Russian tycoon says he can now challenge Vladimir Putin for presidency


Billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov attends a meeting with his supporters who signed the petition collecting signatures for Prokhorov's registrations as a presidential candidate in Russia at one of the billionaire's campaign offices in Moscow, on January 13, 2012.



Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov has reportedly collected the two million signatures needed by law to run in March presidential polls, challenging Vladimir Putin.

"We've collected the signatures," a spokeswoman Olga Stukalova for the Russian metals tycoon and US basketball team owner told AFP, adding that they would most likely be submitted to the Central Election Commission on Tuesday. However:

The Central Election Commission has in the past rejected signatures in support of anti-Kremlin candidates on various grounds.

Forbes magazine puts the fortune of Prokhorov, 46, at $18 billion, making him Russia’s third-richest man.

Bloomberg cited state news service RIA Novosti quoting the billionaire, who unexpectedly joined the presidential race in December, as saying, "I am ready to unite all democratic forces.”

Opposition leader Grigory Yavlinsky, co-founder of the Yabloko party, said Friday that he, too, had gathered almost enough signatures, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Polls show Putin, the current prime minister, remains by far Russia's most popular politician, but interest and intrigue surrounding the March 4 election has risen since large demonstrations protesting the December parliamentary vote.