Russian President Vladimir Putin is likely to pick a well-known figure to succeed him rather than springing a surprise on electors, a Kremlin spokesman said.
Who will become president after Putin’s second term ends next year is the biggest political puzzle in Russia, where the Kremlin leader enjoys sweeping powers.
Putin’s huge popularity among voters means victory is virtually guaranteed for whichever candidate he supports in presidential elections next March. But Putin has so far given no clues as to whom he will back.
“The president has the right to say ‘I think this guy is best’ and give him a boost by sharing with him his unimaginable popularity,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists on Wednesday evening.
“But this should indeed be a figure well known to voters,” he added, without elaborating.
Analysts see Russia’s two first deputy prime ministers, both close Putin associates, as his most likely successors.
Sergei Ivanov is a former KGB spy and defense minister while ex-lawyer Dmitry Medvedev has held key Kremlin posts.
But in June, senior Kremlin aide Igor Shuvalov suggested Putin might go for a surprise choice. His words, widely quoted at the time, prompted analysts to add less well-known names like railways chief Vladimir Yakunin or Sergei Chemezov, who heads the state agency in charge of arms sales, to the list of possibilities.
Peskov’s comments on Wednesday, to an invited group which included foreign media, appeared to rule this out.
He said that either Medvedev or Ivanov “can be a successful candidate” but urged reporters “not to forget about party leaders, who are becoming increasingly popular.”
Russia’s two key party leaders are Boris Gryzlov, head of the main pro-Kremlin party United Russia, and Sergei Mironov, leader of Fair Russia, a new pro-Kremlin force aiming to steal votes from communists and nationalists.
Gryzlov is also speaker of the State Duma (lower house of parliament) while Mironov heads the upper chamber.
Next week Russia will kick off a campaign for Duma polls on Dec. 2, in which the Kremlin hopes to secure a parliament dominated by United Russia and Fair Russia.
The communists and possibly the nationalists are likely to take the remaining seats. Changes to election rules make it unlikely the country’s increasingly marginalized liberal opposition will win representation.
“The main competition will be between the heavyweights,” Peskov said. “I think at least three parties will rally the seven percent of the vote needed to win parliamentary seats -- United Russia, Fair Russia and the Communist Party.”
Latest opinion polls show the Liberal Democratic Party of maverick nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky, which has generally backed the Kremlin, is not certain to enter the Duma.
Peskov admitted the absence of a strong opposition in parliament was a drawback of the Russian political system, but said the Kremlin was not to blame.
“The existence of a well-organized opposition is important for the government of any country and I am sure this process will develop,” he added.