Putin ally Sergei Sobyanin wins Moscow mayor election

Steve Rosenberg reports on the "real surprise" of the election

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Kremlin-backed candidate Sergei Sobyanin has won the election for mayor of Moscow, Russian election officials have announced.

Mr Sobyanin secured 51.3% - just above the 50% threshold needed to avoid a second-round ballot.

His main rival, opposition leader Alexei Navalny, polled 27.2%.

Mr Navalny called for a run-off and refused to recognise the results, saying they had been "deliberately falsified".

Mr Navalny said he had won enough votes to force a second round and that the count had been marred by "many serious violations".

Analysis

Sometimes even when a candidate loses an election, they are still a winner. Only seven-and-a-half weeks ago Alexei Navalny was sitting in prison, a convicted criminal claiming political persecution who was then released pending his appeal.

When he started campaigning the opinion polls were predicting he would get less than 10% of the vote. But he knew that a significant proportion of Moscow was looking for a new kind of politics, and he took to the streets to meet the voters, something Muscovites had not seen in years.

Deprived of access to state-controlled TV, he fought using the internet and word-of-mouth. Although President Vladimir Putin's candidate Sergei Sobyanin has still beaten him, this result was much less comfortable than the Kremlin expected, and will force a further rethink of its strategy in Moscow.

It is only the beginning of Alexei Navalny's career as a conventional politician - if it is not cut short again by him being returned to prison.

But Moscow's electoral commission said there had been no serious violations and a run-off would not take place.

With all the votes counted, the commission said turnout in the Moscow vote was a low 32%. The Communist candidate, Ivan Melnikov, came third with 10.7%.

Mr Sobyanin, once President Putin's chief of staff, told supporters earlier the election had been transparent.

"We have something to be proud of," he said at a late-night rally in Bolotnaya Square. "We have organised the most honest and open elections in the history of Moscow."

'Putin decides'

Mr Navalny warned late on Sunday that if he was denied a run-off, he would "appeal to the citizens and ask them to take to the streets of Moscow".

City authorities have allowed him to hold a rally on Monday evening with up to 2,500 supporters.

In late 2011, Moscow was the scene of the biggest anti-government protests since Soviet times after a general election marred by allegations of ballot-rigging.

"Right now Sobyanin and his main supporter Vladimir Putin are deciding whether to have a relatively honest election and to have a second round, or not," he said as partial results were still coming in.

The opposition leader is currently on bail after being found guilty of embezzlement in what he insists was a political trial.

In other mayoral votes on Sunday, anti-heroin campaigner Yevgeny Roizman won by a narrow majority in Yekaterinburg, the main city in Russia's Urals industrial zone, election officials say.

Mr Roizman, a former MP often critical of Kremlin policy, defeated ruling party candidate Yakov Silin by a margin of 30% to 26%, according to preliminary results. Unlike Moscow, the city's mayor is elected by a simple majority in a single round.

Sergei Sobyanin at the Kremlin, Moscow, 29 August Sergei Sobyanin is the Kremlin's favourite candidate

Mayoral elections were abolished in Moscow in 2004 but re-instated as a concession to pro-democracy campaigners.

Mr Navalny ran a Western-style campaign, holding informal meetings with voters outside metro stations and using glossy posters of himself with his family.

He is credited with bringing grassroots politics to the Russian capital, inspiring thousands of volunteers to support his campaign.

Mr Sobyanin became mayor in 2010 after Yuri Luzhkov, who had governed the city for almost two decades, was forced out of office.

The Kremlin-backed candidate has kept a low profile during the race, shunning debates with the five other candidates.

In all, six candidates stood in the election.

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