Navalny runs western-style in race for Moscow mayor

The incumbent mayor’s main rival is expected to take second place

Alexei Navalny, a candidate for mayor of Moscow, arrives for a news conference at his campaign offices in Moscow. Navalny, an anti-corruption activist, through his campaign for mayor, has exposed disarray in President Vladimir Putin’s carefully constructed political system. Photograph:  James Hill/The New York Times

Alexei Navalny, a candidate for mayor of Moscow, arrives for a news conference at his campaign offices in Moscow. Navalny, an anti-corruption activist, through his campaign for mayor, has exposed disarray in President Vladimir Putin’s carefully constructed political system. Photograph: James Hill/The New York Times

Sat, Sep 7, 2013, 01:00

Alexei Navalny, the main anti-government candidate for mayor of Moscow, held what he described as a “grandiose rally and concert” on Andrei Sakharov Prospekt last night and while the enthusiasm of his supporters was not dampened, their clothes were.

A deluge of rain has descended on Moscow for the past three days and nights, curtailing street campaigning and causing more damage to Navalny than any other candidate, as he has operated a western-style campaign with his supporters handing out leaflets on the streets and at metro stations.

However, most Muscovites have spent more time scurrying for shelter than paying attention to campaigners. Later today the rain will stop on the orders of the incumbent mayor, Sergei Sobyanin, so that the city’s residents can celebrate Moscow’s 866th anniversary in fine weather. Since Soviet times planes have been sent up to seed clouds approaching Moscow so that the capital can have rain-free holidays.

Anti-corruption
Navalny, a 37-year-old lawyer of Ukrainian extraction, is running for office despite being convicted of fraud in what has been widely regarded as a politically motivated trial in the provincial city of Kirov. Surprisingly, after his conviction and sentence to four years in prison he was released without bail and permitted to run for mayor.

He is well known as Russia’s leading anti-corruption blogger and his description of President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia Party as the “Party of Crooks and Thieves” has become a Russian meme widely used in everyday conversation.

Navalny’s popularity in Russian liberal circles has been attenuated by his association with far-right nationalists and videos on YouTube condemning immigration of workers from former Soviet republics, particularly from Central Asia.

He is the main opponent of Sergei Sobyanin, who was appointed by then president Dmitry Medvedev in 2010 after he had sacked the long-standing city boss Yuri Luzhkov for “lack of trust”, a euphemism used in Soviet times for corruption.

Sobyanin is expected to win comfortably on Sunday, with Navalny in second place. The next most popular candidate is Ivan Melnikov of the Communist Party who is regarded as the only other hopeful who might run into double figures in the percentage poll.

Little support
The other three runners are expected to get very little support. Sergei Mitrokhin represents the western-style Yabloko Party with Nikolai Levichev of “A Just Russia” likely to finish fifth. Last in the opinion polls is Mikhail Degtyarev from the self-styled Liberal Democratic Party of the Russian Federation, headed by the madcap right-winger Vladimir Zhirinovsky.