Total Pageviews

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Moscow’s Mayoral Election Yields Low Turnout

Moscow voters on Sunday were given their first chance in a decade to vote for their mayor. But given a choice between a Kremlin-backed technocrat and an anti-corruption blogger among a smattering of other minor politicians, most Muscovites, it seems, chose to stay home.

The result was that the incumbent mayor, Sergei S. Sobyanin, was expected to coast to victory as a surge of young, liberal voters failed to materialize to bolster the candidacy of the blogger, Aleksei A. Navalny.

Less than 30 percent of registered voters had cast their ballots by 6 p.m. local time, with two hours left before the polls closed, the Interfax news agency reported.

The low turnout was likely to be good news for the Kremlin.

As my colleagues David M. Herszenhorn and Andrew Roth reported, Mr. Sobyanin, who was appointed mayor in 2010, abruptly announced that he would step down from his post in June â€" a formality that would force a snap election â€" two years before the end of his term.

That set up a scramble among his opponents, particularly Mr. Navalny, to rally supporters through the typically slow summer months, when many Muscovites are abroad on vacation or at their dachas outside the city.

Throughout Sunday, Mr. Navalny posted increasingly desperate messages on Twitter trying to rally his supporters.

“Once again, get up and go,” he wrote in one message. “Grab the telephone and call. Get out of your apartment and go to your neighbors.”

For Mr. Navalny, 37, the stakes have always been about more than winning an election. He was convicted of embezzlement in July after a trial that seemed tailor-made to erase him from public life. But then he was unexpectedly released, pending his appeal, allowing him to go forward with his campaign. He has since been on borrowed time, and could be arrested and sent to jail at any moment.

Though there were some complaints about ballot-stuffing and other skulduggery, initially there seemed to be little of the widespread electoral malfeasance that had marred previous Russian elections.

Mr. Navalny arrived with his wife and two children to vote Sunday morning surrounded by a scrum of photographers and supporters.

Across town, President Vladimir V. Putin cast his own ballot at the Russian Academy of Sciences. After leaving the voting booth, Mr. Putin told reporters that Moscow needed a mayor who was above politics.

“Such large cities do not need politics, but rather people who are nonpartisan, businesslike, people who are able to work,” Mr. Putin said, according to the Kommersant newspaper.

Though Mr. Putin would not say for whom he had voted, he said he was sure his chosen candidate would win, the newspaper reported.

Follow Michael Schwirtz on Twitter @mschwirtz.