Meanwhile, Candidate E portrays himself as the “Batman” who will save Moscow, and Candidate F lets himself be photographed in nothing more than a bath towel and an odd hat to demonstrate his Russian masculinity.
And the police, when they are not closing print shops, are rounding up hundreds of Vietnamese who are in Moscow looking for work, in a developing election-season operation that seems designed to pander to Muscovites’ worst instincts when it comes to immigrants — but it just might be a genuine attempt to blot out the huge and unspoken problem of forced labor.
Of the six men running for Moscow’s top job in the Sept. 8 election, the score card says only two really count: the acting mayor, Sergei Sobyanin (Candidate C), and his fiercest challenger, Alexei Navalny (Candidate B). The polls show Sobyanin, the establishment candidate, with a large lead. Navalny’s team wants to keep him under 50 percent and force a runoff.
On Sunday, following a rally, Navalny was detained by police. After what they described as a “conversation,” he was released. But by the time the election results come in next month, Navalny will probably be headed to prison.
In a trial that he and his supporters denounced as a farce, he was convicted in July of embezzlement in the city of Kirov and sentenced to six years. But the day after the conviction, prosecutors abruptly changed course and insisted that he be released on appeal, no doubt heeding instructions from Moscow.
His chances of winning the appeal are exceedingly slim, but it has kept him out of prison all summer. By most accounts, the Kremlin was eager to have Navalny take part in Moscow’s first mayoral election in a decade, because this would lend Sobyanin’s inevitable victory some legitimacy.
That never meant Navalny was going to get a fair chance. His campaign manager, Leonid Volkov, complains that he cannot get outlets to take Navalny’s ads and that the campaign has been denied access to all but the most obscure TV channels. Police raids aside, he said Wednesday that 20 Navalny volunteers have been temporarily detained by officers this summer. But, he said, “This is now such a normal thing in Russia that nobody really cares anymore.”
In one case, the police broke down the door of an apartment where they believed volunteers were stockpiling unregistered campaign materials, and two volunteers were sent to detention for 15 days.
Navalny tried unsuccessfully to get Sobyanin stricken from the ballot. Then Moscow elections officials said they would consider removing Navalny instead because of alleged campaign violations, though they later decided to let him off with a warning. Volkov said he believes the heat will keep getting turned up.