Putin awaits Russia's presidential nomination
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin will be nominated to run in Russia's March presidential polls Sunday in a ruling party congress that hopes to ride its leader's coattails into next week's legislative polls.
The United Russia gathering in Moscow is expected to offer plenty of pomp and patriotic fervor but little suspense after Putin in September accepted a well-choreographed proposal to swap jobs with President Dmitry Medvedev.
Russia's ruling tandem has since been busy rallying support for its party ahead of December 4 elections to the State Duma in which United Russia is expected to lose some of its current dominance while still coming in first.
And the focus Sunday will be squarely on Putin -- an ex-KGB man who has been Russia's most popular figure since his 2000-2008 presidency -- as United Russia tries to absorb his charisma and associate itself more closely with his name.
"With a candidate like Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, we are confident of our victory," United Russia party secretary Sergei Neverov said on the eve of Sunday's meeting.
The Luzhniki stadium event will be broadcast live across the nation and attended by some 11,000 delegates who besides Medvedev and the top ministers will include famous sports figures and members of Russia's cultural elite.
United Russia will hope to get a boost from the festivities after the publication of two pre-election polls showing the party losing Duma seats for the first time since it stormed the lower house of parliament in 2003.
The independent Levada centre showed United Russia's support slipping from the 64.3 percent it enjoyed in the 2007 elections to just 53 percent today.
This would leave Putin's party holding 253 of the Duma's 450 seats -- well down on the current 315 figure and below the two-thirds constitutional majority needed for the Kremlin to change Russia's basic law without outside support.
A poll conducted by the state-run VTsIOM agency showed United Russia doing only marginally better with 262 seats.
Both studies showed the Communist Part coming in second with about a fifth of the legislature and Vladimir Zhirinovsky's ultra-nationalist LDPR party placing third with almost 60 seats.
A populist group called A Just Russia that has a pro-Kremlin voting record despite its official status as a member of the opposition would be the last to sneak past the seven-percent barrier permitting parties to get Duma seats.
This breakdown has stirred deep resentment from opposition forces that have either been denied registration or had become too enfeebled since Putin's rise to power to pose a serious election threat.
Hundreds of disgruntled voters from both the nationalist and democratic blocs rallied on the main squares of Moscow and Putin's native Saint Petersburg to mark what some said would be the start of United Russia's decline.
"There are full preparations under way for election fraud," senior A Just Russia lawmaker Gennady Gudkov told about 500 supporters at one such Moscow event. "If this fraud takes place, we will go to the streets."
"I hope this day will be remembered as the one on which Putin's party began its decline," added 48-year-old Marat Gelman while attending a simultaneous event in Saint Petersburg.
Putin's presidential nomination will be the first among the major Russian parties. The Communist Party has also confirmed plans to field a candidate. Its leader Gennady Zyuganov has lost badly in three previous races.
© 2011 AFP