Moscow’s mayor, Sergei Sobyanin, announced Tuesday he is stepping down two years early to stand for a new term in office. Sobyanin suggested that the new mayoral election – Moscow’s first in 10 years – would take place on Sept. 8, the same day as the election for governor is scheduled to take place in the surrounding Moscow Region. The maneuver is largely being viewed as an effort to secure a five-year mayoral term at a time when his strongest potential opponents, billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov and opposition activist Alexei Navalny, are likely to be deterred from running. Sobyanin announced his decision on June 4 at a meeting of Moscow’s Public Chamber, where its members urged Sobyanin, appointed mayor by then-President Dmitry Medvedev in 2010, to call early elections to boost his legitimacy among Muscovites. He is thought likely to continue as acting mayor after formally submitting his resignation to President Vladimir Putin, in the period leading up to the new mayoral election.
Sobyanin, 54, served from 2005 to 2010 as presidential chief of staff. Before that, he was elected governor of Russia’s richest oil and gas-bearing province, Tyumen Region, in 2001. Since Sobyanin took over as Moscow mayor he has conducted a thorough review of the policies of his predecessor, Yury Luzhkov, and replaced many of his cronies at City Hall. Luzhkov was dismissed by Medvedev after 18 years in office in September 2010 over “a loss of trust” after a media campaign accused his administration of rampant corruption.
Moscow’s last mayoral election took place in 2003, when Luzhkov polled 75 percent of the vote. In September 2004, after the Beslan terrorist attack in the North Caucasus, Vladimir Putin scrapped popular votes for governors and the mayors of Moscow and St. Petersburg in a move interpreted as strengthening the Kremlin’s control of regional elites.