MOSCOW – Russia's election officials have registered eight candidates for the March 18 presidential election, including President Vladimir Putin.
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With his approval ratings topping 80 percent and rivals trailing far behind, Putin is set to easily win a fourth term. Putin's most vocal critic, the 41-year-old opposition leader Alexei Navalny, has been barred from the race due to a criminal conviction that he calls politically motivated.
Here is a quick look at the Russian presidential candidates.
The 65-year-old Russian leader served two four-year presidential terms in 2000-2008 before shifting into the prime minister's seat due to term limits. Putin continued calling the shots during the next four years as his longtime associate Dmitry Medvedev served as Russia's president. Before stepping down to let Putin reclaim the top job in 2012, Medvedev initiated constitutional changes that extended the presidential term to six years.
A Putin victory in March would put him on track to become Russia's longest-serving leader since Josef Stalin. The legal limit of two consecutive presidential terms means that Putin won't be able to run again in 2024, but many observers expect him to continue playing the top role in Russian politics even after that.
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The 36-year-old star TV host casts herself as a choice for those who have grown tired of Putin and his familiar challengers and want liberal changes. The daughter of Putin's one-time patron, the late reformist mayor of St. Petersburg, she has assailed the Kremlin's policies but largely avoided personal criticism of Putin.
Observers believe that Sobchak's involvement in the race will help combat voter apathy and boost turnout to make Putin's victory look more impressive. Some think she also could help the Kremlin counter Navalny's calls to boycott the presidential vote and could split the ranks of the liberal opposition. Sobchak has denied being in collusion with the Kremlin.
The 57-year-old millionaire strawberry farm director has been nominated by the Communist Party, but he's openly proud of his wealth and rejects basic Communist dogmas.
Until 2010, Grudinin was a member of the main Kremlin party, United Russia. He has been openly critical of Russia's current political and economic system, but avoided criticizing Putin. His nomination has been seen as an attempt by the Communists to broaden the party's appeal beyond aging voters nostalgic for the Soviet Union.
The 71-year-old leader of the ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party has won notoriety for his xenophobic statements. This will be the sixth time he has run for president. While Zhirinovsky has catered to nationalist voters with his fiery populist rhetoric, he has steadfastly supported Putin and his party in parliament has invariably voted in line with the Kremlin's wishes. He won 6 percent of the presidential vote in 2012.
The 65-year-old liberal economic expert ran against Putin in the 2000 election, garnering about 6 percent of the vote. Yavlinsky has denounced the Kremlin's policies and frequently criticized Putin, calling for more political freedoms and a more liberal economic course. His support base is a relatively small number of middle-aged and elderly liberal-minded voters in big Russian cities.
Putin's 57-year-old business ombudsman is running for president for the first time, nominated by a pro-business party. Before becoming an advocate for business, Titov had a successful career dealing in chemicals and fertilizers. His platform has focused on creating a more favorable business environment.
The 59-year-old legal expert played a prominent role in Russian politics in the 1990s, opposing the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union and becoming one of the leaders of a parliament rebellion against President Boris Yeltsin in 1993. He spent several stints in parliament and served as a deputy speaker of the lower house in the 1990s and the 2000s. After failing to make it to parliament in 2007, he left politics and served as the rector of a Moscow university. He has been nominated for the presidential race by a fringe nationalist party.
The 39-year-old has been nominated by the Communists of Russia, a fringe group that casts itself as an alternative to the main Communist Party. He was trained as an engineer and ran a small computer business. In 2014, Suraikin ran for governor of the Nizhny Novgorod region, getting about 2 percent of the vote.