The most intriguing aspect of the early mayoral election in Moscow is its complete lack of suspense. Almost two weeks have passed since pro-Kremlin Mayor Sergei Sobyanin unexpectedly resigned. He then called for a new election in three months, effectively eliminating any possible competition in the process. The election will be held according to the standard scenario of Russia’s “managed democracy” — that is, by preventing the strongest rivals to Sobyanin from running in the race, guaranteeing low voter turnout and applying the Kremlin’s massive propaganda and administrative resources to manipulate the vote. Civil Platform party leader and billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov was expected to have been Sobyanin’s main rival. During his bid for the presidency in March 2012, Prokhorov received nearly 8 percent of the vote nationally and more than 20 percent among Muscovites.
Now, one year later, support for Prokhorov remains just as strong among Moscow voters. According to the latest Levada Center poll, Prokhorov could have kicked off mayoral election campaign with a solid 20 percent of the vote from the start. And if he had mounted an aggressive election campaign during the next three months, he might have been able to force a second round of voting, at which point he might have had a real chance of winning.
Prokhorov denied that the Kremlin had pressured him not to run for office. He said his lawyers could not find a legally viable way to quickly transfer his foreign assets to Russia to comply with the new law banning candidates and officials from holding assets overseas. Yet Prokhorov himself has mentioned that United Russia and the Central Elections Commission have threatened to exploit that law to prevent him from registering for the election.
Notably, Prokhorov did not encourage his sister, Irina Prokhorova, to run on the Civil Platform ticket. Irina, whose impressive speeches during the presidential election campaign and her strong liberal positions have made her popular among the Moscow intelligentsia, could have received substantial support from Muscovites. But for some reason, Irina decided not to run. Now Prokhorov will prepare for next year’s elections in the Moscow City Duma, although this body holds only marginal influence over the city’s affairs.
Sobyanin can breathe easily now that his primary rival, Prokhorov, is out of the picture. According to the Levada Center, fully 67 percent of Muscovites planning to vote on Sept. 8 will endorse his candidacy, and his popularity among the general population has risen from 36 percent one year ago to 47 percent today. By contrast, only 3 percent of the voters would cast their ballots today for anti-corruption whistleblower Alexei Navalny, only 2 percent support Yabloko party head Sergei Mitrokhin and even fewer would vote for candidates from the Communist Party, A Just Russia and the Liberal Democratic Party.