MOSCOW - In an eleventh-hour bid to block Acting President Vladimir Putin from an outright presidential election victory on Sunday, key Yeltsin-era reformers, including three deputy prime ministers, yesterday rallied behind third-place candidate Grigory Yavlinsky.
The move came after Mr. Yavlinsky, leader of the pro-reform Yabloko party, made a dramatic appeal for liberal and democratic support, arguing that he is the only candidate running in the presidential race who would safeguard civil liberties.
He accused Mr. Putin of being a "hidden Communist" who posed a "real danger to Russian democracy" and urged reformers from across the political spectrum to line up behind him and help prevent Mr. Putin from gaining on Sunday the absolute majority he needs to secure the presidency without a run-off.
Among those who responded favorably to Mr. Yavlinsky's appeal were Boris Nemtsov, Irina Khakamada, Anatoly Chubais and Yegor Gaidar. All four are leading members of the Union of Right-Wing Forces, a political bloc that has officially endorsed Mr. Putin's candidacy. Three of them were deputy prime ministers during Boris Yeltsin's presidency.
Polls indicate little chance the late pro-Yavlinsky rally would change the trend of the election - opinion polls suggest Mr. Putin has the race wrapped up and will win more than 50 percent of the votes cast on Sunday.
National opinion polls have Mr. Yavlinsky trailing a distant third behind Mr. Putin and Communist Gennady Zyuganov. On current polls it seems unlikely that the Yabloko leader will attract much more than 5 percent of the vote.
But Mr. Yavlinsky and his supporters have long argued that it is imperative that he secure at least 10 percent of the vote.
"The size of the opposition vote to Putin could act as a restraint on the Kremlin and on Putin after the election by indicating to them that there are coherent forces of democratic opposition around," says Andrei Pointkovsky, a Yavlinsky adviser and director of the Center of Strategic Research, a Moscow-based think tank.