Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov announced on Monday that he would challenge Prime Minister Vladimir Putin at the upcoming presidential elections next March.
In order to register, Prokhorov needs either to be nominated by any of the existing seven registered political parties or needs to collect 2 million signatures in support of his bid. The billionaire added that he has opted for the latter choice. Putin, the main contender for this top post, has been nominated by his ruling United Russia party.
Prokhorov said Monday that he had never discussed his presidential ambition with the country’s leaders. Last week, Prokhorov wrote in his LiveJournal blog that Putin is Russia’s only viable option for Russia’s next president.
Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Monday after Prokhorov’s statement that Putin was aware of the businessman’s ambitions.
Prokhorov planned to take part in December’s parliamentary elections as the leader of the Right Cause party but in mid-September he was dismissed as the party’s leader for allegedly not toeing the Kremlin line. He then accused the first Kremlin deputy chief of staff Vladislav Surkov of being linked to the party’s split and said he would push for Surkov’s dismissal.
He said that he would unveil his political agenda after he registered as candidate.
Prokhorov also pledged to build a new political party “from scratch.”
The tycoon also did not rule out the possibility of cooperation with Russia’s former finance minister Alexei Kudrin, who earlier told the Vedomosti daily newspaper that he is in contact with Prokhorov about the possible establishment of a new political party.
Kudrin said in the interview published Monday that Russia needs a new liberal party and cast himself as its potential leader.
The massive protests following the December 4 State Duma elections demonstrate the popular demand for a liberal alternative, said Prokhorov. In this, he concurred with Surkov who also said that the protests highlight the lack of a party that would reflect interests of the urban educated middle class.
Meanwhile, Putin has remained quiet after the public protests in Moscow on Saturday, attended by tens of thousands of people. The protesters called for the dismissal and prosecution of election officials, unregistered political parties to be allowed to participate in the race, to cancel the results of the earlier vote and to order new elections.
President Dmitry Medvedev who dismissed these demands in his Facebook post late Sunday has been receiving angry remarks from bloggers through most of Monday. The post gathered a record 12,500 comments, many of which assailed Medvedev for dismissing the main demand, for fair elections, voiced by the protesters.
The United Russia party gathered a rally of its supporters in central Moscow on Monday, official figures say 25,000 people attended, critics say the figure was closer to 15,000 or less. Members of the country’s pro-Kremlin youth movements chanted pro-government slogans and brandished banners including “We PUT IN our Votes!”, “We have voted! We have won!”
In the meantime, a member of the United Russia and famous sociologist studying Russia’s elite, Olga Kryshtanovskaya, set up a group in the country’s most popular Vkontakte social network, calling to investigate vote fraud on Dec. 4.
The governor of the Vologda region, Vyacheslav Pozgalev, resigned from his post Monday, citing his own failure to win popular trust. United Russia collected 33.4 percent of the vote in the region, one of the lowest results in Russia for the ruling party. Medvedev and Putin said after the vote that governors of the regions where the ruling party had fared particularly poor might be fired from their posts.