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DATE=1/5/2000 TYPE=CORRESPONDENT REPORT TITLE=RUSSIA / POLITICS (L) NUMBER=2-257804 BYLINE=EVE CONANT DATELINE=MOSCOW CONTENT= VOICED AT: INTRO: Russia's upper house of parliament has determined that early presidential elections will be held March 26th. Moscow Correspondent Eve Conant reports election officials say the presidential election campaign is about to begin officially. TEXT: Russia's Upper House of Parliament has voted overwhelmingly to set March 26th as the date for early presidential elections. Acting President Vladimir Putin met with leading lawmakers, several of them potential candidates, before Wednesday's vote. He told them that free and fair elections would help stabilize Russia. /// ACT PUTIN IN RUSSIAN IN FULL AND FADE UNDER. /// He says -- everyone has agreed that we must conduct these elections within the boundaries of the law. Mr. Putin says -- if the elections are clean then Russian society will be united - this is our most important task. The resignation of President Boris Yeltsin on December 31st shocked most Russians, but also increased the chances for Mr. Putin to succeed in the March elections. The Prime Minister is extremely popular for spearheading Moscow's military offensive in Chechnya. He is viewed as a no-nonsense politician who can help the economy and fight corruption. /// OPT /// Before Mr. Yeltsin resigned, he signed a new law governing early presidential elections. The law has several points, including that candidates must declare their income and holdings and whether they have been convicted of a crime. /// END OPT /// The head of Russia's Central Election Commission, Alexander Veshnyakov, says that naming March 26th as the election date means that the election season is about to begin. /// ACT VESHNYAKOV, RUSSIAN, IN FULL AND FADE. /// He says -- Thursday is the official start of the early presidential race, it is important to organize quickly because the candidates have much less time than usual to campaign. Opposition parties, who just a few-weeks ago contested for seats in Russia's parliament, are now scrambling to organize their candidates and their platforms with less then three-months to go before the presidential vote. Acting President Putin says he does not plan to campaign, but will go on serving in his post. He is expected to be supported by the Kremlin, as well as state-run media outlets. Mr. Putin told a television interviewer Tuesday that Boris Yeltsin resigned early in order to give him what he called -- a head start in the presidential campaign. (SIGNED) NEB/EC/GE/RAE 05-Jan-2000 10:28 AM EDT (05-Jan-2000 1528 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .