A second round of voting would be required if Sobyanin, who as the establishment candidate wielded enormous resources and had hours of television exposure, fell short of 50 percent.
But for three hours after the voting closed, the elections commission went quiet and virtually no official results were announced. Navalny, who rose to prominence after widespread vote-rigging in a 2011 election, said Sunday night he was sure that the figures were being cooked behind closed doors. He called on the Kremlin — rather than City Hall — to admit that the race should go to a runoff.
Navalny had spent the entire campaign running not against his leading opponent, Sobyanin, but against President Vladimir Putin — and that strategy appears to have clicked with a large number of voters.
“We don’t know him very well,” said Lyuba Kulikova, a Navalny voter in the historic center of Moscow.
“But we know he’s fighting against them,” said her husband, Alexei, referring to Putin’s United Russia party.
Navalny memorably dubbed United Russia the “party of crooks and thieves,” and the sobriquet stuck.
A citizens group that was collecting results precinct-by-precinct reported at midnight that Sobyanin had fallen below the 50 percent mark.
The first official results finally started to come in shortly after 11 p.m. Moscow time.
With 60 percent of the votes officially reported early Monday, Sobyanin had 55 percent and Navalny had 27 percent.
That is still a much better showing for Navalny than any poll had predicted even a week ago, and it left two big questions hanging over Moscow.
Even if Sobyanin squeaks through in the first round, has his standing been weakened, especially among his colleagues? And, more importantly, what would such a showing mean for Navalny, the star of last year’s protest movement?
Navalny is free on appeal following his July conviction on embezzlement charges and being sentenced to five years in prison in a case that was widely viewed as trumped up. His supporters argue that winning the votes of so many Muscovites will ensure that authorities allow him to remain free.
Navalny’s release the day after he was sentenced — almost certainly on the Kremlin’s orders — was seen as an attempt to ensure that Sobyanin would have legitimate opposition and could then declare himself a legitimately elected mayor, once his inevitable victory was cemented. Navalny’s release was reported as a victory for the more liberal factions of Putin’s inner circle over the hard-liners who wanted to see the opposition star go straight to prison.