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Mayoral race is contentious in Moscow, Russia

August 26, 2013

Russia both recently and for much of the past has been home to a complex political climate. Campaigns are often far more intense and contentious than many of those seen in Western Europe or the United States. This has certainly been the case with the recent race for the office of mayor in Moscow. Incumbent Sergei Sobyanin, the favored candidate of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and primary challenger Alexei Navalny are engaged in the most intense race, despite the presence of three other candidates, according to The Washington Post. It's probable that recent developments in the election are likely the subject of conversations among engaged Moscow citizens, speaking to each other using prepaid phone cards.

Clash between Navalny and Sobyanin
The news source reported that police took Navalny into custody after an Aug. 25 rally, but the challenger was quickly released. In July, he had been sentenced to six years' imprisonment in an embezzlement trial that earned criticism from his supporters, who claimed the punishment was baseless and entirely politically motivated, but was released the next day at Moscow prosecutors' insistence. In the time since Navalny's release, the print shop that produced his campaign literature was raided by law enforcement, and a number of his supporters have been detained throughout the race.

Navalny has given as much as he's received in terms of fierce politicking. He tried and failed to have Mayor Sobyanin taken off the ballot, and has questioned the sources of Sobyanin's wealth, focusing particularly on Sobyanin's daughters' purchase of multimillion dollar apartments. His key campaign platform is a strong stance against political corruption, a charge often levied against Russia's political establishment under Putin.

Fierce political divide in Moscow
Despite Navalny's relative popularity among those who disfavor Putin, he is not running against an entirely unpopular candidate. According to Bloomberg Businessweek, Sobyanin is popular among 63.5 percent of likely Muscovite voters, based on the latest polling data. While this represents a decrease of more than 16 percent from the second most recent poll, Sobyanin's support is ironclad among vital voting blocs of the city's population.

The source stated that the primary difference between the challenger and incumbent is charisma and vitality. Navalny is viewed as having these qualities in spades, while Sobyanin is thought of as a more traditional establishment politician. The sitting mayor is banking on the popularity he has engendered to carry him to a decisive, mandate victory.

Valery Fedorov, head of Russian research center VTSiOM, confirmed this in a statement to Businessweek, saying, "The Kremlin needs a rematch to strengthen its power."

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