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 Snowstorm Sweeps Northeastern US

'This is nothing like we feared it would be,' New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio says; he had warned storm could be one of worst in city history More

Millions of Displaced Nigerians Struggle With Daily Existence

Government acknowledges over a million people displaced in 2014 due to fight against Boko Haram insurgency More

Facebook: Internal Error to Blame for Outages

Temporary outage appeared to spill over and temporarily slow or block traffic to other major Internet sites 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.
Obama Urges Closer Economic Ties During Historic India Visiti
X
Aru Pande
January 26, 2015 9:33 PM
U.S. President Barack Obama says the United States and India must do better to capitalize on untapped potential in their economic relationship - by removing some of the roadblocks to greater trade and investment. As VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports from New Delhi, Obama spoke after participating in India’s Republic Day celebration.
Video

Video Obama Urges Closer Economic Ties During Historic India Visit

U.S. President Barack Obama says the United States and India must do better to capitalize on untapped potential in their economic relationship - by removing some of the roadblocks to greater trade and investment. As VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports from New Delhi, Obama spoke after participating in India’s Republic Day celebration.
Video

Video US, EU Threaten New Russia Sanctions Over Ukraine

U.S. President Barack Obama has blamed Russia for an attack by Ukrainian separatists that left dozens dead in the port of Mariupol and cast further doubt on the viability of last year’s cease-fire with the Kyiv government. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington.
Video

Video White House Grapples With Yemen Counterterrorism Strategy

Reports say the U.S. has carried out a drone strike on suspected militants in Yemen, the first after President Barack Obama offered reassurances the U.S. is continuing its counterterrorism operations in the country. The future of those operations has been in question following the collapse last week of Yemen’s government. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Kerry Warns Against Violence in Nigeria Election

US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Nigeria Sunday in a show of the level of concern within the U.S. and the international community over next month’s presidential election. Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Zoo Animals Show Their Artistic Sides

The pursuit of happiness is so important, America's founding fathers put it in the Declaration of Independence. Any zookeeper will tell you animals need enrichment, just like humans do. So painting, and even music, are part of the Smithsonian National Zoo's program to keep the animals happy. VOA’s June Soh met some animal artists at the zoo in Washington. Faith Lapidus narrates.
Video

Video Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youth

Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Saudi, Yemen Developments Are Sudden Complications for Obama

The death of Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah and the collapse of Yemen’s government have cast further uncertainty on U.S. efforts to fight militants in the Middle East and also contain Iran’s influence in the region. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports on the new complications facing the Obama administration and its Middle East policy.
Video

Video Progress, Some Areas of Disagreement in Cuba Talks

U.S. and Cuban officials are reporting progress from initial talks in Havana on re-establishing diplomatic ties. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State (for Western Hemisphere Affairs) Roberta Jacobson said while there was agreement on a broad range of issues, there also are some “profound disagreements” between Washington and Havana. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins has the story.
Video

Video US, Japan Offer Lessons as Eurozone Launches Huge Stimulus

The Euro currency has fallen sharply after the European Central Bank announced a bigger-than-expected $67 billion-a-month quantitative easing program Thursday - commonly seen as a form of printing new money. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London on whether the move might rescue the eurozone economy -- and what lessons have been learned from similar programs around the world.
Video

Video Nigerian Elections Pose Concern of Potential Conflict in 'Middle Belt'

Nigeria’s north-central state of Kaduna has long been the site of fighting between Muslims and Christians as well as between people of different ethnic groups. As the February elections approach, community and religious leaders are making plans they hope will keep the streets calm after results are announced. Chris Stein reports from the state capital, Kaduna.
Video

Video As Viewership Drops, Obama Puts His Message on YouTube

Ratings reports show President Obama’s State of the Union address this week drew the lowest number of viewers for this annual speech in 15 years. White House officials anticipated this, and the president has decided to take a non-traditional approach to getting his message out. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video S. Korean Businesses Want to End Trade Restrictions With North

Business leaders in South Korea are calling for President Park Geun-hye to ease trade restrictions with North Korea that were put in place in 2010 after the sinking of a South Korean warship.Pro-business groups argue that expanding trade and investment is not only good for business, it is also good for long-term regional peace and security. VOA’s Brian Padden reports.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid