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

Turbulent Transition Imperils Tunisia’s Arab Spring Gains

Critics say new anti-terrorism laws worsen Tunisia's situation while others put faith in country’s vibrant civil organizations, women’s movement More

Burundi’s Political Crisis May Become Humanitarian One

United Nations aid agencies issue warning as deadly violence sends tens of thousands fleeing More

Yemenis Adjust to Life Under Houthi Rule

Locals want warring parties to strike deal to stop bloodletting before deciding how country is governed 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.
Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threati
X
Greg Flakus
May 29, 2015 11:24 PM
Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threat

Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video New York's One World Trade Center Observatory Opens to Public

From New Jersey to Long Island, from Northern suburbs to the Atlantic Ocean, with all of New York City in-between.  That view became available to the public Friday as the One World Trade Center Observatory opened in New York -- atop the replacement for the buildings destroyed in the September 11, 2001, attacks.  VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports.
Video

Video Seoul Sponsors Korean Unification Fair

With inter-Korean relations deteriorating over the North’s nuclear program, past military provocations and human rights abuses, many Koreans still hold out hope for eventual peaceful re-unification. VOA’s Brian Padden visited a “unification fair” held this week in Seoul, where border communities promoted the benefits of increased cooperation.
Video

Video Purple Door Coffeeshop: Changing Lives One Cup at a Time

For a quarter of his life, Kevin Persons lived on the street. Today, he is working behind the counter of an espresso bar, serving coffee and working to transition off the streets and into a home. Paul Vargas reports for VOA.
Video

Video Modular Robot Getting Closer to Reality

A robot being developed at Carnegie Mellon University has evolved into a multi-legged modular mechanical snake, able to move over rugged surfaces and explore the surroundings. Scientists say such machines could someday help in search and rescue operations. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Shanghai Hosts Big Consumer Electronics Show

Electronic gadgets are a huge success in China, judging by the first Asian Consumer Electronics Show, held this week in Shanghai. Over the course of two days, more than 20,000 visitors watched, tested and played with useful and some less-useful electronic devices exhibited by about 200 manufacturers. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Forced to Return Home, Afghan Refugees Face Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.

VOA Blogs