With the deadline for registration of the presidential hopefuls in Russia expiring on Wednesday, seven candidates including Vladimir Putin have secured their participation in the election.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin gestures during a meeting with media editors at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow January 18, 2012. [ Agencies]
Some Russian experts have described the presidential election by quoting the classical 19-century folk story "The Elephant and the Pug."
In this Sergei Krylov's fable, a small dog barks at the elephant knowing it for sure that a huge creature would hardly notice the tiny one's attempts to attract public attention.
Putin as the elephant
The "elephant' - the only candidate who has the real prospect of entering the Kremlin - is current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
According to the latest poll conducted by the Levada Center, 42 percent of Russians are ready to vote for Putin, while 75 percent believe Putin will be the next president.
Sergei Markov, director of the Institute for Political Research, told Xinhua that many Russians would vote for Putin anyway.
"They don't even care about his election program. This is a psychological, not political issue," Markov said.
Putin himself shows no trace of hesitation. On Monday, Putin envisages the plans for the nation's development with the time span exceeding the six-year presidential term.
Markov said that Putin's program reflected he has already planned to steer Russia's development and economic growth, without expecting any real competitors in the election.
The only question is, whether Putin wins outright on March 4, or he needs to run in the second round in case he receives less than 50 percent of the votes.
Judging by the results of the parliamentary election last December, in which the ruling United Russia (UR) party led by Putin won over 49 percent of the votes, Putin may expect to win with a razor-thin majority to avoid a runoff, said local analysts.
Opponents as the pugs
Other six candidates for the president's post are the leaders of the three parliamentary parties, one non-parliamentary party Yabloko, Governor of Irkutsk region Dmitry Mezentsevan and an independent self-nominee billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov.
For Mezentsevan, Prokhorov, and Sergei Mironov, leader of A Just Russia party, the March 4 election will be their first attempt to climb the ladder to the Kremlin wall. While the other three runners, namely Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov, Yabloko leader Grigori Yavlinsky and the Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR) chief Vladimir Zhirinovsky, are veterans of the presidential races, who had participated in nearly all campaigns since the early 1990s.
Local experts noted that during Russia's modern history, these so-called "system oppositionists" have never collected enough ballots to even approach the "thin red line" that separates their "opposition forever" status from real power.
Markov said all these runners understand well that their real chances to win are rather slim.
Also the popular support for the opposition leaders is too low to help them seriously expect to win the Kremlin.
The Levada Center said only 9 percent of the interviewees are going to support Zyuganov or Zhirinovsky, 4 percent would vote for Mironov and mere 1 percent for Yavlinsky.
Any dark horse
Still, experts noted that the 67-year-old Zyuganov, who leads the Communist Party since 1995, enjoys higher popularity than the other opposition politicians.
Zyuganov's best result as a presidential hopeful was in 1996 when he won over 40 percent of the votes against Boris Yeltsin. This was the only occasion in the Russian history when the presidential elections have gone through a "semi-final".
In the 2000 election, his result was 29 percent against Vladimir Putin. In 2008, Zyuganov received nearly 18 percent against Dmitry Medvedev.
The expert Markov believed that in March 2012 Zyuganov has a chance to repeat his achievements.
"Zyuganov is the only real opponent for Putin. When Putin speaks to the Duma, he addresses primarily to the Communists faction. Zyuganov and Putin are the mutually comfortable counterparts, and Zyuganov is the only opposition politician Putin would accept defeat from," Markov said.
Lev Gudkov, director of the independent Yuri Levada Analytical Center, told Xinhua that Zyuganov would mainly enjoy supports from blue-collar workers and pensioners who are nostalgic about the "good old" Soviet times, as the Communist Party has the comparatively stable electoral base in these social classes.