People walk near a board, which advertises the campaign of Russian President Vladimir Putin ahead of the upcoming presidential election, in a street in the southern city of Stavropol, Russia February 6, 2018. REUTERS/Eduard Korniyenko
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As always, Putin has bowed out of debates and has symbolically refused his free television airtime as a candidate.Putin's main task is to ensure a respectable turnout, with state pollsters VTsIOM predicting 80.4 percent although last time, participation was just over 65 percent.Functions he has attended have been highly choreographed, such as a recent meeting with local mayors, when Putin was flown in, met with a star-struck few as journalists watched on a screen from another room.Although the numbers planning to vote for him have dipped from last year's high of 76.9 percent, Putin still commands 71.5 percent of support, VTsIOM figures show.Among those running against Putin are two new colorful characters who may have a political future ahead of them.The moustachioed 57-year-old businessman, who has praised Stalin, scored well in early polls, prompting a wave of negative coverage from state and pro-Kremlin media over fears he could do better than planned, observers said.If the vote were held today, he would win 7.3 percent, polls show.
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