Russia′s olympic town of Sochi elects new mayor | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 26.04.2009
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Russia's olympic town of Sochi elects new mayor

People are heading to the polls in the southern-Russian town which host to the 2014 Winter Olympics. It's an election that is likely to be watched very closely by the Kremlin and throughout Russia.

Picture of Lenin next to a banner SOCHI 2014

Who will be running the city during the 2014 Olympics?

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has called the mayoral campaign Sochi a "genuine political battle" and said it will enrich Russian democracy.

But complains from candidates and ex-candidates about how the campaign is run are numerous. The number of contenders has shrunk to six from 26 - in the early stages, candidates included a billionaire, a porn star and a ballerina. Some later withdrew voluntarily while others were banned from participating for technicalities.

Portrait of Anatoly Pakhomov

Kremlin-backed Anatoly Pakhomov hopes take home the vote

The new mayor's five-year term will run through the Olympics in February 2014. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said he hoped the people of Sochi will elect a "responsible, active, professionally capable and moral man."

Pro-Kremlin candidate Anatoly Pakhomov, appointed as the town's acting mayor in January, refuses to debate with his opponents. Those who want to debate have trouble getting the word out to some 400,000 residents of Sochi says former deputy prime minister and now opposition candidate Boris Nemtsov.

"The authorities are deadly scared of me participating," he said. "They have completely blocked all TV channels. None of the Sochi TV channels is ready to give me an opportunity to set out my program, even for money."

Nemstov's ally, former chess champion Garry Kasparov, has said the election could be a crack in Putin's tight grip on the country:

A crowd of people with a Russian flag

Russians were celebrating when Sochi got the 2014 Olympics

"It's a very dirty campaign, even by very low Russian standards because there's too much at stake," he said. "It's not an election of Boris Nemtsov vs. unknown acting mayor. It's a fight literally against Vladimir Putin, because Sochi is Putin's unofficial capital."

Last week, billionaire businessman Alexander Lebedev became another high-profile candidate to be removed from the running over an allegation that he hadn't submitted the proper financial documents. Lebedev has denied the charge.

Lebedev's supporters and some of his opponents have said he was eliminated because he was a threat to the Kremlin candidate. His spokesman said the polls showed him firmly occupying the second place.

Portrait of Boris Nemtsov

Candidate Boris Nemtsov says the campaign was anything but free and fair

Boris Nemtsov, Communist candidate Yury Dzagania and billionaire Alexander Lebedev have all sued the pro-Kremlin candidate and the acting mayor Anatoli Pakhomov for purported abuse of office during the election campaign. They say his meetings with Sochi residents are shown daily on television, his activities fill local newspapers and he spoke as a mayoral candidate during a recent interview with Russia Today television that apparently was filmed in his office in violation of election law.

Pakhomov's lawyer said later the mayor had used a public reception office decorated to look like his office in the interview - and denied any wrongdoing.

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