Facing hostility, Putin to win the Kremlin: poll
By Guy Faulconbridge and Maria Tsvetkova
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Vladimir Putin will reclaim the Kremlin's top job by winning two thirds of the vote in a March presidential election, but Russia's alpha-dog leader may face growing resentment against his rule, the last major poll before the vote showed on Friday.
Prime Minister Putin's aides hope a big win in the March 4 presidential election will take the sting out of an urban protest movement which casts him as an authoritarian leader who rules through a corrupt and tightly controlled political system.
Putin will easily avoid a humiliating second round run-off but on the eve of six more years in the Kremlin, Russia's 59-year old leader faces a crisis of confidence in his rule, Russia's biggest independent pollster said.
Putin will win 63-66 percent of the vote, far ahead of his closest rival, Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov, who will win 15 percent of the vote, said Lev Gudkov, the director of the Levada Center pollster.
"We shall have a weak authoritarian national leader," Gudkov told reporters. "Even Putin's victory in the first round will not change the situation."
After the disputed December 4 parliamentary election, Putin was clearly taken aback by the scale of the protests, initially dismissing opponents as the pawns of the West and even branding them chattering monkeys.
But as the seriousness of the challenge became evident, Putin swiftly changed tack, demoting the Kremlin's domestic political chief, berating minions in public for high prices and mobilizing thousands of supporters for pro-Putin rallies.
The Levada poll showed 80 percent of Russians believed the former KGB spy would win his dream of returning to the Kremlin while 57 percent still viewed him as "national leader," the title of choice for Putin among supporters. Continued...