The crowded race for Sochi mayor may signal a backlash against Putin's 'managed democracy.'
It's something Russia hasn't seen in quite awhile: a wide-open, unpredictable election in which a full spectrum of colorful, disputatious candidates compete by debating the issues and canvassing the voters.
Many observers fear it won't last.
But for now, the Russian public's attention is riveted on the more than 20 contenders vying for the job of mayor of Sochi, the once magnificent Soviet-era resort city on the Black Sea that was falling into oblivion (read story here) until then-President Vladimir Putin convinced the world to hold the 2014 Winter Olympics amid its nearby towering mountains and lush, subtropical beaches.
The Kremlin, which is footing much of the $12 billion bill for staging the Olympics in Sochi, had apparently hoped that the city's acting mayor, Anatoly Pakhomov, a solid member of the pro-government United Russia party, would simply walk back into the office in the April 26 polls without much fanfare.
But in recent days, almost two dozen candidates have piled in. Suddenly, it's become an interesting spectacle – and a real horse race.
The hopefuls include billionaire businessman Alexander Lebedev, who views himself as a "loyal oppositionist"; Sochi native and fierce Kremlin critic Boris Nemtsov; the flamboyant ballerina and socialite Anastasia Volochkova; former presidential candidate Andrei Bogdanov; local arm-wrestling association leader Stanislav Koretsky; and Yelena Berkova, whose bodacious campaign commercial – vividly reported on nationwide Russian TV news – lends credence to media descriptions of her as a "famous porn star."