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.
TEXT SIZE - +

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.


James Brooke

A foreign correspondent who has reported from five continents, Brooke, known universally as Jim, is the Voice of America bureau chief for Russia and former Soviet Union countries. From his base in Moscow, Jim roams Russia and Russia’s southern neighbors.

You May Like

Wikipedia Proves Useful for Tracking Flu

Technique gave better results than Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Google’s Flu Trends More

Turkish Law Gives Spy Agency Controversial Powers

Parliament approves legislation to bolster powers of intelligence service, which government claims is necessary to modernize and deal with new threats Turkey faces More

Video Face of American Farmer Changing

Average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population 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.
Face of American Farmer is Changingi
X
Mike Osborne
April 18, 2014
The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid