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Russia's opposition party banned from electio -

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Questions are being raised about Russia's upcoming parliamentary elections, with the leading
opposition party now barred from taking part and a suspected Kremlin ally in disguise running.

ELIZABETH JACKSON: In Russia, the governing party appears to be doing all it can to make sure
parliamentary elections planned for December are over before they begin.

A leading opposition party has been barred from taking part and now one of Russia's richest
oligarchs has taken leadership of his own party.

Mikhail Prokhorov says he's willing to back it with $100 million. But many suspect his party is
nothing more than a Kremlin ally in disguise.

Here's our Moscow correspondent Norman Hermant.

HOST: We welcome in the new net owner, Mikhail Prokhorov. Thanks for coming.


NORMAN HERMANT: He's known in America as the Russian billionaire who's bringing basketball to
Brooklyn in New York.

In his home country, Mikhail Prokhorov now wants to be known for his political ambition, along with
his fortune.

Mr Prokhorov, more than two metres tall and worth $18 billion, surprised many when he took the
leadership of the small pro-business Right Cause party.

He says he'll spend $100 million to back it. Just don't call it an opposition party.

(Sound of Mikhail Prokhorov speaking)

"Our citizens associate the word opposition with marginal groups that have long lost touch with
reality, not with political parties," he says.

The last billionaire to enter the political arena was now-jailed Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Even gathering to celebrate his birthday can get you arrested.

True opposition parties face almost insurmountable odds.

Recently, the opposition People's Freedom Party was banned over a technicality.

Vladimir Milov is with Democratic Choice, part of the coalition that makes up the People's Freedom

VLADIMIR MILOV: What we're saying is that in December 2011 a new parliament will be formed which
will not in fact represent the true preferences of the Russian people.

NORMAN HERMANT: Many analysts say the Kremlin-backed United Russia won't succeed only because its
opponents are banned, but also because of manoeuvres such as Mr Prokhorov's.

Respected analyst and author Lilia Shevtsova says many are suspicious of the Russian billionaire's

LILIA SHEVTSOVA: If you ask anyone on the Russian street, who is Mr Prokhorov? You'll Hear Mr
Prokhorov is the Russian billionaire who now does the Kremlin project.

NORMAN HERMANT: But that raises the question, why would one of Russia's richest oligarch's even

Lilia Shevtsova says there's a simple explanation.

LILIA SHEVTSOVA: I would say that sometimes Russian oligarchs are getting suggestions or proposals
that they have no right or courage to refuse.

NORMAN HERMANT: Lately, there have been signs the popularity of the governing United Russia party
is fading.

The Kremlin may have decided it's good to have some potential allies in hand, just in case.

This is Norman Hermant in Moscow reporting for Saturday AM.