Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny yesterday warned of protests after narrowly failing to push Moscow’s pro-Kremlin mayor into a run-off in tight elections he claimed were marred by falsifications.
Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin just crept over the finish line to win 51.3 percent of votes in Sunday’s poll, which analysts saw as a crucial test of the protest mood over a year into Russian President Vladimir Putin’s new Kremlin term.
Navalny, who campaigned under the shadow of a controversial conviction for embezzlement, polled far more strongly than projected with more than 27 percent, but contended the results were falsified.
Sobyanin, a longtime ally of Putin, won 51.32 percent of the vote and Navalny 27.27 percent, the Moscow election commission said, in a count based on 99.6 percent of polling stations reporting.
However, Navalny, 37, insisted he had managed to force the mayor into a second round and vowed street protests if the authorities did not acknowledge Sobyanin had polled less than 50 percent.
“What we are seeing now are clear falsifications,” he told reporters in a late night briefing at his campaign headquarters in Moscow. “We demand that a second round is held. If that is not done ... we will appeal to the citizens and ask them to take to the streets of Moscow.”
The city authorities have already allowed Navalny to hold a rally of up to 2,500 people in central Moscow, scheduled for last night, during which he has promised to decide future strategy.
The candidacy of the charismatic anti-corruption crusader Navalny made the race the first genuinely competitive Russian election since the heady early post-Soviet years.
It was also the first time the Kremlin had allowed Muscovites to elect their mayor in a decade and Sobyanin clearly wanted to pick up popular legitimacy after being appointed in 2010 to replace longstanding mayor Yury Luzhkov.
In a late-night rally on Sunday in central Moscow attended by thousands and lit up by fireworks, Sobyanin said he was sure of victory and congratulated himself for organizing “the most honest and open elections in the history of Moscow.”
“We have something to be proud of,” he told the cheering supporters with uncharacteristic passion.
Navalny’s camp expressed suspicion over the failure of the authorities to produce a final turnout figure, but it was expected to be about 32 percent.
Analysts said that the low turnout had helped Navalny, with the protest leader’s dynamic Western-style campaign doing a far better job of bringing out support than Sobyanin’s distinctly low-key push for votes.
“This is a victory for Navalny, the results he’s received are very good, even if there will be no run-off,” said Gleb Pavlovsky, a political analyst and one-time Kremlin consultant.
Meanwhile, in a nationwide day of local polls whose results may worry the Kremlin, opposition anti-drugs campaigner Yevgeny Roizman also defeated the pro-Kremlin candidate in elections for Russia’s fourth-largest city, Yekaterinburg.
Roizman won 30.11 percent of the vote while the candidate of the ruling United Russia Party, Yakov Silin, had 26.48 percent, the local elections commission said.
It marked one of the first times in recent post-Soviet history that an opposition candidate has beaten the ruling-party figure in a major city.
Unlike the Moscow mayoral election, the Yekaterinburg poll took place in one round with the winner taking all and becoming mayor.
Silin is currently deputy governor of the city’s wider region and his defeat would represent a clear rejection of the ruling elite in one of Russia’s key industrial regions.
Roizman, standing as a candidate for the Civil Platform party of billionaire tycoon Mikhail Prokhorov, had won prominence for his “City Without Drugs” anti-narcotics drive.