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Putin says run-off may be necessary

MOSCOW - Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin yesterday admitted that he might not win the presidency in the first round of voting, but he also said that a second round would lead to political turbulence.

Putin’s mixed message summed up what is emerging as the main intrigue of the political season: Authorities could make a push to ensure that Putin gets more than 50 percent of votes March 4, thereby risking the impression that votes had been falsified to break the threshold, which could lead to rallies like those that followed December’s parliamentary elections.

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Or they could accept a result short of 50 percent and endure three unpredictable weeks that would stretch out before a run-off, which Putin would be virtually certain to win. That period could offer encouragement to protesters, as well, and send the message that Putin was returning as a relatively weak executive.

“Obviously, I would not run for office if I didn’t expect to win,’’ he said. “I also understand, and think, that a second round implies an extended period of infighting, a destabilization of our political situation. But there is nothing terrible in this. I am prepared, if it is necessary, to run in a second round.’’

That this conversation is occurring at all is a reminder of the rise in voter dissatisfaction that seemed to accelerate when Putin said he would seek a third term as president, replacing his protégé, Dmitry Medvedev.

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