Cheap watch changes hands at first political debate

Russia’s political freshman Mikhail Prokhorov clashes with more seasoned political figures – including colorful leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, Vladimir Zhirinovsky – in the first televised debates of this season.

­Mikhail Prokhorov, the billionaire leader of the Right Cause party, said that his party would put forward a presidential candidate, but only on the condition of winning no less than the second-largest share of votes in the lower house.

Meanwhile, Prokhorov was presented with a wristwatch from Zhirinovsky, after the latter was accused of wearing a watch that was too expensive.

The debates once again proved Prokhorov’s aggressive foray into the field of politics. On the weekend the leader of Right Cause presented to the media candidates for top posts in his “shadow government”.

Some of Prokhorov’s top choices are well known in Russia and some, like Olympic champion swimmer Aleksandr Popov, are also known abroad. Very few of them, however, have previous experience in politics or openly announced any political agenda. Thus, it can be considered a symbolic act that the presentation of the so-called shadow government was held in the Regional Journalism Club – the media organization founded by Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s Open Russia foundation. The head of the club, Irina Yasina, however, told the assembly that she was not a member of Right Cause, while Prokhorov himself repeatedly denied sharing Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s ideas.

The debates were held on Russia’s NTV channel as part of a weekly show that monitors the debates by audience vote. The show hosted leaders from nearly all of the registered political parties, and the discussions focused heavily on the rapidly approaching presidential elections.

The parliamentary majority United Russia in the face of Andrei Isayev, first deputy secretary of presidium of United Russia’s general council and also one of the leaders of the Independent Trade Unions Federation. Isayev faced criticism from all competing parties and traditionally refused to answer the question about his party’s plans for the presidential poll – the question whether President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin intend to run.

As for the parliamentary elections, United Russia faced fierce criticism from the head of the Liberal Democratic Party Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who openly accused the party of power for, in his words, of “attempting to rig the vote.” Apart from that, Zhirinovsky announced that he was going to run for presidency.

Apart from presenting key party figures, Prokhorov announced that he will personally run for the local legislature in the Krasnoyarsk Region in Siberia. The local elections will take place on December 4, the same day that the nationwide parliamentary elections will be held.

Political analysts speculate that Prokhorov, who enjoys a heavy media presence and general charisma, could win the local elections. Yet there remain serious problems he will have to overcome. The august public opinion polls gave Prokhorov’s party only 5 percent of voters support, which equals to only one parliamentary seat.

When Prokhorov first announced that he could run for the regional legislature in Krasnoyarsk, it was soon revealed that United Russia was putting forward the candidacy of Emergencies Minister Sergey Shoigu – one of the “founding fathers” of United Russia whose successful work makes him a popular favorite with voters.

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