, MOSCOW, Nov 25 – The upper house of Russia’s parliament on Friday formally set March 4, 2012 as the date for the presidential election, a vote expected to see Vladimir Putin return to the top job.
“The elections for the president of Russia are set for March 4, 2012,” the Federation Council said in a statement on its website after senators approved the date in a vote called for under the constitution.
Current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is expected to reclaim the presidency in the poll after his protege President Dmitry Medvedev agreed to step aside in a job swap.
The election date will be published in state newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta in a late Friday edition, the editor was quoted by RIA Novosti news agency as telling journalists, formally launching the campaign.
Once the date is published, the decision will become legally valid and parties will be able to formally put forward their candidates.
Putin announced in September that he planned to stand for a third presidential term while Medvedev would serve as his prime minister in a surprise job swap.
Two opposition parties, the Communist Party of Russia and the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, have already announced that they have selected their longterm leaders Gennady Zyuganov and Vladimir Zhirinovsky as candidates.
Putin’s ruling United Russia is holding a mass conference with around 11,000 members in a Moscow sports stadium on Sunday, when the party faithful are set to back the nomination of Putin as their candidate.
The March vote will follow parliamentary polls on December 4, which are seen as a dress rehearsal for the presidential election and which United Russia is expected to win.
United Russia secured a landslide majority of 64.3 percent in the last parliamentary election in 2007. But the party has recently seen a decline in its ratings as Russians grow increasingly disillusioned with a lack of change for the better, analysts say.
Former KGB agent Putin hand-picked Medvedev to succeed him in 2008 after spending eight years in the Kremlin, but Medvedev’s approval ratings have remained somewhat lower than his mentor’s.
Under constitutional changes pushed forward by Medvedev and which many long suspected were aimed at further strengthening Putin, the new president will have a six-year mandate rather than four years as before.
This means that if the 59-year-old Putin again served the two maximum consecutive terms, he could stay in power until 2024, by which time he would be 72 and the longest-serving Moscow leader since dictator Josef Stalin.