For Putin aims to persuade the president to stay on as a "national leader" after his second term in office ends next year. The constitution prohibits a third consecutive term.

"In the months to come we will have a total renewal of the top  leadership of the state," Putin said.

Candidate list

However, he leads the list of candidates for United Russia and opinion polls show more than 60 per cent of voters will back the party. It is possible that he could gain a seat in parliament and become Russia's prime minister.
"It's painful to imagine life without Putin. We fear that without him it will be chaos"

Kristina Rastvorova, Putin supporter
Activists at the rally in a Moscow sports stadium chanted "Russia!" as Putin spoke of the country's economic growth and the strength of its armed forces.

"I really love Vladimir Putin," Irina Bleshchova, a 20-year-old student and activist in the pro-Kremlin Nashi youth movement, said.
   
"I would like my future husband to be like Vladimir Putin."

Kristina Rastvorova, another activist, said: "It's painful to imagine life without Putin. We fear that without him it will be chaos."

Indeed, Putin suggested that there would be unrest if opposition parties were brought to power in the elections.

Provocations

"They want to go out into the streets. They've learnt from Western specialists. They've trained in neighbouring republics. Now they want to cause provocations," he said, referring to street protests in other ex-Soviet states such as Georgia and Ukraine.
 
"Those who confront us need a weak and ill state. They want to have a divided society, in order to do their deeds behind its back."

Kasparov urged Putin's opponents
to spoil their ballots [AFP]
Dmitry Babich, a Russian journalist, told Al Jazeera that United Russia might not get everything all its own way.

"United Russia is trying to get more than 50 per cent of the vote, but I am not sure they will get it because food prices are rising and the massive propaganda campaign irritates some people," he said.

But Grigory Yavlinsky, leader of the opposition Yabloko party, said December's poll threatens to propel Russia towards Soviet-style single-party rule.
  
"The elections are the prologue of a transition from an authoritarian state ... to a semi-dictatorial state that aspires to become a system where Putin is president for life," he said.

Another opposition leader called on Putin's opponents to spoil their ballot papers in December.

Garry Kasparov, a former world chess champion, said votes cast for small parties failing to reach a seven per cent threshold for representation in the lower house of parliament would automatically be reallocated to United Russia unless ballot papers were spoiled.

The "entire process is under control from Putin's regime", he said.