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“He wouldn’t be tempted by corruption, mainly because he’s already rich enough,” said business journalist Anastasia Markitan. “He’d be like an effective CEO, if elected.”

That seems unlikely: Mr. Prokhorov’s poll ratings are around 5 percent in both state-run and independent surveys.

Another candidate, former upper-house leader Sergei Mironov, 58, also has similarly low polling figures and arguably the least credibility of all candidates.

He gained less than 1 percent at the 2004 election, the only other time he has run, and said ahead of voting that he believed Mr. Putin was the best man for president.

He also as much as admitted his participation is the Kremlin’s “back-up” in case all the other candidates pulled out. This time, he has positioned himself as a left-leaning anti-Putin reformer, but few are convinced.

Several other would-be candidates were denied registration for the polls, including liberal politician Grigory Yavlinksy, who also enjoys the support of around five percent of Russians.

Mr. Yavlinksy has alleged he was refused registration after announcing plans to train and send thousands of monitors to polling stations on election day.

“We want to see Yavlinsky on the ballot paper,” protest leader and opposition figure Boris Nemtsov said before a recent anti-government rally. “That would at least make the polls at least seem like real elections — all the other candidates rely on Putin, to some extent or another.”