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Russia: Electoral Commission Sets Rules For Presidential Campaign

Russia's Central Electoral Commission has spelled out the rules for the upcoming presidential election in March. RFE/RL's Floriana Fossato reports in this pre-election primer that prospective candidates are now in the process of gathering signatures and that the campaign doesn't officially start until next month.

London, 10 January 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Russia's Central Electoral Commission has approved the new calendar for the presidential campaign, following last week's decision by the upper house Federation Council moving the date of the vote forward to March 26.

The commission's timetable is based on a new law signed by former president Boris Yeltsin on December 31 -- just hours before he announced his surprise resignation and designated prime minister Vladimir Putin as acting president.

Putin is heavily favored to win the vote. Other candidates include Grigory Yavlinsky of the Yabloko bloc, communist leader Gennady Zyuganov, and ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky. It's not clear whether former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov will seek the presidency. He was once considered a frontrunner.

Political parties and initiative groups have until February 13 to propose candidates and collect signatures. Each candidate will be required to show 500,000 signatures to get on the ballot.

Candidates will also have until February 13 to provide their personal financial records, including tax histories and records of properties and bank accounts.

The commission will have one week to examine the legality of the materials. The official campaign gets under way on February 21.

Our correspondent says the electoral law sets a relatively modest spending limit of $1 million per candidate. It also limits the amount of time candidates can advertise on television and in newspapers. Candidates are allowed 20 days to campaign on television and 30 days to run ads in newspapers.

Electoral Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov defends the accelerated timetable and limits on the campaign. He says that "serious politicians" will have no problem in gathering 500,000 signatures in a month. He also says the approved television and media time is "more than enough" to allow candidates to make their positions clear to the voters.

Nikolai Petrov, a senior associate of the Moscow Carnegie Center, says Veshnyakov is probably right in saying leading candidates won't feel hampered by the laws. He told the English-language daily "Moscow Times" last week that campaign spending regulations are "routinely violated."

Petrov says wealthy candidates will not worry about getting enough signatures either. He says past elections show there are plenty of organizations that will collect signatures on candidates' behalf for a fee.

Veshnyakov said last week he thinks that there will be fewer than 10 candidates on the ballot at the end of the process and that the results will be known very soon after the vote. He says the Russian people may know the name of their new president by the next day.