'Putin to win Russian poll in first round'

Vladimir Putin will be elected president in the first round of March’s election with more than half the vote, avoiding a runoff that would dent his authority on the eve of his planned return to the Kremlin’s top job, a state pollster predicted on Monday.

Prime Minister Putin hopes to convincingly win the March 4 election in order to take the sting out of a growing urban protest movement which casts him as an authoritarian leader who rules through a corrupt and tightly controlled political system.

Once cast as Russia’s “alpha-dog” leader by US diplomats, talk of anything less than complete victory for Russia’s paramount leader was unthinkable before the protests, the biggest of his 12-year rule. Putin is likely to win 58.6 per cent of the vote, far ahead of his closest rival, said Russia’s Public Opinion Research Center, which has a history of accurately predicting the results of Russian elections.

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