Lawyer tops poll to elect Russian opposition leaders

 

ANTI-CORRUPTION lawyer Alexei Navalny has topped an internet poll to choose Russia’s opposition leaders.

Almost 82,000 people voted in elections for a co-ordination council intended to give fresh impetus to the protest movement against president Vladimir Putin. Opposition to Putin erupted on to the streets last December in the wake of fraudulent elections, but some feel the movement has since lost its way.

The nationwide poll that closed on Monday was described by Navalny as “the very biggest project achieved without government participation in the modern history of Russia”. “We did not manage to break the world record of verified internet voting,” he wrote on his blog. “We clearly broke the record of internet voting carried out in conditions of active opposition from the government.”

Election organisers blamed the authorities for internet attacks that brought down their website on Saturday, leading them to extend voting into a third day.

The political poet and author Dmitrii Bykov came in second place, just ahead of chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov.

Other winners included Kseniya Sobchak, a one-time society girl who has reinvented herself as a political activist, and Evgenia Chirikova, an environmental campaigner who recently lost a bid to become mayor of her home town in the Moscow suburbs.

Just as Russia’s political protests have been powered by the internet, this election unfolded online. Debates between the candidates were aired on Dozhd (Rain) TV, an online station that challenges the Kremlin-friendly coverage on mainstream channels. At polling stations across the country people voted on computers.

Critics accuse the council of lacking mass support and a manifesto for change. “The creation of yet an another organisation with vague aims and programme will hardly help the opposition to succeed in elections,” Konstantin Kostin, a former Kremlin official, wrote in the newspaper Izvestiya.

Leaders from long-established opposition parties Parnas and Yabloko declined to get involved in the council, seeing it as a distraction from regional elections that took place earlier this month.

Igor Mintusov, a political analyst, expressed hope that those “elected onto the co-ordination council can find a mechanism to take decisions and conduct a dialogue with official government”.

But how easily the council of 45 individuals, spanning hardline leftists and free-market liberals, will work together is unclear.

One of those elected is at the centre of the latest government crackdown on the opposition. Leonid Razvozzhayev, a left-wing activist, was arrested last week on charges of fomenting riots. He was seized on the streets of Kiev while making a claim for political asylum, according to the Duma deputy for whom he works.

A video posted on the deputy’s website shows a man, apparently Razvozzhayev, being put into a police van, saying, “Tell everyone they tortured me.” Russia’s Investigative Committee said Razvozzhayev had confessed to planning riots and was in good health when examined by a prison doctor.