MOSCOW— Alexei Navalny lost Sunday’s election for mayor of Moscow.
But, at the same time, he is seen by many as the winner.
Denied TV ads, billboard ads, or even banners from balconies, Navalny fielded an army of 14,000 young volunteers. According to a Levada Center poll, 69 percent of potential voters had personal contact with a Navalny volunteer.
Political analyst Lilia Shevtsova says Navalny’s American-style campaign marks a turning point in modern Russian politics.
“Navalny is definitely the winner in yesterday’s election," Shevtsova, a senior analyst with the Carnegie Moscow Center, said Monday. "Navalny’s result, over 27 percent, was not predicted by anyone. He can consolidate the electorate that is the new political generation in Russia.”
Sending a message
Sunday was the first time in a decade that Muscovites were allowed to vote for mayor. Olga Shukovskaya, a 40-year-old human rights lawyer, says she likes Navalny’s modern, democratic views.
“I vote for Navalny because I believe he is the one that will guarantee my right to vote as a fundamental right and not a right that is given to me, as in the present case,” said Shukovskaya, who went to the polls with her young daughter, Dasha.
Konstantin Boryatski, a 29-year-old IT worker, said he voted for Navalny to send a message to the current mayor.
“I see the mistakes our current mayor is making and I would like them to listen to the opposition and let them speak their minds," Boryatski said after voting. "I think they will have many good ideas.”
Sergei Sobyanin, the current mayor, was appointed to the post three years ago.
On Sunday, by squeaking out a first round victory with 51 percent of the vote, Sobyanin won - but lost.
Analyst Shevtsova explains: “Fifty-one percent for the candidate of the Kremlin, for Sobyanin, it is really pretty low. It is a disaster for the Kremlin, because they have used all the gimmicks, all the instruments in their power to raise the turnout.”
Making the city shine?
But Sobyanin voters say he does a good job managing this city of 12 million people.
“Sobyanin is making real changes for Moscow that you can see," said Elena Toyakova, a bank employee. "I can see that the city is changing for the better.”
They say Sobyanin is making the city shine.
“Moscow is now more beautiful and cleaner," said Tatyana Alexseeyevna, a 62-year-old teacher. "Of course there are some minuses, but I think there are more pluses, and so I'm for Sobyanin. And I think things will get even better.”
The post of mayor of Moscow is considered the third most powerful political post in Russia - after the president and the prime minister - and many observers see it as a springboard to higher office. But Sunday’s low voter turnout and Sobyanin’s razor thin victory may have killed that talk.
“Sobyanin has failed personally to become the powerful potential candidate for the contender [for] the role of Putin’s successor,” said Shevtsova.
For now, the Kremlin is probably just happy to know that Moscow is in friendly hands.