MOSCOW - Billionaire oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov Saturday won the leadership of a Russian pro-reform party, setting the goal of challenging the dominance of Vladimir Putin’s ruling faction United Russia. Delegates elected Prokhorov unopposed as the new leader of the Pravoe Delo (Just Cause) party at an extraordinary congress in Moscow marked by bold ambitions the businessman would turn it into a major political force. Just two delegates voted against Prokhorov’s candidacy, with 107 in favour, according to the results of the secret ballot announced by party officials in a session broadcast live on state television. In a speech to the congress, Prokhorov set the goal of taking the party into parliament in December polls and eventually knocking United Russia off its supreme perch.
“We must act like a responsible party of power,” Prokhorov told the party congress. “We need to get into parliament. In the foreseeable future, as the number two party. Then as number one.”
He took clear aim at United Russia, which dominates the State Duma lower house and is largely untroubled by three weak opposition parties.
“Do we have multi-party politics (in Russia)? Of course we don’t. There need to be at least two parties of power,” said Prokhorov. “Any political monopoly is our main opponent. It’s even clear in school text books that a monopoly is the enemy of all development.” His election is the first time a top businessman has entered politics since the arrest in 2003 of oil magnate Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who supporters say was punished for daring to finance opposition to strongman Putin.
The party did its best to create a snazzy atmosphere at the congress, plunging the hall into darkness as every vote was taken and a clock loudly ticking as delegates placed their votes. A vote also had to be taken on fast-tracking Prokhorov into the party as he was not already a member. Until now, the party has been led by a muddy multi-person leadership and failed to make an impact on Russian society.