MOSCOW - Russia's Communist Party (KPRF) cg Nikolai Kharitonov, 55, a former Soviet farm director, on Dec. 28 to challenge Vladimir Putin at the March 14, presidential election.
Kharitonov was chosen by the communist after KPRF Chairman Gennady Zyuganov had refused to run for the presidency on the grounds that the Kremlin would do everything possible to reelect incumbent president, Vladimir Putin as it did to ensure a landslide victory for the pro-Kremlin United Russia during the Duma election on Dec. 7.
Kharitonov has been the voice for the farmers, villagers and other rural settlements dwellers who are traditional farmers during his decade in the parliament.
Despite Putin's sky-high ratings at the opinion polls, Kharitonov said he could attract more than a third of Russia's 110 million registered voters in the presidential election through his links to the agro sector, Interfax said.
"My chances are very great. I can be a uniting candidate who can get votes from the majority of the population as about 40 million people are directly or indirectly connected to the agro-industrial sector," he said.
The KPRF did not put forward Zyuganov, a runner-up in the past presidential elections, due to its poor performance at the Duma election, winning barely half the votes it got four years ago. The KPRF got just 12.7 percent of the total votes cast, coming a distant second to the United Russia party. The communists had attributed their poor results to the Kremlin's generous use of the so-called "administrative resources" annd other political intrigues and branded the election a "shameful farce".
The decision to nominate Kharitonov for the presidential race was a backup plan for the communists, who had previously said they would not field any candidate in the election - a tactic also adopted by the Union of Right Forces (SPS) and Yabloko - two small liberal parties which could not get enough votes to get party representation in the new Duma.
The communists' decision is the latest in political actions being taken by major parties, which have decided either not to participate in the presidential election or field a nonetity against Putin. For instance Yabloko Chairman Grigory Yavlinsky, SPS Chairman Boris Nemtsov have refused to run, while Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, like the KPRF, has rested its chairman, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, and instead, nominated an obscure party member from the Rostov Oblast to compete against Putin on March 14.
SPS leader Boris Nemtsov said the communists' decision to field a relative unknown candidate, instead of their leader would "make the election a farce and undermine its legitimacy." "They won't be like [real] elections for a president, but like a plebiscite of trust in the president," he told the Ekho Moskvy radio. "It is a great shame for Russia. We deserve better."