Putin to win March polls in first round: spokesman
Vladimir Putin will secure an outright victory in the first round of March polls, his spokesman said on Monday, citing an outpouring of support for the Russian strongman over the weekend.
Authorities on Saturday staged a rally in Moscow's Poklonnaya Gora War Memorial Park to support the prime minister's presidential bid as they sought to outnumber tens of thousands who turned up for a rival rally protesting Putin's 12-year grip on power.
"People's convincing support at the Poklonnaya Gora shows that Putin will win in the first round," Putin's campaign website quoted Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying.
"This convincing support which we saw at the Poklonnaya Gora as well as sociologists' dry numbers assertively point to the first round," Peskov told an interview with mass-circulation newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda in comments posted on Putin's campaign website.
Russia's budding opposition movement said 120,000 people defied freezing temperatures to demand Putin quit power. Putin said, quoting Moscow authorities, that up to 190,000 braved temperatures of minus 17 degrees Celsius (1.4 Fahrenheit) to turn up for a rally supporting his policies.
"To be honest, no-one expected, and I did not expect, that so many people would turn up at the Poklonnaya Gora," Putin said.
Complaints surfaced before and after the rally that teachers, nurses and other state employees were offered cash incentives or ordered to attend the pro-Putin rally, often on pain of getting fired.
Opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta, citing an aide to a senator, said even parliament members were forced to turn up.
Putin has acknowledged that "administrative resources" could have been employed in mobilising supporters but said this could not by itself explain the large turnout.
His spokesman Peskov added: "You can't force a person to go to a rally. He can be advised, he can be called upon. But if he does not want to, he will not go."
According to the most recent poll by state-run pollster VTsIOM, 52 percent of respondents said on January 28 they would vote for Putin were elections to take place next Sunday, up from 49 percent on January 21.
In a run-off Putin would have to lock horns with his strongest challenger, Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov, but analysts say a second round is fraught with unpredictable consequences and Putin's minders will seek to avoid such a scenario at all costs.
© 2012 AFP