“Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny called on supporters to rally in protest on Monday against the results of a Moscow election which he says was rigged in favor of the Kremlin,” Reuters reports:
Results from Sunday’s mayoral election showed Kremlin ally Sergei Sobyanin just cleared the 50 percent mark needed to win outright. Navalny challenged the outcome and demanded a run-off.
Buoyed by an unexpectedly strong showing of 27 percent which pushed him into second place, Navalny has raised the prospect of a new election stand-off in Russia, 19 months after allegations of fraud in a parliamentary election inspired the biggest protests against Putin since he rose to power in 2000.
“Yesterday we found out that we can win. Now we have to understand whether we can defend our victory,” he said. “We made it into the second round but they again took it away from us.”
“It is a clear signal for the Kremlin that it must be seriously worried about Navalny,” said Dmitry Oreshkin, a political analyst with sympathies for the opposition.
Navalny attracted votes beyond his core supporters, he said.
“But I am skeptical about the prospects of using this victory to mobilize the protest movement again on a mass scale.”
Navalny campaign staffer Aleksei Shagal, 27, told RFE/RL that his candidate grew throughout the campaign. “It is clear that he really tempered himself and has become a politician of a new level,” he said.
Turnout in the election was far lower than expected at around 33 percent. Initially, the low turnout was seen as an indication that Navalny had failed to energize Muscovites and overcome their skepticism about elections. However, the unfolding election results seem to indicate that the low turnout meant that Sobyanin had largely declined to use his so-called administrative resources and decided to conduct a much fairer election than the city saw under his predecessor as mayor, Yury Luzhkov.
Sobyanin may have been overly confident about his chances of clearly winning in the first round, said Nikolai Petrov, of the Moscow Carnegie Center. “I think it was cleaner than ever…in Moscow,” he said. “The reason why, I think, is connected not only with the need for the Kremlin and for Sobyanin to give him as much legitimacy as possible, but it’s connected with forecasts showing that Sobyanin [was] easily winning in the first round. They felt there was no need to falsify election results.”
Colossal trump card
“From a civil activist he has turned into a politician. Twenty-seven per cent is a colossal trump card,” Maria Lipman, an analyst with the Carnegie Moscow Center, told Agence France Presse:
In a late-night Sunday rally in central Moscow attended by thousands and lit up by fireworks, Sobyanin said he was sure of victory and congratulated himself for organising “the most honest and open elections in the history of Moscow”.
In an apparent dig at Navalny after the final results were published, he called on his rivals not to “rock the boat” and concede defeat. “When they try to turn the city into a political venue for fights, revolutions — Muscovites absolutely do not need that,” he was quoted as saying.
“The Kremlin has a serious choice to make,” said political analyst Alexander Morozov, noting that Navalny’s strong showing would split the Putin administration into those who want to see him jailed and those would support giving him a greater role in politics.
Navalny’s Broader Appeal
St. Peterburg-based analyst Mikhail Vinogradov gives credit to Navalny for appealing to a broader spectrum of voters, RFE/RL reports. “The unexpected reaching out by Navalny — mostly, Navalny himself, rather than his campaign — to apolitical voters, including older voters and state workers, had some results,” he said. “It wasn’t a complete success, of course. Navalny didn’t come close to a first-round victory. But it was a sort of unexpected result for both candidates.”
Sobyanin received just over 51% of the vote – but without the clear margin required for him to win, at least, according to the Moscow Times. Alexei Navalny, the anti-Kremlin opposition candidate, was in second place with roughly 27% of the vote (higher than predicted). ‘[I]n the end we will win anyway,’ said Sobyanin (he was right), adding praise for the ‘most open elections in Moscow history’, and stating assuredly that ‘there will be no second round’ of voting. A second round was apparently on the cards to begin with because Navalny’s election campaign recorded much higher results at its exit polls, estimating that Sobyanin won 46% of the vote, and Navalny 36%, prompting the latter to anticipate a second round.
Despite Navalny’s statement following the vote count, which said that he and his supporters ‘consider the official election results to be deliberately falsified’, the result is widely seen as a success for Navalny, because he garnered so much more of the vote than he was expected to. Observers registered few violations, marking a contrast from previous years’ results. The Moscow Times spoke to a number of voters as they left polling stations. Navalny’s supporters say they have been granted authorisation to hold a rally in downtown Moscow later today.
The opposition candidate in Yekaterinburg, Yevgeny Roizman, won a surprise victory in his local mayoral elections, amid accusations of fraud.