Moscow students back ultra-liberal tycoon candidate
Students at a leading business school in Moscow are enamoured with presidential candidate Mikhail Prokhorov. But while the billionaire oligarch is likely to fare well in Moscow and St Petersburg, he still lags far behind favourite Vladimir Putin.
It is lunchtime on Friday at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics. With hours to go before the country goes to the polls, the students are talking politics. One name on everyone’s lips is that of ultra-liberal candidate Mikhail Prokhorov.
“Prokhorov is our man,” says Micha, 18, describing the business-friendly tycoon as “intelligent, serious and no demagogue”. For his classmate Nastya, Prokhorov is simply “the best candidate for young people in this country.”
There’s little surprise at his popularity with Russia’s youth. At 46 he is the youngest of the candidates. He is also the country’s third-richest man (worth some 13.6 billion euros) and, in the spirit of other Russian oligarchs, has been the owner of the New Jersey Nets basketball team since 2009.
“And he has made his own money,” said 19-year-old Yevgueni approvingly. “That means he’s not going to be motivated by taking money from the state. And being a successful businessman means that he is prepared for politics.”
Prokhorov is nevertheless a wild card in Russian politics. A trained banker who made his money in metals trading, he was voted to head the Right Cause party in 2011, which is closely aligned to the United Russia party of President Dmitry Medvedev and Putin, opening up accusations that he was the Kremlin’s puppet.
He quit – or arguably was removed – from Right Cause in September, three months before announcing he would run for president.
As a candidate he certainly stands out from the crowd. Prokhorov is pro-European and wants to replace Russia’s currency, the Rouble, with the Euro. He also wants Moscow to sign the Schengen Treaty, which would allow Russian citizens free movement around the European Union.
Prokhorov’s other plans include extending the maximum working week to 60 hours (in France it is 38), abolishing compulsory military service, opening up state archives from the Soviet era and having the millions of victims of the Stalin era recognised as such.
He says he would also pardon fellow oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, whose conviction on charges of tax evasion is considered by many to be politically motivated, and even consider appointing him as prime minister.
Along with Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov, Prokhorov is a leading opposition figure in Sunday’s election and he enjoys substantial support in Moscow and St Petersburg.
But with only 7% popular support he is still unlikely to unseat Putin – at least this time.
In central Moscow, at the city’s School of Journalism, students say they are supporting Putin as the candidate of stability.
“I’m voting for Putin because he’s the only person who can run Russia in its current state,” said 19-year-old Mikhail. “He has an established power network and I prefer to bet on a stable future for the country.”
Mikhail added that with the other candidates lagging so far behind in the polls, a renewed Putin presidency is all but assured.