Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin called for snap mayoral elections on June 3 hoping to get the jump on his rival, billionaire oligarch and would-be politician Mikhail Prokhorov.
The elections are slated for September 8. Sobyanin must formally request Russian President Vladimir Putin to move up the date, which will be the first open elections since 2003. Putin changed the system to allow the Kremlin to appoint the mayor, but more recently has reintroduced open elections for mayors and regional governors with the first to be held this October.
The irony of this move is that using snap elections is a common tactic in western democracies used by incumbents to try to catch their rivals unprepared. A snap election would suggest that the vote will be real and fought on merit. However, it can also be expected that Sobyanin (and the Kremlin) will also make full use of "administrative resources" to make sure the right person wins the contest.
Sobyanin said his decision was made in the spirit of democracy: with direct elections of regional heads restored last May, polls showed that two-thirds of Muscovites want to choose their leader.
Putin is expected to accept Sobyanin's resignation and appoint him acting mayor in the next few days, the Moscow Times reports.
Despite initially being a political puppet of the Kremlin, Prokhorov has shown that he has genuine political ambitions and clashed with the Kremlin in the run-up to the presidential elections last year for failing to do what he was told. Nevertheless, he remains close to the Kremlin. But it is equally clear the Kremlin doesn't want to see him become mayor of Moscow, one of the most powerful posts in the country outside of the Duma and presidential administration.
Prokhorov won about 20% of Moscow's vote in last year's presidential elections, finishing second to Putin in the region - Putin won the least support in Moscow of any region - and said last June that he would run for mayor.
Prokhorov wrote on his blog on June 5 that he would make up his mind about a possible run only after consulting with lawyers, and only after the date of the election was set.
Opposition blogger Alexei Navalny is another possible candidate in the mayoral race. Navalny is determined to be a thorn in the side of the Kremlin and has already announced he will run in the presidential elections in 2018. He will probably stand in the mayoral elections just to annoy Putin. However, if Navalny is convicted on corruption charges in a trial currently being heard in Kirov, he will be disqualified from standing under Russian law (which is probably the point of the trial in the first place - there is no need to actually send him to jail).
Sobyanin has put in a so-so performance since taking over from his predecessor Yuri Lushkov. According to a recent poll, 36% of Muscovites consider his performance "average", 30% think it is "good," and 14% as "bad," according to the Levada Center.
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