Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin said there's a possibility of a runoff following the March 4 Russian presidential election if he doesn't receive more than 50 percent of the vote.
Yana Lapikova/RIA Novosti/AP
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said Wednesday he could face a runoff in the March presidential vote, his first acknowledgement that he may fail to muster enough support for an outright victory.
Putin's statement signaled he might be willing to accept tarnishing his father-of-the nation image if he fails to win more than 50 percent in the first round on March 4, rather than risk igniting more public outrage through blatant vote rigging.
Evidence of fraud in favor of Putin's party in a December parliamentary election triggered the biggest protests since the Soviet collapse two decades ago.
Putin said at a meeting with election monitors that "there is nothing horrible" about a runoff and he's ready for one, according to Russian news reports.
But he also warned of the dangers of a second round, saying it would lead to a "certain destabilization of the political situation." The need for stability in Russia has been the mantra of Putin's campaign.
Putin won his previous two presidential terms in 2000 and 2004 in the first round. After moving into the prime minister's job due to term limits, he has remained the No. 1 leader, but has seen his support dwindle amid growing public frustration with his rigid controls over the political scene, rampant corruption and rising social inequality.
Opinion polls show support for Putin between 40 and 50 percent. If he fails to get a majority of the vote, he will face a runoff on March 25, most likely against Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov.
Putin announced his bid to reclaim the presidency in September and said he would then name Dmitry Medvedev, his protege and successor as president, his prime minister.
The job swap was seen as a show of cynical disrespect for democracy, fueling public anger that spilled into the open during the December protests.
Another mass rally is planned for this weekend. In a sign of the increasingly bold defiance of Putin's rule, opposition activists hoisted a giant "Putin Go Away" billboard to the top of a building across the river from the Kremlin on Wednesday. It took authorities more than an hour to remove it.