Opponents of Russian President Vladimir Putin elected 45 new leaders on Monday whose task it will be to turn mass street protests into a more structured challenge to the rule of the former KGB spy.
Putin has faced spirited dissent since returning to the presidency for his third term in May, but his critics have so far failed to make significant inroads into his grip on power.
More than 81,000 people voted in the online race that spanned three days instead of two that had been planned because of cyberattacks.
They chose from more than 200 candidates, including student activists, entrepreneurs, a former investment banker, bloggers, a socialite restaurateur, an author and politicians of every stripe.
Popular anti-graft blogger Alexei Navalny won the most support with 43,723 votes and other prominent leaders of Moscow protests against Putin, including Gennady Gudkov, Ilya Yashin, Yevgeniya Chirikova and Ksenia Sobchak, also secured seats on the opposition’s Coordination Council.
Voters were allowed to cast ballots for a total of 45 names — 30 from a broad list and five each from separate lists of left-wing, liberal and nationalist candidates.
The opposition, which drew tens of thousands of demonstrators to Moscow and several other cities for protests last month, hopes the new body will reinvigorate the movement that has lost some momentum since its winter prime. Opposition candidates gained almost no ground in Russia’s Oct. 14 regional elections that cemented the levers of power in the hands of the ruling United Russia party and Putin, in spite of renewed accusations of widespread violations.
“This is their very first attempt at organizing the protest movement. It is fragmented, it has no single leader, it has no political program, but it has been this way for nearly a year,” analyst Maria Lipman of the Carnegie Moscow Center said. “In terms of organizing people, the elections are effective, but in terms of influencing state policies, they are not ... The authorities are trying to push them back so that they are not in their way, so they don’t stimulate people.”