Tens of thousands have protested over the election at the start of this month, when Mr Putin’s United Russia party won a slim majority, amid claims of vote-rigging. A Moscow rally last weekend was the largest show of discontent since the Soviet collapse 20 years ago.
“As a candidate, I don’t need any vote-rigging,” Mr Putin said. “I want the election to be transparent. I want to rely on people’s will, on people’s trust, and it makes no sense to work if it’s missing.”
During a meeting with supporters, he dismissed the opposition as lacking a goal beyond fomenting turmoil, accused its leaders of trying to delegitimise elections, and said they had not proved their worth.
“The problem is they lack a consolidated programme, as well as clear and comprehensible ways of achieving their goals, which aren’t clear either,” Mr Putin said. “They also lack people who are capable of doing something concrete.”
He reiterated his rejection of demands for a re-run of the parliamentary vote, insisting “there can’t be any talk about reviewing it”.
At the same time, he urged his supporters to ensure a fair presidential vote to prevent any possible criticism, and discussed details of his proposal to put web cameras at all polling stations. He also suggested all ballot boxes be made transparent.
Mr Putin and his protégé Dmitry Medvedev, who succeeded him in the presidency and is expected to switch to the premiership after March, have rolled out a set of proposed political reforms intended to assuage public anger. They include relaxing registration rules for political parties and restoring direct elections for provincial governors.
But opposition leaders have rejected the government proposals as window-dressing, saying they would affect only the next election cycle, which is years away.
Alexei Navalny, an anti-corruption lawyer who has been a driving force behind the latest protests, vowed that up to a million demonstrators would take to the streets before the presidential election.
In a surprise move, reflecting the government’s search for a strategy to respond to the protests, former finance minister Alexei Kudrin, who remains close to Mr Putin, attended the weekend opposition rally and joined calls for the resignation of the Central Election Commission chief.
He also proposed setting up a discussion panel, where protesters and government authorities can exchange views, saying it would pave a path for reforms while lowering the risk of violence. He even suggested holding a repeat parliamentary election next autumn.
Mr Kudrin told the Russian business newspaper Vedomosti he met with Mr Putin before the rally to propose serving as a mediator between the protesters and the government.