Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who initiated democratization in Russia, has slammed the current presidential elections as a "totally predictable" exercise that limits popular choice. "Something wrong is going on with our elections, and our electoral system needs a major adjustment," Gorbachev told the independent Interfax agency.
"Certainly, the election will take place in Russia and people should vote, but its outcome is totally predictable," he said.
Gorbachev blamed President Vladimir Putin, who has pledged to become the prime minister if his annointed heir Dmitri Medvedev is elected, for exerting undue influence on Russia's fledgling democracy.
"I believe that the experience of the recent parliamentary election campaign, and the way the presidential one is being held have highlighted the need to analyze and refine our election laws," Gorbachev said. Russia's state-run media has lavished positive attention on Medvedev, while largely ignoring his three competitors, Communist Party chief Gennady Zyuganov, ultra-nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky and head of the tiny Democratic Party Andrei Bogdanov.
On Tuesday, Medvedev announced that he would not take part in public debates with his three rivals, due to his "pressing official duties" as deputy prime minister, according to his spokesperson.
Zyuganov recently threatened to pull out of the contest unless he was granted equal media access and the "massive official support" for Medvedev was stopped.
Several non-party opposition candidates have been complained of being excluded altogether from taking part in the race, including chess champion Garry Kasparov and ex-Soviet dissident Vladimir Bukovsky.
Former PM Mikhail Kasyanov was struck off the ballot this week after authorities alleged that he forged 14 per cent of the 2-million citizens' signatures needed for nomination.