( RT ) - Russia's Election Commission has begun sending out invitations to international observers for the March 2 presidential poll. About 400 foreign monitors will be asked to take part. The election will be contested by four candidates, excluding ex-Premier Mikhail Kasyanov.
The fight for the Kremlin is shaping up. The election authorities have said their final word. The Presidential ballot will have the lowest number of names in modern Russian history.
The four candidates running in the race are Andrey Bodganov, the only candidate not backed by a party in parliament, the Liberal Democrats leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky, Gennady Zyuganov from the Communists and the Kremlin's man Dmitry Medvedev.
The first to get the election authorities' nod was Vladimir Zhirinovsky, boisterous, outspoken and sometimes using unconventional methods of persuasion involving orange juice or his own fists. Zhirinovsky became famous for his ultra-nationalist rhetoric in the early 1990s. The Liberal Democrats started out as the first officially sanctioned opposition party during the twilight of the USSR. But in recent years they have consistently voted with the Kremlin.
"If the election is free and fair I'll have a good chance of winning," Zhirinovsky believes.
Quickly following in his footsteps was Gennady Zyuganov. The number two seems to stick to the Communist Party. Its candidates have come second in every post-Soviet Presidential ballot.
"The current ruling class is incapable of conducting a fair election. We'll force them to have a dialogue. We'll stage street protests," Zyuganov says.
Next was the Kremlin-backed Dmitry Medvedev. He's already invited Vladimir Putin to become his Prime Minister if he wins, while Putin has given him his personal endorsement. The opinion poll favorite has had social projects as his key responsibility in the government for the past two years. And he's already unveiled his vision of Russia - Putin's basic recipe with Medvedev's signature dish.
"Our social policy has already changed and will continue to do so: the focus will be on people," Medvedev pledged.
Andrey Bogdanov, an obscure leader of a little-known party, was the last one to officially register. Bogdanov admits to being a freemason, keeps a Live Journal and wants Russia in the EU.
" Russia has to join the EU within the next 10 years," he says.
Another presidential hopeful, Russia's ex-Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, didn't make the grade to run. Election authorities found more invalid signatures than allowed by the law among the two million he had to collect in support of his bid. But the Kremlin's fierce critic says his political career is far from over.
"My main political job is to continue to pursue political activity. To explain to Russian people what really is going on in our country," Kasyanov says.
Meanwhile, the election authorities are starting to send out invitations to international observers. December's Parliamentary poll was boycotted by the OSCE. The organization cited unprecedented restrictions and visa delays. Russia dismissed the charges, accusing the OSCE of ineffectiveness and bias.
Moscow is sticking to its guns. The head of Russia's Central Election Commission Vladimir Churov said the number of observers invited now is the same as in the December poll, i.e. about 400 people. And he made a very public gesture to prove the OSCE is not being kept out - he publicly signed the invitation to the head of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights.
Vladimir Churov said he'd like a turnout of at least 60 per cent - the number he sees as a European standard for non-compulsory voting.
The countdown is on. And in only a few days' time the media campaign will hit the screens, the streets and newspaper pages.