had been made and the official announcement was due in the nearest future. Hours later, talking to journalists after the live interview, Putin said that he would not run on a party platform but would collect signatures as an independent candidate.

The decision to run as an independent is a little surprising, as Putin had aligned himself with the United Russia party during the recent parliamentary campaign. It would appear that Putin is not ready yet to become a party president, even though the law allows presidential candidates to run from a party without being a member.

It did not take long for the initiative group to appear. On Sunday, 700 people gathered in Moscow's Institute of Steel and Alloys and formed a group officially backing Putin as a presidential candidate. The minimum number required for such a group is 500. An observer from the Central Electoral Commission stated that the meeting was conducted properly.

Putin's only rival so far is the owner of the ''Sterligov Bros. Coffin-Makers'' enterprise, German Sterligov, who announced his intention to run for President on December 15. The Sterligov brothers were among the first successful Russian entrepreneurs to appear out of the Perestroika era, with the Alisa commodity exchange founded in 1989.

About a year ago Sterligov re-appeared in Russia with eccentric billboards dotted around Moscow with slogans like ''You will fit into our coffins without dieting or aerobics''. His next move was participation in gubernatorial polls in Siberia's Krasnoyarsk Region and on December 7 Sterligov ran for mayor of Moscow. He chose a radical nationalist platform with strong references to the Russian Orthodox Church. His campaign was directed against illegal immigrants and abortions.

It is worth mentioning that Putin touched upon the extreme nationalist movement in his televised interview. He claimed that slogans like 'Russia for the Russians' can only be disseminated by either ''indecent people who don't understand what they are talking about - in other words, by half-wits, or as provocation''. ''A sane man could not say this,'' Putin concluded and
promised to touch upon the subject in talks with the prosecutor general.

Other parties and movements have not yet shown any intention of competing with the popular incumbent at the forthcoming presidential lections.

On Sunday, the leader of the liberal Yabloko party Grigory Yavlinsky announced that he would not run, saying that the election would have nothing to do with democracy. The Union of Right-Wing Forces also effectively withdrew from the presidential elections by scheduling their party congress for mid-January, as by this time it will be technically impossible to propose a presidential candidate.

It is still possible that a single candidate may stand and represent all the country's liberal forces. However, talks between Yabloko and the SPS have been drawn out and the chances of an agreement seem slim to say the least. The Communists, just like Yavlinsky, seem unlikely to
participate. Their congress is due before the end of the year, however.

Even Liberal Democrat Vladimir Zhirinovsky - a regular in Russia's presidential elections - has not yet announced whether he will run. But the situation surrounding Zhirinovsky's role is clear enough - he will step forward as soon as he gets his orders from the Kremlin. The only question
that remains regarding Zhirinovsky's participation is whether or not it will help Putin resolve the main problem of the March 14 polls - the problem of turnout.

Independent candidates must submit their applications by January 1 and candidates from parties and blocs can be put forward until January 6


See also:

Presidential elections 2004

Gazeta.ru, December 23, 2003

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