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26 Jan, 2008 13:12

Presidential hopefuls despair over election

Russia's opposition candidates say they haven't got a chance in next month's presidential election. Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov says the country is incapable of conducting a fair poll. Other candidates say they don't trust government institutions.

In every presidential election since the fall of the USSR, the Communist Party candidate has come second.  But their percentage of the vote has fallen in each election.

Although their message hasn't changed in 16 years, the Communists' natural constituency has grown older. But Gennady Zyuganov says this isn't the reason for their failure to spark a competitive race.

Communists say leading candidate Dmitry Medvedev, backed by the United Russia Party, has an unfair advantage. He is being given significantly more airtime on the country's television channels than his competitors.  

Gennady Zyuganov has threatened to quit the race altogether because of the perceived unfairness. But at least he's been given the chance the stand.

The same can not be said for one of the Kremlin's harshest critics, Mikhail Kasyanov. He had to collect two million signatures to be registered as a candidate, because he is not a member of a party represented in parliament. 

But his application was thrown out, when the Central Election Commission said the signature forms did not comply with the rules.

Kasyanov is appealing the decision, but has little faith it will be overturned.

“They have grounds to do whatever they want. This is the current Russia unfortunately. Today in Russia there could be a decision made, not in accordance with law, not in accordance with the constitution”.

Vladimir Zhirinovsky became famous with his ultra-nationalist anti-authority rhetoric in the early 1990s.

But he has little support in the centre ground, and in recent years his party has often voted the same way as the Kremlin-backed United Russia.

“There are two views of Zhirinovsky. On the one hand, he is seen as a truly independent candidate, but on the other, his interests often coincide with those of the Kremlin,” believes polytical analyst Aleksey Zudin.

Making up the numbers is Andrey Bogdanov, a self-proclaimed pro-European candidate.

Despite collecting sufficient signatures to register, he is little known even inside Russia. 

So, the country's opposition candidates have limited voter appeal and seem a long way from offering a viable political alternative. 

An opposition victory seems ever farther off when you consider they'll be pitted against Dmitry Medvedev, who has the support of the largest parties, the personal endorsement of Vladimir Putin, and substantial resources.

And while the opposition complains about not being given a level playing field, it also appears it's been unable to articulate a vision compelling enough to counter the current regime.