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29 Jan, 2008 12:25

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

Medvedev says he will focus on meeting voters face-to-face.

Communist Gennady Zyuganov says he too is considering his options.

Six TV and radio stations will provide free airtime for election debates during prime time.

The media campaign will officially start on February 2 and will finish on February 29. The day before the vote kicks off is the so-called “day of silence” when any campaign is forbidden.

Presidential candidates

The four candidates running for President are Andrey Bodganov, the only candidate not backed by a party in parliament, the Liberal Democrats leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky, Zyuganov from the Communists and Medvedev, who’s supported by United Russia.

The first to get the election authorities’ nod was Vladimir Zhirinovsky with his boisterous, outspoken and sometimes unconventional methods of persuasion involving orange juice or his own fists.

Zhirinovsky became famous for his ultra-nationalist rhetoric in the early 1990s. The Liberal Democrats started out as the first officially sanctioned opposition party during the twilight of the USSR. But in recent years they have consistently voted with the Kremlin.

“If the election is free and fair I’ll have a good chance of winning,” Zhirinovsky believes.

Quickly following in his footsteps was Gennady Zyuganov. The number two seems to stick to the Communist Party. Its candidates have come second in every post-Soviet Presidential ballot.

“The current ruling class is incapable of conducting a fair election. We’ll force them to have a dialogue. We’ll stage street protests,” Zyuganov says.

Next was the Kremlin-backed Dmitry Medvedev. He’s already invited Vladimir Putin to become his Prime Minister if he wins, while Putin has given him his personal endorsement. The opinion poll favorite has had social projects as his key responsibility in the government for the past two years. And he’s already unveiled his vision of Russia – Putin’s basic recipe with Medvedev’s signature dish.

“Our social policy has already changed and will continue to do so: the focus will be on people,” Medvedev pledged.

Andrey Bogdanov, an obscure leader of a little-known party, was the last one to officially register. Bogdanov admits to being a freemason, keeps a Live Journal and wants Russia in the EU.

“Russia has to join the EU within the next 10 years,” he says.

Another presidential hopeful, Russia’s ex-Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, didn’t make the grade to run.

Election authorities found too many illegal signatures among the two million he collected  for his bid. But the Kremlin’s fierce critic says his political career is far from over.

“My main political job is to continue to pursue political activity. To explain to Russian people what really is going on in our country,” Kasyanov says.

International observers

Meanwhile, the election authorities are starting to send out invitations to international observers.

December's Parliamentary poll was boycotted by the OSCE.  The organization cited unprecedented restrictions and visa delays. Russia dismissed the charges, accusing the OSCE of ineffectiveness and bias.

However, the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights is still asking Russia to reconsider its quota on the number of observers invited to attend the March 2 presidential poll.

Moscow is sticking to its guns. The head of Russia's Central Election Commission, Vladimir Churov, said the number of observers invited is the same as for the December poll – about 400 people.

He's made a very public gesture of publicly signing the invitation to the head of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights.

Vladimir Churov said he'd like a turnout of at least 60% – the number he sees as a European standard for non-compulsory voting.