MOSCOW, June 15 (RIA Novosti) – Russian anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny secured an official nomination for Moscow’s upcoming mayoral race Friday, announcing that he would be advised by a prominent economist who recently fled the country fearing arrest.
The economist, Sergei Guriev, said by phone from Paris that he considered Navalny “a worthy candidate” and confirmed that both he and his wife, also a respected economist, would help the whistle-blowing blogger draft his economic program, Prime news agency reported.
Navalny was nominated by the Moscow branch of the opposition party RPR-Parnas, short for Republican Party of Russia-People’s Freedom Party, led by a number of former government officials who have vocally criticized President Vladimir Putin and the ruling United Russia party.
Navalny pledged to “return power to the people” and “extricate our city from the tentacles of Putin and United Russia.”
Now, in order to actually run for office, Navalny will need to win the approval of 6 percent of the members of Moscow’s municipal councils. BBC’s Russian service reported this to be 110 people, citing an RPR-Parnas official as saying the threshold would be hard to clear.
The snap election, set for September 8, was called after incumbent Mayor Sergei Sobyanin announced last week that he would step down, only to run for the office again. Under new legislation, the election will be the first direct vote for Moscow mayor in a decade. Some analysts have interpreted Sobyanin’s decision as a way to get a leg up on other candidates, who will not have much time to campaign, and thus to secure his position for another five years.
Navalny and Guriev have both championed greater government transparency and more effective measures against corruption, and both have had recent run-ins with the law.
Guriev was questioned this year about a 2011 report in which he cast doubt on the legal grounds for a highly politicized criminal case against oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky. After investigators began confiscating his documents and correspondence, and a number of the report’s coauthors experienced similar treatment, Guriev announced his decision to remain outside Russia for fear he could be arrested. Investigators have confirmed the questioning, but have not commented on the case in greater detail.
Navalny, who led some of Moscow’s large-scale anti-Kremlin protests in 2011 and 2012, faces embezzlement charges for allegedly misappropriating $500,000 worth of timber from a state-run company; he denies wrongdoing and calls the case politically motivated. If convicted, he would be ineligible to run for public office.
The independent Levada Center pollster reported this week that about 3 percent of Muscovites would be willing to vote for Navalny, versus 45 percent for Sobyanin.