Russia: Anti-corruption activist faces Putin-backed Kremlin man for Moscow mayor
Alexei Navalny, a critic of President Vladimir Putin, faces a Kremlin-backed incumbent in a hotly contested Moscow mayoral poll, the first time an opposition leader has been allowed to stand in a high-profile election.
In the Russian capital's first mayoral election in a decade, Muscovites had to choose from six candidates including current pro-Kremlin mayor Sergei Sobyanin and main opposition candidate Alexei Navalny.
The candidacy of anti-corruption blogger Navalny has made the race the first genuinely competitive Russian election since the heady early post-Soviet years.
The vote will be seen as a crucial test of the protest mood in a city which was shaken by huge demonstrations against Putin's decade-long rule in the winter of 2011-2012.
Moscow gave Putin a relatively low 46.95 per cent of the vote in the 2012 presidential election, well below the nationwide average.
Opinion polls indicate Kremlin-backed Sobyanin, 55, will win a majority in today's poll, while Navalny is set to come second with around 20 per cent.
The 37-year-old Navalny, who shot to prominence during the anti-Putin rallies, has earned comparisons to a young Boris Yeltsin, Russia's first post-Soviet president, for his exuberant energy, good looks and promise of change.
The four other candidates in the poll are: a representative of a Kremlin-friendly party, a Communist, an ultra-nationalist lawmaker and a liberal opposition figure.
Many ordinary Muscovites said they would vote for Navalny, who channels public anger against the Kremlin, even if some harbour reservations about his tough anti-immigrant rhetoric.
The main intrigue in the upcoming polls is not how many vote for the pro-Kremlin incumbent but what happens to Navalny, who has been campaigning under the burden of a five-year prison sentence on what he says are trumped-up charges.
The blogger, who first made a name for himself exposing corruption among the elites, has vowed to jail Putin and his allies if he is one day elected president.