Pro-Kremlin officials cancel elections in city with Russia’s only independent mayor

Pro-Kremlin officials have cancelled mayoral elections in Russia’s fourth-largest city Yekaterinburg, where the country’s only independent mayor, a critic of Vladimir Putin, would have been up for re-election in September.

On Tuesday, the legislature of the Sverdlovsk region, which is dominated by the ruling United Russia party, passed in a third and final reading legislation putting an end to direct mayoral elections in the capital Yekaterinburg.

The law is backed by governor Yevgeny Kuivashev, who was appointed by Mr Putin in 2012.

The vote comes as the city of 1.4 million east of the Ural mountains gears up to host World Cup matches in June.

Yekaterinburg mayor Yevgeny Roizman, a colourful politician who first won popularity as a vigilante anti-drugs campaigner, has condemned the move as undemocratic.

“Elections are the only chance for people to participate in political life,” Mr Roizman told parliament before the vote on Tuesday. “They raise city patriotism, which is lacking. And it’s not good to go and cut people off from this process.”

In place of September’s mayoral election, the regional parliament will choose Yekaterinburg’s mayor from candidates put forward by a commission made up of MPs and members of the governor’s staff, according to the legislation.

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On Monday night, hundreds rallied in support of Mr Roizman in the city, many of them holding red balloons.

Opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who was barred from running against Mr Putin in last month’s presidential election, tweeted that the Sverdlovsk legislature had spit in the face of the “majority who say in every survey that the city’s mayor should be elected in a direct vote”.

Days in office for Russian leaders

At a January rally in support of Mr Navalny’s boycott of the presidential vote, Mr Roizman told demonstrators that “what we’re being offered now isn’t an election, and we shouldn’t participate in it”.

After Mr Putin won, he tweeted: “Life will get worse, but with every election the turnout will be larger, the president’s rating will be higher and North Korea will be closer”.

The iconoclastic politician’s election as mayor in 2013 remains one of the few victories of an opposition voice against Kremlin-backed candidates, who enjoy the support of state television and government-controlled companies and institutions.

Having served a sentence for theft in Soviet times that was later overturned, Mr Roizman went on to found a successful jewellery company and is known for collecting Orthodox religious icons and driving in “trophy ride” off-road races.

The centre he started to fight rising heroin use allegedly held some addicts by force, but that didn’t stop him from being elected to serve in the national parliament from 2003 to 2007.

In July, Mr Roizman’s run for governor of Sverdlovsk was cut short after he couldn’t get enough signatures from members of the regional legislature to pass a Kremlin-devised “municipal filter”.

On Tuesday, Mr Navalny said he was forming a new party, which for now would be called "Working Title" to avoid the appearance of a spoiler party with the same name, as has happened in the past.