09/07/2011, 00.00
RUSSIA

A former Orthodox priest among challengers to Putin and Medvedev for the Kremlin

Nina Achmatova
In past few days billionaire Prokhorov and director and former Orthodox priest Ioann Okhlobystin have joined the presidential race . The Church keeps its distance, but on the Internet he is already a star.
Moscow (AsiaNews) - While the Putin-Medvedev tandem remains silent on who will be the main candidate for president in 2012, in the last days first official challengers in the race to the Kremlin have emerged. The one creating the most buzz is the director and temporarily suspended Orthodox priest, Ioann Okhlobystin, whose become the protagonist of discussions on forums, blogs and social networks in Cyrillic. Today artistic director of Euroset, Okhlobystin announced his candidacy on Sept. 5 as an independent.

The initiative has provoked surprise and smiles in Russia: the extravagant character, a priest since 2001 and suspended on his own request in 2010, he proposes to give the country a "philosophical and ideological strategy, which Russia needs to become a nation."

Who will support his candidacy economically and politically is impossible to know. Okhlobystin, 45, counted on the support of the Russian Orthodox Church, but it has taken its distance. "So that I can participate in the presidential race seriously - he told a news conference - I need at least the tacit consent of the Church. Unless this happens, it would be strange, since the Church has for decades promoted the values of which I would be the bearer". But except for the need of a presidential term even longer than the existing one (six years) and a strengthening of the army, the 'new candidate' in Russian politics appears somewhat confused, so much so that he claims not to know who to vote for in the upcoming elections for the Duma, scheduled for December 4, defining the very institution of Parliament "unnecessary". For its part, the Moscow Patriarchate said that priests are forbidden to hold political office at every level, except in exceptional circumstances where their candidacy is necessary for the good of the Church itself. The Patriarch Kirill had already warned Okhlobystin that his suspension from church service could be revoked if he chose to work exclusively as a priest, making it clear that spiritual leaders do not like the prominence of the priest.

But Okhlobystin is just the latest to have announced plans to challenge the duo to power. The first to take the field already in April was the eternal president in the making, Gennady Zyuganov, popular leader of the Communists. He too has decided to take part in a challenge that may see both President Dmitry Medvedev and His prime minister Vladimir Putin running against each other. It is not the first time that Zyuganov has set his sights on the highest position in the Federation in the last 15 years has already tried three times. The first, in 1996 against Boris Yeltsin, in which he managed to get 40.3% of preferences. His approval rating then began to decline: in 2000 against Putin he brought home a mere 29.1% and in 2008 he lost to Medvedev 70.2% to 17.7%. According to analysts, the announcement of Zyuganov is related not so much the challenge for the presidency, as to that for the parliamentary elections in December.

After him it was the turn of Vladimir Zhirinovsky, leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (Lpdr). Considered a sort of political clown because of his attitude, he declared himself confident he would make it through to the third ballot or otherwise, after the over the government and the Communist candidates.

Finally, a few days ago, it was the turn of oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov. The billionaire with a passion for basketball has announced that he may run for the Kremlin should his party, Just Cause, do well in the December 4 general elections. Just Cause currently has no seats in parliament. But Prokhorov has announced that he wants to snatch second place in parliament, behind the Putin’s United Russia party and before the Communists.

At this point, political analysts are counting down the days to the announcement of the government candidate. According to some, it could come as early as the end of the month, during the United Russia congress 23-24 September in Moscow. For others, however, the duo will dissolve the puzzle after the December elections. Just three months from the appointment to the polls for the presidential elections.


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