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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Familiar Faces Join Presidential Campaign

Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov and liberal Grigory Yavlinsky officially joined Russia's presidential race over the weekend, challenging acting President Vladimir Putin in the March poll.

The Communists backed Zyuganov for another run at the presidency after his failed 1996 bid to beat then-President Boris Yeltsin, while Yabloko supported its party head, Yavlinsky, for another try.

Zyuganov said he hoped to build a center-left coalition to oppose Putin, who has a big lead over the Communist leader in opinion polls.

"Putin has so far only clearly expressed himself on Chechnya," Zyuganov told reporters, adding that the government's 2000 budget was miserly in terms of payments for pensions and wages for doctors and teachers.

He said Russia was still being run along the lines of policies formulated under Yeltsin, which he called "bankrupt."

"Putin has not answered a single serious question. ... While the old political course continues, the situation will not get better, it will get worse," he said.

Zyuganov is set to be Putin's main rival in the election as his party enjoys strong regional organization and remains the largest in the State Duma.

Yavlinsky, who was fourth in 1996, said he wanted to make sure the voters had a choice.

"My participation is absolutely necessary as today a situation has been created when we could have a vote with no alternatives," he told NTV television.

"A lot in Putin's policies remain unclear," he added.

A question mark remained over the participation of former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov in the election.

Each nominee must gather 500,000 signatures to be registered with the Central Election Commission as an official candidate.

CEC chairman Alexander Veshnyakov said Monday that he foresees a total of 26 candidates in the presidential race.

St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev's drive to move the gubernatorial elections forward to March 26 - to coincide with the national presidential vote - foundered definitively over the weekend.

The Legislative Assembly, the city council, sets the date for elections. Federal law requires at least 10 weeks' notice for a vote, so the last possible day a March 26 election could have been pushed through the assembly was Saturday.

On Friday and Saturday, however, last-minute efforts to move the vote forward were torpedoed by lawmaker Sergei Mironov and his six-member Legality faction - who kept enough lawmakers away both days to prevent a quorum in the 50-seat assembly. Gubernatorial elections will now be held in May.

Yakovlev last week had sought and received Putin's public blessing for his March 26 election project. This would have allowed Yakovlev to go the polls the same day as Putin and try to ride his coattails to another four years of running St. Petersburg.

Following this same coattails logic, Yakovlev linked up last fall with Fatherland-All Russia, Primakov's the political machine. Yakovlev's allies in the Legislative Assembly tried to move gubernatorial elections forward to Dec. 19 to coincide with the parliamentary vote, but the Supreme Court ultimately blocked the move.