Jan. 13 (Bloomberg) -- Billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov said he collected enough signatures in support of his bid to challenge Prime Minister Vladimir Putin for the presidency as opponents criticized efforts to form a sham opposition.
“I am ready to unite all democratic forces,” Prokhorov, 46, Russia’s third-richest man with a fortune Forbes magazine puts at $18 billion, said according to state news service RIA Novosti. “To unite, we have do so around a concrete program.”
Ousted Russian Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin, a long-time associate of Putin who criticized fraud in parliamentary elections last month, said today he’s in talks on setting up a pro-democracy party. Opposition leaders who have organized a series of protests against alleged ballot-rigging in the Dec. 4 vote accused Kudrin and Prokhorov of seeking to lend credence Putin’s re-election in March presidential polls by giving the appearance of pluralism.
If “Kudrin and his friends” want to join the “real opposition, we are ready to discuss this with them,” Mikhail Kasyanov, a former prime minister under Putin who now opposes the government, said today on his website, offering them to enter his Parnas party, which was barred from contesting the December elections.
Putin, 59, has faced the biggest protests since he came to power more than a decade ago after last month’s vote, in which his ruling party saw its two-thirds majority cut to just over half. The premier said in September he wants to return to the Kremlin, pushing aside his successor, President Dmitry Medvedev, who took over in 2008 after Putin served the maximum two consecutive terms allowed by the constitution.
Kudrin, who was ousted in September after clashing with Medvedev over plans to increase military spending, attended a protest rally in Moscow on Dec. 24 and called for new parliamentary polls within 18 months and the dismissal of the country’s election chief.
“Kudrin is an absolutely staunch supporter of Putin,” Garry Kasparov, a chess grandmaster and co-leader of the Solidarity opposition group, said in an interview last month. “The compromise he offered was very simple: ‘We may consider new parliamentary elections, but you have to accept Putin’s return.’ That is absolutely unacceptable.”
Prokhorov by today had collected the 2 million signatures needed to run as an independent in the March election, spokeswoman Olga Stukalova said. He has until Jan. 18 to submit them to the Central Electoral Commission.
The New Jersey Nets basketball team owner is running on a platform that includes holding new parliamentary elections in December. Prokhorov has said he may form a party if he performs well in March’s vote and aims to be an “integrator” who can unite Russia’s liberal opposition.
Kudrin said in an interview published Dec. 12 that he supports the creation of a new right-of-center party, a topic he has discussed with Prokhorov.
Putin’s opponents including former Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov held talks with Kudrin after he offered to mediate with the authorities, Nemtsov said in a phone interview today. “We didn’t discuss setting up a party,” he said. “If Kudrin wants to be a mediator, he needs to remain neutral.”
Calls to Quit
Putin yesterday unveiled his draft campaign manifesto on his campaign website, www.putin2012.ru, prompting postings from Russians calling on him to abandon his presidential bid after 12 years in power.
The premier would get 48 percent in a presidential election, compared with 10 percent for Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov and 9 percent for Vladimir Zhirinovsky of the nationalist Liberal Democrats, according to an opinion poll by the All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion. Putin needs more than 50 percent of votes to win on the first round.
The poll of 1,600 Russians was conducted Jan. 7-8, the state-run organization, known as VTsIOM, said in an e-mailed statement today. The margin of error was 3.4 percentage points.
Putin’s United Russia party got no more than 30 percent on Dec. 4, compared with the official result of 49.3 percent, Zyuganov said Jan. 11. A first-round victory for Putin in March presidential elections is impossible, “even with major fraud,” he said.
--Editors: Paul Abelsky, Andrew Langley
To contact the reporters on this story: Henry Meyer in Moscow at email@example.com; Ilya Arkhipov in Moscow at firstname.lastname@example.org
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