Irkutsk governor Dmitry Mezentsev, an old-time colleague of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, threw his hat into the ring Wednesday to run as a candidate in the March 2012 presidential elections. Political analysts said his bid aims to ensure that Putin has legitimate elections.
The 52-year-old governor said the nomination by the Trade Union of East Siberian Railroad Workers was "an unexpected decision" for him but gave his approval. Official documents to register him as a presidential candidate are to be submitted to the Russian Central Election Commission later in the day.
Russian political scientists say that though Mezentsev is not a member of the pro-Kremlin United Russia party, he was neither an independent nor an opposition candidate and his nomination is aimed at preventing a possible disruption of elections by the opposition.
Mezentsev, who headed the Irkutsk Region since 2009, began his political career in 1990 as a deputy of the St. Petersburg city legislature. In mid 90s he worked at the St. Petersburg City Hall where Mezentsev headed the press and mass media committee. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin who is another contender for the presidency also worked in the St. Petersburg City Hall at that time but as a head of the external relations committee.
"Mezentsev is the so-called "safety candidate." Under the law, the vote is declared valid when at least two candidates take part, thus the opposition always has a theoretical chance to disrupt the elections when all candidates withdraw. To prevent such a scenario, there is always a safety candidate," said Alexei Makarkin, deputy chief of the Center for Political Technologies, a Moscow think tank.
He said such candidates receive "accidental votes" from people who are tired of popular names.
"Safety candidates normally get about 1-2%. They are not result-oriented. In fact, they are the frontrunner's allies," Makarkin added.
Alexei Mukhin, chief of the Centre for Political Information, also said Mezentsev's nomination was "purely technical" and he is likely to score about 1% at the polls.
"In previous campaigns, so-called opposition candidates such as Gennady Zyuganov, Vladimir Zhirinovsky and so on hinted that it was high time for the Kremlin to make concessions," Mukhin said. "To prevent such blackmail from happening in the future, technical figures are nominated as presidential candidates."
The president of Russian railway monopoly RZhD, Vladimir Yakunin, who is also a long-time Putin's ally, told journalists Wednesday that Mezentsev's nomination came as a surprise to him.
"I learned this the night before. This is the workers' decision," he said.
So far, three major parties nominated their presidential candidates: Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was nominated as United Russia's presidential candidate at a party congress on November 27. Leaders of the A Just Russia party and the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), Sergei Mironov and Vladimir Zhirinovsky, will also run in the presidential race.
The Communist Party of Russia will officially nominate its leader Gennady Zyuganov as presidential candidate on December 17.
Three independent candidates - billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, radical opposition leader Eduard Limonov and ex-mayor of Vladivostok Viktor Cherepkov - also announced plans to run in the elections. Under the Russian law, December 15 will be the last day for non-party candidates to apply for registration.