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It's Russian election season. So where's the campaign?

The race to replace Vladimir Putin officially starts Saturday, but Mr. Putin's handpicked successor has declined to campaign or publicly debate his opponents.

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The race to replace President Vladimir Putin officially opens Saturday. But actual campaigning is difficult to find.

Mr. Putin's handpicked successor, Dmitri Medvedev, who is basking in opinion polls that show him winning almost three-quarters of the votes on March 2, has declined to campaign or even publicly debate his opponents. Several outside candidates who might have challenged the Kremlin's script were ejected from the ballot in the pre-campaign stage, leaving only the usual, predictable also-rans of post-Soviet Russian politics, Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov and oddball ultra-nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky. A third contender, Andrei Bogdanov of the tiny Democratic Party, is a virtual unknown who has never criticized the Kremlin.

"These elections are really just an afterthought in a political system where the main issue of who will succeed Putin has already been decided," says Viktor Kremeniuk, deputy director of the official Institute of USA-Canada Studies in Moscow. "What's left is just a performance to convince the world that there's a functioning democracy in Russia. And if the show is going badly, it's due to bad management."

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