News / Europe

Billionaire Candidate Courts Russian Voters

Russian billionaire and presidential candidate Mikhail Prokhorov meets with young voters in the Siberian city of Novosibirsk, Jan. 27, 2012.
Russian billionaire and presidential candidate Mikhail Prokhorov meets with young voters in the Siberian city of Novosibirsk, Jan. 27, 2012.
James Brooke

Five men are running for president in Russia’s March 4 elections, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and three other candidates who first ran in prior decades.  Then there is Mikhail Prokhorov, who launched his candidacy only two months ago.

Standing just more than two meters tall, Mikhail Prokhorov feels at home on a basketball court.  A lifelong player, he now owns the New Jersey Nets, a professional American NBA team.

So why is Mr. Prokhorov, Russia’s third richest man, spending an afternoon coaching Moscow middle schoolers?

He is running for president.

Facing a battery of TV cameras, he says sports and culture unites Russia, not rockets, tanks and the secret police.

An actress and mother of a boy at the school, Inna Pivars, said she was impressed by the candidate and his program. She said she likes the fact Prokhorov is young, modern, and supports better funding for schools and cultural institutions.

At age 46, Prokhorov is a fresh face in a field that includes two other opposition candidates who first ran for president in the 1990s.

Urban appeal

Public-opinion surveys indicate Prime Minister Vladimir Putin will win next month's election, most likely in the first round.

But these polls also indicate that after only two months of campaigning Mr. Prokhorov will come in second in Russia’s two most important cities, Moscow and St. Petersburg.  He calls for cutting corruption, cutting government workers, ending the military draft, and allowing Americans and Europeans to visit Russia without visas.

Around the corner from the Moscow school, NB Art Gallery manager Maria Rappaport said many Moscow residents see Mikhail Prokhorov as an alternative to Vladimir Putin. “I think that many people will be voting for him, at least in the capital," she said.

But she added that many voters resent a man who became wealthy by buying state companies after the collapse of communism. “And I do not see how Prokhorov can convince people in the villages, for the fact that he is an oligarch.  And people do not trust oligarchs in this country," she said.

Her colleague Anna Ramzhan will vote for Prokhorov. But, she cautioned, “Lots of people tell that he is just a creation of Putin.”

A convenient opponent?

Candidate Prokhorov avoids direct criticism of Mr. Putin.  Here is his response to VOA’s question about growing anti-Americanism in the Putin campaign. He says Russia is a strong country that will solve its own problems without any outside interference.

Masha Lipman at Carnegie Moscow Center, notes Mr. Prokhorov announced his candidacy two days after anti-Putin protests broke out in Moscow.  She says no Russian billionaire is independent of the Kremlin. “He is a convenient contender, a convenient competitor for Putin," she said.

She adds that Mr. Prokhorov’s billionaire status also limits his popular appeal. “In Russia, there is no infatuation with the fat cats [wealthy and powerful people], to say the least.  People resent the fact that he is a billionaire.  In Russia, there is a sense that if you gained so much money you did that at the expense of the people.  They are ill gotten gains," she said.

For many voters, Mr. Prokhorov’s basketball skills will not distract from a fortune valued at $18 billion.  But a strong second-place showing could force Russia’s next President to adopt some of the free-market agenda of Mikhail Prokhorov.

You May Like

US Imposes Sanctions on Alleged Honduran Drug Gang

Treasury department alleges Los Valles group is responsible for smuggling tens of thousands of kilograms of cocaine into US each month More

At 91, Marvel Creator Stan Lee Continues to Expand his Universe

Company's chief emeritus hopes to interest new generation of children in superheroes of all shapes and sizes by publishing content across multiple media platforms More

Photogallery New Drug Protects Against Virus in Ebola Family

Study by researchers at University of Texas Medical Branch, Tekmira Pharmaceuticals is first looking at drug's effectiveness after onset of symptoms More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebolai
X
George Putic
August 20, 2014 8:57 PM
While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ferguson Calls For Justice as Anger, Violence Grips Community

Violence, anger and frustration continue to grip the small St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri. Protests broke out after a white police officer fatally shot an unarmed black teenager on August 9. The case has sparked outrage around the nation and prompted the White House to send U.S. Attorney Eric Holder to the small community of just over 20,000 people. VOA’s Mary Alice Salinas has more from Ferguson.
Video

Video Beheading Of US Journalist Breeds Outrage

U.S. and British authorities have launched an investigation into an Islamic State video showing the beheading of kidnapped American journalist James Foley by a militant with a British accent. The extremist group, which posted the video on the Internet Tuesday, said the murder was revenge for U.S. airstrikes on militant positions in Iraq - and has threatened to execute another American journalist it is holding. Henry Ridgwell has more from London.
Video

Video Family Robots - The Next Big Thing?

Robots that can help us with daily chores like cooking and cleaning are a long way off, but automatons that serve as family companions may be much closer. Researchers in the United States, France, Japan and other countries are racing to build robots that can entertain and perform some simpler tasks for us. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As the Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities from pro-Russian separatists, residents are getting a chance to rebuild their lives. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk province, where a sense of fear is still in the air, and distrust of the government in Kyiv still runs deep.
Video

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improving

The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video China Targets Overseas Assets of Corrupt Officials

As China presses forward with its anti-graft effort, authorities are targeting corrupt officials who have sent family members and assets overseas. The efforts have stirred up a debate at home on exactly how many officials take that route and how likely it is they will be caught. Rebecca Valli has this report.
Video

Video Leading The Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Future

Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State. But there are concerns that a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the KRG says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.
Video

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

In some Kenyan communities, female genital mutilation remains a rite of passage. But activists are pushing back, with education for girls and with threats of punishment those who perform the circumcision. Mohammed Yusuf looks at the practice in the rural eastern community of Tharaka-Nithi.

AppleAndroid