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

Video British Fighters on Frontline of Islamic State Information War

It’s estimated that several hundred British citizens are fighting for Islamic State alongside other foreign jihadists More

Pakistan's Political Turmoil Again Shines Spotlight on Military

Thousands of protesters calling for PM Sharif to step down continue protests in front of parliament, as critics fear political impasse could spur another military coup More

Photogallery Ebola Quarantines Spark Anxiety in Liberian Capital

Food prices rise sharply as residents attempting purchases clash with security forces, leaving one person dead 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.
Native Bees May Help Save Cropsi
X
Deborah Block
August 22, 2014 12:23 AM
U.S. President Barack Obama has called for a federal strategy to promote the health of bees that have been declining. The honeybee has been waning due to parasites, disease and pesticides. Wild bees may be used to take over their role as crop pollinators. Scientists first need to learn a lot more about wild bees, says biologist Sam Droege, who is pioneering the first national inventory on native bees. VOA’s Deborah Block went to his research laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, to bring you more.
Video

Video Native Bees May Help Save Crops

U.S. President Barack Obama has called for a federal strategy to promote the health of bees that have been declining. The honeybee has been waning due to parasites, disease and pesticides. Wild bees may be used to take over their role as crop pollinators. Scientists first need to learn a lot more about wild bees, says biologist Sam Droege, who is pioneering the first national inventory on native bees. VOA’s Deborah Block went to his research laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, to bring you more.
Video

Video US Defense Officials Plan for Long-Term Strategy to Contain Islamic State

U.S. defense officials say American air strikes in Iraq have helped deter Islamic State militants for the time being, but that a broad international effort is needed to defeat the extremists permanently. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned Thursday that the group formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, is better organized, and financially and militarily stronger than any other known terrorist group. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Drug-Resistant Malaria Spreads in Southeast Asia

On Thailand’s border with Myanmar, also known as Burma, a malaria research and treatment clinic is stepping up efforts to eliminate a drug-resistant form of the parasite - before it spreads abroad. Steve Sandford reports from Mae Sot, Thailand.
Video

Video Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbas

The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Nigeria's 'Nollywood' Movie Industry Rolls in High Gear

Twenty years after its birth in a video shop in Lagos, Nigeria's "Nollywood" is one of the most prolific film industries on earth. Despite low budgets and whirlwind production schedules, Nigerian films are wildly popular in Africa and industry professionals say they hope, in the future, their films will be as great in quality as they are in quantity. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from Lagos.
Video

Video UN Launches 'Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years' in Iraq

The United Nations has launched what it describes as one of the biggest aid operations in 30 years in northern Iraq, as hundreds of thousands of refugees flee the extremist Sunni militant group calling itself the Islamic State. As Kurdish and Iraqi forces battle the Sunni insurgents, the fighting has forced more people to flee their homes. Kurdish authorities say the international community must act now to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Cambodian American Hip Hop Artist Sings of Personal Struggles

A growing underground movement of Cambodian American hip hop artists is rapping about the struggles of living in urban America. Most, if not all of them, are refugees or children of refugees who came to the United States from Cambodia to escape the Khmer Rouge genocide of the 1970s. Through their music, the artists hope to give voice to immigrants who have been struggling quietly for years. Elizabeth Lee reports from Long Beach, California.
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.

AppleAndroid