As Muscovites prepared Saturday to elect a mayor for the first time in a decade, many said they would support a controversial critic of Vladimir Putin who channels public anger against the Kremlin. On Sunday, they will have to choose from six candidates including Kremlin-backed incumbent Sergei Sobyanin and the main opposition candidate Alexei Navalny, who has campaigned under the shadow of a five-year sentence on charges he condemned as politically motivated. The candidacy of the 37-year-old anti-corruption blogger has made the race the first genuinely competitive Russian election since the heady first post-Soviet years, even if many harbour reservations about his tough anti-migrant rhetoric. Kremlin-backed Sobyanin, 55, is expected to win with a majority, while Navalny is set to come second with around 20 percent, according to opinion polls.
The vote will be seen as a crucial test of opinion in a city which was shaken by huge demonstrations against Putin’s decade-long rule in the winter of 2011-2012.
Moscow gave Putin a relatively low 46.95 percent of the vote in the May 2012 presidential election, well below the nationwide average.
Many Muscovites said Navalny, who shot to prominence during the protests, would never win the tightly-controlled poll, but they would still vote for him in protest at what they see as the Kremlin’s corrupt system.