Putin Convicted Foe Navalny Polls Second in Moscow Mayoral Race

Alexey Navalny, a leading opponent of Russian President Vladimir Putin who was sentenced to a jail term last week, is the highest-rated challenger of incumbent Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin, according to an opinion poll.

Sobyanin is the frontrunner to retain his post in the Sept. 8 election with 54 percent support, while Navalny leads the rest of the pack with 9 percent, the polling company All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion, or VTsIOM, said by e-mail today.

Navalny last week received a five-year prison sentence for embezzlement, then was subsequently released for the duration of the appeals process after thousands of backers protested his conviction in central Moscow and other major Russian cities. He credited that show of support with winning his freedom rather than the government intervening to legitimize the mayoral vote.

“I wasn’t released by Sobyanin or Putin, but these people,” Navalny said on the on-line television channel Rain yesterday. He also pledged to keep members of the president’s United Russia Party out of city hall if he wins the election.

Navalny’s recognition rose to 80 percent from 71 percent this month, VTsIOM said, citing the July 9-11 survey of 1,200 Muscovites. The results have a 3.9 percentage point margin of error.

Putin appointed Sobyanin, his then chief of staff, as Moscow mayor in 2010 to end the 14-year rule of Yury Luzhkov. The president backed Sobyanin’s push for a snap election, allowing him to capitalize on popular support. The vote will be the capital’s first direct ballot for a mayor in 10 years.

Collecting Signatures

Sobyanin asked United Russia, which Navalny labeled as “a party of thieves and swindlers” to collect the signatures of municipal deputies and help Navalny register as a candidate. The opposition leader accepted 49 of those signatures and collected the 110 himself, according to his LiveJournal blog. He submitted documents for registration on July 10.

On July 18, Navalny was convicted of embezzlement by a judge in Kirov, 900 kilometers (560 miles) northeast of Moscow.

A lawyer and anti-corruption activist who helped organize the biggest protests against Putin’s 13-year-rule in 2011 and last year, Navalny vowed to contest the next presidential election in 2018 and put Putin and his billionaire allies in jail if he won. His conviction, if upheld, would preclude him from ever holding public office.

Thousands of people in Moscow protested the verdict, which also sparked condemnation by the U.S. and Europe, on the eve of a meeting of Group of 20 finance chiefs. The benchmark Micex Index slumped as much as 1.6 percent after the ruling.

Putin, 60, has hardened his response against critics since winning a new six-year presidential term last year. Some protesters have been imprisoned, while economist Sergei Guriev and former chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov, critics fearing prosecution, fled Russia this year

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