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

UN Fears Rights Violations in China-backed Projects

UNHCHR investigates link between financing development and ignoring safeguards for human rights More

Boko Haram Violence Tests Nigerians’ Faith in Buhari

New president has promised to stem insurgency; he’s scheduled to meet with President Obama at White House July 20 More

Social Media Network Wants Privacy in User’s Hands

Encryption's popularity in messaging is exploding; now it's the foundation of a new social network 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.
Making Music, Fleeing Bombs: New Film on Sudan’s Internal Refugeesi
X
Carolyn Weaver
July 06, 2015 6:47 PM
In 2012, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka went to make a documentary among civil war refugees in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains region. What he found surprised him: music was helping to save people from bombing raids by their own government. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video Making Music, Fleeing Bombs: New Film on Sudan’s Internal Refugees

In 2012, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka went to make a documentary among civil war refugees in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains region. What he found surprised him: music was helping to save people from bombing raids by their own government. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video Rice Farmers Frustrated As Drought Grips Thailand

A severe drought in Thailand is limiting the growing season of the country’s important rice crop. Farmers are blaming the government for not doing more to protect a key export. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Video

Video 'From This Day Forward' Reveals Difficult Journey of Transgender Parent

In her documentary, "From This Day Forward", filmmaker Sharon Shattuck reveals the personal journey of her transgender father, as he told his family that he always felt he was a woman inside and decided to live as one. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Floodwaters Threaten Iconic American Home

The Farnsworth House in the Midwest State of Illinois is one of the most iconic homes in America. Thousands of tourists visit the site every year. Its location near a river inspired the design of the house, but, as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, that very location is now threatening the existence of this National Historic Landmark.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.

VOA Blogs