Billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov is close to getting into the presidential race after announcing that his campaign has gathered the necessary 2 million signatures to register with the Central Election Commission. Yet in spite of getting more campaign donations than Putin, his political prospects remain unclear.
The lanky businessman towered over supporters and journalists who crowded into his reception office Friday hoping for a chance to talk, but some people came away hoping for more certainty – did the oligarch even stand a chance against the far more popular Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who has effectively been running the country since 2000?
“Prokhorov doesn’t have enough faith in himself,” Adam Kungayev, a pensioner who had signed up to support of Prokhorov’s campaign, told The Moscow News. “If he did, he could win the presidential race.”
Just 3 percent of respondents said they would vote for Prokhorov in a presidential election according to the latest Levada poll released Jan. 12, where Putin led with 42 percent.
But Prokhorov – who has a predominantly business-oriented middle-class support base and has even called for a longer working week in the past – can boast one area where he’s well ahead of Putin: Campaign donations.
In that arena, the billionaire beats the Prime Minister four to one – with over 400 million rubles ($13.3 million) collected against Putin’s 102.5 million ($3.4 million), Vedomosti reported Friday. If Prokhorov were campaigning in the U.S., that would give him a key edge. But in Russia, where state-owned television has been accused of leaning toward coverage of Putin and his United Russia party, that’s just not the case.
Prokhorov’s campaign managers dismissed the achievement. “That’s an exceedingly small sum for a campaign,” Anton Krasovsky, the TV anchor who heads Prokhorov’s campaign staff, said during Friday’s meeting.
Prokhorov was ousted as leader of the pro-business Right Cause party by pro-Kremlin forces in September, after just three months in the job, and is now determined to forge a successful party for Russia’s burgeoning middle class. Prokhorov, who accused other opposition leaders of being longtime “Kremlin agents” in a Monday article for RBC Daily, pledged to create an independent party when announcing his presidential bid on Dec. 12.
He may have some help from longtime Putin ally and former Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin, who posted on his Twitter page Friday that he was holding “consultations on joining democratic and liberal forces and creating a new party.”
Prokhorov’s staff confirmed that talks with Kudrin were taking place.“Especially since the raid on Right Cause, it is crucial to create a party that’s not run from Staraya Ploshchad,” Krasovsky said, referring to the address of the presidential administration and underlining the need for full independence
But so far Prokhorov, who is widely seen as having the Kremlin’s blessing to run, has avoided open criticism of his opponent, Vladimir Putin.
“I think the slogan ‘Fire Putin’ is too radical,” Prokhorov told Radio Liberty on Friday.
Last week, Prokhorov called for evolution rather revolution in a column in The Guardian. Commenting that the age of managed democracy was “over,” he vowed to make free elections a priority.
To accusers who claim that his campaign is a Kremlin project, Prokhorov cheekily replied that that the Kremlin is his project instead. “I believe I have two opponents, Putin and [Communist Party head Gennady] Zyuganov. I will fight for second place – and for a second round of elections,” he was quoted by Radio Liberty as saying Friday.
Asked about the negotiations with Kudrin, and Kudrin’s de facto status as a mediator between the government and the opposition, Krasovsky, Prokhorov’s campaign manager, suggested that Kudrin’s connections could only be an asset.
“Why should [Kudrin’s closeness to Putin] be a bad thing? I’m for continuity,” Krasovsky said.