'Putin to win Russian poll in first round'

'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.