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Kremlin loyalist wins Moscow mayor election by a sliver

Opposition leader Alexei Navalny demands a recount, accusing the government of rigging the vote to barely avoid a runoff.

September 09, 2013|By Sergei L. Loiko
  • Opposition leader Alexei Navalny addresses thousands of his supporters at a downtown Moscow rally Monday night protesting alleged electoral fraud in Sunday's mayoral election.
Opposition leader Alexei Navalny addresses thousands of his supporters… (Sergei L. Loiko / Los Angeles…)

MOSCOW — The Moscow Election Commission will review a demand by opposition leader Alexei Navalny for a recount of Sunday's mayoral election vote, its chairman, Valentin Gorbunov, told the Interfax news agency Monday.

The official vote count gave acting Mayor Sergei Sobyanin, a Kremlin loyalist, 51.37%, slightly more than the simple majority needed to avoid a runoff in two weeks. Coming in second, with 27.24% of the vote, was Navalny, an anti-corruption crusader and leading critic of President Vladimir Putin.

Navalny has accused the Kremlin and the Moscow mayor's office of rigging the vote to help Sobyanin barely pass the 50% mark.

Commission chairman Gorbunov was skeptical about the allegations, calling them "ungrounded statements ... backed by nothing." But he promised that the commission would review any complaint from Navalny.

Navalny and his campaign staff appeared skeptical Monday that a recount would change the results anyway.

"They state that they are ready to recount the vote but we understand they will try to deceive us," Navalny said, addressing a crowd of more than 20,000 demonstrators who came to Bolotnaya Square in downtown Moscow to support him. "But we know who to fight against.... We will win in this election."

Navalny said that to prevent a runoff, the Kremlin might put him back behind bars. In mid-July, a month into the mayoral campaign, Navalny was sentenced to five years in prison in an embezzlement case that he said was politically motivated.

Navalny spent a night in jail and was released the next day pending an appeal, which allowed him to continue in the mayoral race. Some experts believed Navalny's speedy release was the result of mass protests in Moscow and across Russia, as well as the vocal concerns of Western governments. Others said authorities wanted him to continue in the race to legitimize the results.

Navalny on Monday threatened civil disobedience if things don't go his way.

"When the time comes, I may call upon you to take part in unlawful actions like upturning cars, firing up torches or something," he said. "I am asking you to trust me. We know how to turn our political machine into a steamroller which will crush the [ruling] United Russia [party] and all swindlers and thieves it placed in positions of authority all over the place."

Navalny supporter Dmitry Oreshkin, whose independent Alliance of Observers placed monitors at 2,077 of the 3,611 polling stations in Moscow, found that at the monitored stations, Sobyanin failed to reach 50%.

Oreshkin said an unusually large number of people, about 100,000 said to be elderly, sick and disabled, voted at home, most of them for Sobyanin.

He said a recount probably wouldn't change the results. "Even if a miracle happens and a runoff is held, all polls show that Sobyanin is still the most likely winner."

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