Putin brushes off Russia protests ahead of voteAgence France-Presse . Moscow
Vladimir Putin made a show of confidence ahead of Sunday’s poll that is set to see him win back the Russian presidency, belittling the opposition as lacking in vision and brushing off protests.
The premier said he has not yet decided whether he wants to stay in power beyond 2018 -- when the presidential mandate he is expected to win will expire — but saw nothing wrong in principle with such lengthy political dominance.
At a meeting with editors of leading newspapers around a table laden with white wine and snacks Thursday evening, Putin said the protests made him happy and that the opposition’s leaders offered nothing substantive.
‘I am very happy about this situation, because that means that the authorities... have to actively react to what is happening in the country, to people’s sentiments, and to meet expectations,’ he said.
Tens of thousands of people have staged several rallies in Moscow over the past three months against unfair elections and Putin’s monopoly on power, and many plan to demonstrate next Monday, a day after the presidential poll.
‘I think this is a very good experience for Russia,’ Putin said, adding that the protests are mostly directed against his majority party United Russia, rather than himself personally.
‘You said the urban population is against. They are not against,’ Putin told one of the editors, who said opinion polls indicated the urban middle class is rejecting Putin.
‘There are less of my supporters there, that is true. But all in all, my supporters are in the majority, even in large cities.’
The latest opinion polls predict a first-round victory for Putin in the election with support of nearly 60 percent, and the runner-up Communist party leader Gennady Zyuganov trailing with only around 15 percent of votes.
Putin has not participated in political debates with four other presidential candidates, instead sending his campaign representatives to talk shows while he kept an image of a busy prime minister travelling all over the country.
And while talking about his own series of articles on domestic and foreign policy, Putin said his opponents lack vision and offer nothing but empty slogans.
‘People in the opposition... have not offered any interesting, weighed, and thought-out steps to develop the country,’ he said, adding that ‘debates are not important’ in his position, rather ‘results of previous work’.
Asked whether it is normal to be in power for such a long time, Putin commented: ‘It’s normal if everything is working out, if people like it.’
Putin, who turns 60 this year, can under the law serve as president for two more consecutive terms, which would prolong his rule until 2024, when he will turn 72.
The presidential mandate is now six years, due to constitutional changes that expanded the term from the four years served by outgoing president Dmitry Medvedev.
‘I don’t know if I want to stay for over 20 years. I have not decided this for myself yet,’ said Putin, who has now been in power for over 12 years as president and prime minister.
In a tense run-up to the election, the opposition accused the authorities of seeking to rig the polls while Putin has in turn accused his opponents of planning to stuff ballots and then claim they are illegitimate.
Russian prosecutors on Friday warned an independent election monitoring group that it was illegal to hold a planned online parallel vote count during the presidential ballot.
Monitoring group Golos had intended to put text-message reports of results from individual polling stations online in real time during the election as a safeguard against the potential falsification of vote-count protocols.
Western-funded Golos been criticised by Putin who has accused it of being part of Western attempts to influence Russian politics. It has also been repeatedly targeted by the authorities.
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