News / Europe

Russian Billionaire Quits Politics, Rattling Controlled Election System

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (L) speaks with businessman Mikhail Prokhorov during their meeting in the presidential residence at Gorki outside Moscow June 27, 2011.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (L) speaks with businessman Mikhail Prokhorov during their meeting in the presidential residence at Gorki outside Moscow June 27, 2011.
James Brooke

Over the next six months, Russia faces parliamentary and then presidential elections. The country's carefully controlled political system received a jolt when one of the nation’s richest men unexpectedly quit politics, calling for the firing of his Kremlin “puppet master.” Mikhail Prokhorov is no ordinary oligarch. Standing two meters-tall and worth $18 billion, this 46-year-old bachelor owns a string of valuable properties, including the New Jersey Nets, a U.S. team in the National Basketball Association.

But the Kremlin thought they could keep Prokhorov under control. With the ruling United Russia party slipping in the polls, they enlisted him to lead the Right Cause Party. This is a “pocket party,” a Kremlin-controlled project designed to draw alienated voters to December parliamentary elections without posing a real threat. Instead, Prokhorov showed he had pockets of a different sort. He paid for hundreds of billboards to go up around Russia, publicizing his nationalist populist message.

“Prokhorov demonstrated he is too independent to be controlled. And independence is actually something that scares the people who are in power and the whole concept of their controlled democracy developed by Putin during the last 10 years,” said Victor Davidoff, a political analyst in Moscow:

The last Russian billionaire to go into politics, Mikhail Khordokovsky, sits in a prison cell near the Arctic, halfway through a 13-year prison sentence.

Sergei Markov, a ruling party deputy, says Prokhorov also broke the rules.

Without saying that Prokhorov should go to jail, he accuses the billionaire of bringing his business practices and money into Russian politics. Since 2000, the year Vladimir Putin came to power, the rules of Russian politics have become stricter and stricter. The opposition calls it plucking a chicken feather by feather. Mr. Putin ended direct elections for governors, senators and most mayors, brought television under Kremlin control, banned all but three loyal opposition parties, banned the option of voting against all candidates, and then lowered the minimum turnout for a valid election to one vote.

Overall, Russia’s popular mood is increasingly sour. In a poll last month, 54 percent of respondents thought December’s parliamentary elections will be “simulated.” According to Levada, the same polling company, half of Russian university students and entrepreneurs want to emigrate. And half of Russians believe that corruption in the Putin era is worse than under his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin.

In this environment, the Kremlin does not want Westerners to observe Russia’s “managed democracy.” On Monday, negotiations are to continue on the number of European observers to be given visas. Russian election officials have said they would admit only one-third of the 260 observers the European Union wants to send.

After the parliamentary elections, Russians vote in March for president. The last time, Mr. Putin waited until after the December 2007 parliamentary elections to announce that his protégé, Dmitry Medvedev, would be the ruling party candidate.

Markov says the ruling party can work with either man. But Mr. Putin, now prime minister, is widely considered to be the leading candidate. After the ruling party lost half of 12 regional elections last March, he formed an umbrella group, the All-Russia Popular Front, to attract independent voters. In the last year, he appointed men loyal to him to run Russia’s two largest cities, Moscow and St. Peterburg.

Recently he made televised campaign-style appearances - donning a wet suit to dive for archeological treasure in the Black Sea, and donning black leather to ride a Harley Davidson with a motorcycle club, “Wolves of the Night.” By contrast, President Medvedev seems pale. Two weeks ago, he hosted his annual political conference in Yaroslavl. None of his Cabinet ministers came for his keynote speech.

Davidoff said the speech lacked any reference to the presidential election. “He didn’t say a word about it. Taking into account that there are only six months to the elections, the people are getting nervous because they don’t see the candidates yet.”

More and more Russians believe that come December, Mr. Putin will announce that the presidential candidate will be Vladimir Putin.

You May Like

EU Court Fines Poland for Hosting CIA 'Black Sites'

Ruling is first time a court has acknowledged suspects were held and tortured at the sites, under US program launched following the 9/11 terrorist attacks More

Migrant Issues Close to Home Spur Groups to Take Action

Groups placing water, food in the desert, or aiding detainees after release, have one common goal: no more deaths of migrants crossing illegally into the US More

Video At AIDS Conference, Prevention Pill Stirs Excitement

Truveda shows promise, spurring debate over access and other approaches 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.
Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debatei
X
Shelley Schlender
July 24, 2014 6:43 PM
In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Death Toll From Israel-Gaza Conflict Surpasses 700

Gaza officials say a shelling hit a compound housing a United Nations-run school in the Gaza Strip, killing more than a dozen people, during an Israeli offensive in the area. Heavy fighting between the Israeli military and Hamas militants continued on Thursday, pushing up the death toll. So far, more than 730 Palestinians and 35 Israelis have been killed in the conflict. VOA's Scott Bobb has the latest from Jerusalem.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video Israel Targets Gaza Supply Tunnels

The Israeli military has launched a ground operation in Gaza to destroy the myriad tunnels that may have been used to smuggle weapons to Hamas. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports that could mean more hardship for the people of Gaza, who obtain some of their essential supplies through these underground passages
Video

Video Researchers Target Low-Cost Avatar Technology

Scientists at the University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies say 3-dimensional representations could revolutionize social media. Elizabeth Lee has more from Los Angeles.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.

AppleAndroid