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None of this is to say that Navalny is flawless or that Sobyanin does not have the deck stacked in his favor. Many questions have been raised about Navalny's nationalistic sympathies, his ability to lead, and the fact that free market ideas simply are not that popular in Russia. Likewise, the incumbent is not unpopular. And he's the incumbent. "Sobyanin almost certainly will be announced as the winner even if he doesn’t collect the most votes," asserts Paul Goble of the Institute for World Politics.
Russia's political development progress is not simple or linear. It's "not necessarily more democratic" than it was a few years ago, says Rothrock, "but it is different." The nation's political climate is changing quickly and unpredictably. The police will be out in full force, and Russia will not be quite the same after Sunday.
This is what makes the election worth watching, regardless of the apparent victor.
The world will see a balancing act on the part of the powers that be. The world will also see if the Russian opposition is in it for the long haul, if they can maintain cohesion, and if they can find more figures like Navalny to expose corruption and present legitimate alternatives for the voters and push the nation toward democracy.