Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Wednesday warned against the use of “dishonest” political tricks ahead of the March presidential elections. “It’s very important to fight against dishonest methods of political combat, especially when the elections are already labeled unfair and illegitimate before they even took place,” Putin said during a meeting with young lawyers in Moscow. Putin, who held the presidential post from 2000 to 2008, is widely predicted to win the March vote, however, analysts suggest growing discontent could see him forced into a runoff. Claims of vote rigging during December’s parliamentary elections sparked mass street protests against the prime minister and his United Russia party.
Thousands of independent and party-affiliated monitors have signed up to observe the elections which protesters fear may be rigged in Putin’s favor. The next nationwide day of protest is planned for Saturday 4 February. There have been reports in the liberal media of state employees being coerced to attend a counter-rally in Moscow in support of Putin.
The former president recently declared he did not need fraud to win but said on Wednesday he would “not come out with bile” if he failed. Only four challengers remain after election officials refused to register Grigory Yavlinsky, head of the liberal opposition party Yabloko.