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29 Jan, 2008 18:59

Medvedev rules out campaign debates

Plans for TV and radio debates ahead of Russia’s presidential poll on March 2 have been thrown into disarray with favourite, Dmitry Medvedev, rejecting the idea and another candidate, Gennady Zyuganov, wavering. The official media campaign starts on Satur

Campaigning in the media is set to start on February 2.

On Tuesday, the Central Election Commission was giving out free TV air time for the presidential candidates.

Election law demands free slots be given during prime time, though this was far from observed during the Duma campaign. The two most popular channels provided time early in the morning or late at night. The Central election commission admitted negotiations with TV networks were tough.

Names of the candidates will be put in ballots according to the Russian alphabet: Bogdanov, Zhirinovsky, Zyuganov and Medvedev – the exact opposite of their standing in the polls with Medvedev miles ahead of the pack and Bogdanov bringing up the rear.

With just days left before media campaign's due to begin, Presidential candidate Dmitry Medvedev says he will not take part in TV debates.

“Every candidate has the right to refuse to take part in joint campaigning activities. In this case time slots will not change,” Maya Grishina from Central Election Commission explains.

Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov suggests he may also drop out of the debates on television.

“We will take all steps to ensure the debates between Zyuganov and Medvedev take place. This question is not closed. The decision on whether Zyuganov will take part has not been made,” Ivan Melnikov from the Communist Party says.

But liberal democrat Vladimir Zhirinovsky, known for his flamboyant rhetoric, will not miss out on a chance to criticize his opponents.

Andrey Bogdanov might be his only rival on TV. Often referred to as the leader of the Russian freemasons, he has about 1 per cent of the vote, but is ready to strike while the iron's hot.

“We are taking part in the election to show there are democratic voters, we count on at least 20 per cent of the vote. This will show the authorities that there are people who think differently and see an alternative for the country,” Bogdanov says.

The other variable in the election are the monitors.

The OSCE has asked Russia to reconsider how many observers it's willing to allow at the presidential poll and criticised the length of time they're allowed to stay.

In December's parliamentary vote the OSCE boycotted over alleged visa delays.

Russia dismissed the claims saying the organisation was biased.