Russia

Protests Expected as Putin's Pick Wins Moscow, Opposition Claims Election Invalid

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Opposition candidate, Alexei Navalny
Credit: MItya-Aleshkovskiy

Alexei Navalny, who had the support of many in Russia's opposition movement, including libertarians, lost in the Moscow mayoral election over the weekend. He was beat by President Vladimir Putin's close associate, Sergei Sobyanin. Protests by the opposition are expected to occur today.

As I noted last week, the election was of national and even international significance. The mayor of Moscow is considered the third most important position in Russian politics. Some speculate that this sets up Sobyanin as Putin's successor, making him a significant figure for Americans to be aware of. Furthermore, the election's outcome may determine the fate of the U.S.-educated Navalny, who faces five years hard labor for embezzlement, as well as the fate of the liberal opposition movement that he represents.

Navalny is a critic of corruption and an advocate for free market economics. He has been optimistically described as Russia's first "American-type politician" for his transparency. Although he does not describe himself as a libertarian, he had the support of many in Russia's libertarian party, such as Vera Kichanova, whom I previously interviewed for Reason. "Me, most of my party and thousands of other people support him," she told me before the election.

Navalny does not believe the election's outcome was legitimate. He received 27 percent of the vote, which comes as a surprise to all. Some polls predicted only 9 percent for Navalny, while the candidate himself insisted he earned 35 percent. The concern, however, is that his establishment opponent earned 51 percent. This narrowly overcomes a 50 percent threshold and avoiding a runoff. Navalny's hope was to force a second round for which he could gain more momentum. 

Regardless, as Russian affairs analyst Kevin Rothrock anticipated, the opposition will likely respond to Sobyanin's victory with protests. "We don't recognise these results and we demand a second round, which the people of Moscow voted for. If the mayor and the Kremlin ignore the demands of the people we will call everyone on to the streets tomorrow," Navalny tweeted. This morning he wrote on his blog, "Come to Bolotnaya Square today. You know why. I don't need to explain anything else." Bolotnaya Square has been a meeting point for massive anti-Putin protests since 2011.

RBC, a Russian news channel, reports that "the prosecutor's office of the Central Administrative District of Moscow has sent a warning Navalny" against staging any form of civil disobedience. Pravda, a newspaper owned by Russia's Communist Party, suggests that Navalny simply "can not lose with dignity." Reporters Gabriela Baczynska and Maria Tsvetkova at Reuters, on the other hand, suggest that Navalny's campaign neverthelss upset the status quo in Russian elections. The "Western-style campaign that appeared to take the Kremlin and Navalny's rivals by surprise with its energy and professionalism."