Putin Wants to Stop Vote Runoff, Rival Facing Exclusion Says

Grigory Yavlinsky, a candidate of the pro-democracy Yabloko party, accused Prime Minister Vladimir Putin of barring him from March 4 presidential elections to ensure a first-round victory.

The Central Elections Commission will conduct a second check on more than 2 million signatures collected by Yavlinsky after 23 percent were found to be invalid, an official from the commission’s press service, who declined to be identified, in line with policy, said by phone.

“They’re excluding me from the election because they don’t want there to be a choice,” Yavlinsky told reporters today in Moscow. “They want to make sure there’s only one round.”

Putin, 59, who was president from 2000 to 2008, plans to return to the Kremlin after four years as premier. He’s faced the biggest protests against his 12-year rule after alleged fraud at a Dec. 4 parliamentary vote at which his ruling United Russia party’s majority slid to about 50 percent from two-thirds. Putin needs more than half of the presidential vote to avoid a runoff.

Excluding Yavlinsky may steer support to billionaire candidate Mikhail Prokhorov and stop Yabloko activists from monitoring the election, party leader Sergei Mitrokhin said today on his blog.

Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, declined to comment on Yavlinsky’s remarks.

Lend Legitimacy

Opposition leaders, who have organized the protests, accuse Prokhorov of seeking to lend legitimacy to Putin’s re-election by giving the appearance of competition at March’s vote.

Prokhorov, who’s campaigning on a pro-business and pro-democracy ticket, says he’s a genuine contender and called today for Yavlinsky to be allowed to run in the election.

Prokhorov may be registered as a candidate on Jan. 25 or 26, Interfax reported, citing the electoral commission. Irkutsk Governor Dmitry Mezentsev will probably be excluded from the vote because of invalid signatures, the commission said.

Independent candidates need to collect 2 million signatures, while contenders from parties represented in parliament have the automatic right to run for president. Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov, the Just Russia party’s Sergei Mironov and Vladimir Zhirinovsky of the nationalist Liberal Democrat Party are also in the race.

Yavlinsky’s support is 1 percent, according to the latest poll by the state-run All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion. Putin would get 52 percent, Zyuganov 11 percent and Zhirinovsky 9 percent, according to the Jan. 14-15 survey of 1,600 Russians, which had a margin of error of 3.4 percentage points. Prokhorov had 2 percent support, the poll showed.

Yavlinsky said his exclusion shows how much Putin is concerned about winning in the first round and restricting access to the polling.

“Putin is afraid of two things: observers and elections,” Yavlinsky said. “Yabloko has vowed to deploy tens of thousands of observers. All the other candidates are different manifestations of the authorities.”

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