Muscovites went to the polls today to elect their mayor. Mayor Sergei Sobyanin (mentioned as Putin’s eventual successor) resigned unexpectedly to call an early election for September 8. Sobyanin, appointed by Putin after he fired Sobyanin’s predecessor, needed to establish his legitimacy as a duly elected mayor. Sobyanin’s unlikely opponent is Alexei Navalny, anti-corruption fighter, blogger, and “embezzler,” convicted on trumped up charges in one of Putin’s kangaroo courts.
Navalny, who faces a five-year prison term, was unexpectedly released on bail instead of being sent to jail. The Kremlin’s logic: Sobyanin needed at least some opposition to claim legitimacy. Navalny offered an ideal ploy – a convicted criminal, deprived of television and radio coverage, and under the threat of prison, running a futile campaign against the well oiled Kremlin machine. In pre-election campaign mode, Sobyanin cleaned up parks, repaired roads, and spent billions to prove what a good job he was doing on behalf of his beloved people of Moscow.