Russia awaits end to suspense over 2012 election

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President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Saturday make a rare joint appearance at the congress of Russia's ruling party as the country awaits hints over who will stand for the presidency in 2012.

The two-day glitzy United Russia congress, which began on Friday, is due to discuss the party list for legislative elections on December 4.

They are seen as a dress rehearsal for March presidential polls, the country's sixth presidential elections since the collapse of the USSR.

Both Putin, 58, and Medvedev, 46, have said they could run for president, but with less than six months left before the vote, neither man has announced his candidacy.

But signs are multiplying that investors' patience is wearing thin amid continuing political uncertainty, particularly at a time when the world is threatened by a new global recession that could hurt key oil exporter Russia.

Although both Putin and Medvedev are set to address party delegates, some observers have doused expectations that the congress could see them end the uncertainty before the legislative vote.

Any such announcement would turn one of the country's two most powerful men into a lame duck, say some analysts.

Many people though will be looking Saturday for clues from Putin, who is also known for his penchant for springing surprises.

"No-one is certain that Putin will suddenly lay his cards on the table and name the name of Medvedev's successor," mass-circulation Moskovsky Komsomolets said.

"There is only hope that Vladimir Putin will end his beloved cat-and-mouse game."

"There is a strong feeling that all the decisions have been made," added broadsheet Vedomosti. "Suspense only exists in the heads of spectators who are for now being kept in the dark by a playwright."

Putin, considered Russia's paramount leader, made a surprise appearance during the first day of the congress on Friday as he sought to polish his credentials as a leader in touch with his people.

"The authorities should provide explanations to people in an easy and clear way. And win understanding -- without truncheons and tear gas, of course," he said.

His close associate Boris Gryzlov, head of the party's supreme council, said there was no alternative to United Russia, which critics say is a carbon copy of the Soviet-era Communist Party.

The second day of the congress is set to take place at the gigantic Luzhniki sports complex in Moscow, a glitzy showpiece spectacle that will be attended by tens of thousands of people. Putin is expected to agree to head the party list, which may also include Medvedev.

Putin left the Kremlin in 2008 after serving a maximum two consecutive terms. But as prime minister, he carried on as Russia's de facto number one, while his former chief of staff and hand-picked successor Medvedev served as president.

The final scenario for March 2012 remains the subject of mystery, with predictions ranging from Putin taking over as president and Medvedev essentially disappearing to both men keeping their current jobs.

Whoever stands is certain to win Russia's top job, given the emasculated state of the opposition and Kremlin's control over the media.

© 2011 AFP

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