Zyuganov Promises to Fight Medvedev

ReutersZyuganov voting at a congress that backed his presidential bid on Saturday.
The Communist Party on Saturday nominated leader Gennady Zyuganov to run for president in March -- a vote where he faces a daunting challenge against President Vladimir Putin's preferred successor.

Putin has endorsed First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, but Zyuganov said he would have a good chance if no candidate wins an outright majority in the first round.

"I believe we have a good chance in this election, and should this election be more or less fair, a second round of voting is inevitable," Zyuganov told reporters at a party congress.

The Communists are the largest opposition party in the newly elected State Duma, but they received just 12 percent of votes, compared with 64 percent for United Russia. Zyuganov took Boris Yeltsin to a second round in the presidential election in 1996 but was roundly beaten by Putin four years later. He did not run against Putin in 2004.

Zyuganov's first deputy, Ivan Melnikov, told the congress: "Now we must react more promptly, because the Kremlin's calculations that its candidate will automatically get the rating of the current president is a theory that has yet to be proven in practice."

Zyuganov, who has criticized the Duma elections as the dirtiest on record, said he reckoned that the Communists enjoyed the support of at least one-third of voters. "This is very serious and solid support," he told reporters.

Upbeat and bellicose, Zyuganov said Yeltsin and Putin had both shirked in the past his proposal to hold public debates.

"[The authorities] are afraid of an open political rivalry," he said. "I officially invite United Russia's new presidential candidate to such a dialogue."

The Communist Party's central committee approved Zyuganov's candidacy on Friday, and it was rubber-stamped by congress on Saturday. In the lobby of the congress, held in a Soviet-era state farm on the edge of Moscow, posters of Stalin and books about the dictator sold like hot cakes.

Zyuganov, in his speech, said: "We admit some of the mistakes made in the past. But at the same time we want to remind you that it was in Soviet times when our nation became a real superpower and was the first to go into space."

Decrying low pensions and widening social inequality, he said: "The Communist Party insists on nationalization of natural resources and strategic sectors of industry.

"We must return to the people the wealth stolen from them in the thievish 1990s. ... The sooner we reverse the country's course, the faster will we regain a decent life."