Mikhail Prokhorov’s decision to run in next year’s presidential election may signal a new era of political pluralism in Russia. And while the billionaire’s shot at victory is uncertain, experts say the Russian electorate will win out come March
When billionaire entrepreneur and New Jersey Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov was elected to head the Right Cause Party this June, his political aspirations were modest. When asked about any presidential ambitions in an exclusive Interview with RT, Prokhorov replied, “I am not the kind of person who tends to dream or plunge into illusions.”
It’s amazing what six months can do. When Russia’s third richest man resigned from Right Cause in September, he decried it for being a “puppet party” whose strings were being pulled behind the Kremlin walls.
But as this past weekend has shown, Russia has come a long way over the last 20 years. While Prokhorov was ready to throw in the towel just three months ago, his political pessimism soon gave way to hope.
When tens of thousands filled the streets of Moscow on Saturday to rally against alleged violations in the State Duma elections, many protestors appeared frustrated that the leaderless movement had not coalesced into a viable political force.
Speaking with RT, Martin McCauley, a Russia specialist at the University of London, believes Prokhorov might attempt to become the voice for middle-class urbanites looking to be heard.
“He may in fact attract the new urban class in Moscow and Saint Petersburg, and Yekaterinburg and places like that, some of the people who were demonstrating last week, the young professionals, the under 35s and so on. They want a voice,” McCauley says, as well as the opportuntiy “to participate in policy-making – and they think their voices are not being listened to, and they think they are the future of Russia.”
However, Alexander Rahr, the director of the Russia-Eurasia Program at the German Council on Foreign Relations, contends that as an independent candidate, Prokhorov has little chance of being a contender come March 4.
“I doubt that Prokhorov will get enough followers,” Rahr said. “He needs a party, he needs a movement. He has the money to conduct a campaign, but he needs the people who will operate for him.”
Rarh continued: “He has the money to do all kinds of things in Russia, but money’s not enough to win or even to do well in presidential elections. If he won’t get a party behind him, I think he has no chance even to be registered for the presidential election.”
However, McCauley remains optimistic that Prokhorov still has a shot of getting the upwardly-mobile to rally around him in the upcoming months. And regardless of how Prokhorov ultimately fairs as he takes on Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in the 2012 presidential elections, what really matters is that the Russian political climate is changing for the better.
“The election in March will be much more interesting than it was four years ago, when it was a foregone conclusion who would win,” McCauley says.“So you will have various candidates with an opportunity to put forward their views and actually participate with the population, and the young urban elites will hope that there will be real participation; that they’ll be able to articulate their views. Prokhorov will enter into debate with them, and articulate his views, and he can present that as policy and say, ‘this is what these people want, and I’m a democratic candidate, and I’m articulating the democratic mood.’”