Vladimir Putin will be re-elected as Russia’s president in the first round of next month’s ballot – according to the last major poll before the vote.
But he will score around 66 per cent – that is lower than the 71 per cent he polled last time he stood.
Meanwhile reports are growing that many of the 100,000 people at Thursday’s pro-Putin rally in a Moscow stadium had been paid or coerced into attending.
With just 10 days to go before round one, other candidates also held rallies on Russia’s annual Day of the Defenders of the Fatherland.
Communist leader, Gennady Zyuganov addressed several hundred in central Moscow – he is running a distant second to Putin on 15 per cent.
The Liberal Democrat leader, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, announced a swathe of measures to support students if he became the next president. And that, he said, included free meals from nursery school to the end of college.
But polls show Zhirinovsky trailing Putin and Zyuganov with just 8 per cent. Then comes Mikhail Prokhorov on 6 per cent and lastly Sergei Mironov on 5.
Both Prokhorov and Mironov are seen as being Kremlin controlled and approved – other “independent” candidates have been disqualified from standing.
Few doubt Putin will return to the Kremlin on March 4, but after the latest legislative ballot are growing number of Russians doubt the election that will put him there will be free and fair.