Russia's Prokhorov Can't Expect To Beat Putin. So Why Is He Still In The Race?

As the Russian presidential elections approach, there is still little doubt Vladimir Putin will win. Billionaire and basketball team owner Mikhail Prokhorov, however, continues to keep his hat in the ring. Why? Russia’s Kommersant offers a few explanation

Mikhail Prokhorov in December 2011 (moscowprotest)
Mikhail Prokhorov in December 2011 (moscowprotest)
Maria Luisa Tirmaste

MOSCOW – Billionaire and Russian presidential candidate Mikhail Prokhorov is running on a platform called "a real future," through which he spells out his dream of seeing Russia governed by "real politicians." For that reason he would like to limit the election of presidents and governors to no more than two terms in their lifetime. If elected, the New Jersey Nets basketball team owner would limit his own time as president to four years.

In response to the recent protests that have erupted in Moscow and elsewhere across Russia, Prokhorov is proposing a series of voting reforms. He calls for direct elections of mayors and governors and wants to change the elections rules so that parties which receive less than 3% of the vote can still have representation in the Duma, Russia's parliament.

"The most important part of my program is quick and high-quality reforms," says Prokhorov. "Our country is developing very slowly at the moment. That is leading us to lose our global competitiveness. I want to live in a Russia that leads the world, not one that is slinking along with its tail between its legs."

Prokhorov promises amnesty to those who have been convicted of economic crimes, and would change the laws on government purchases to give all gas producers equal access to government contracts, the transport system and export markets. He would divide the national company Gasprom into several competing companies, and would privatize many government controlled corporations in the hopes of closing the deficit in the Russian Pension Fund. In addition, Prokhorov proposes several tax and budgetary reforms.

"My program is still dynamic, and could still be changed, both before and after the elections. I want this platform to become the program for development in this country after the elections," Prokhorov explains in an interview with Kommersant.

Describing it as both "liberal" and "European," Boric Nemtsov, the co-chairman of the opposition People's Freedom party, says that the businessman's platform is "absolutely the most progressive of all the platforms." But are his proposals for real, or are they simply propaganda? That question will continue to be posed, says Nemtsov, as long as Prokhorov refuses to "tell the truth about how he became a candidate for presidency and what kind of agreement he has with Putin."

Fighting for fourth place

Political scientist Evgeniy Minchenko, for one, has trouble taking the proposals at face value. "The program is written in such a way that there is no way that anyone is planning to actually carry it through," he says. Minchenko thinks Prokhorov's whole campaign is functioning within a framework approved and agreed upon by Vladimir Putin's team.

The political scientist notes, for example, that Prokhorov is not actively campaigning outside of Moscow and St. Petersburg, even in regions where he would have a good chance of at least coming in second to Putin. Minchenko thinks that Prokhorov was told not to campaign in the regions where he could steal votes from Putin.

Politicians and experts alike agree that 10% of the vote on March 4 would be a very good result for Prokhorov. According to Nemtsov, Prokhorov's results will depend largely on the amount of money he is willing to spend on the campaign.

"Now is an important moment for Prokhorov. He is fighting for fourth place," says political scientist and United Russia member Aleksei Chesnakov. "If he manages to come in fourth and to associate himself with the right people, then he has a chance at a political career."

According to Minchenko, if Prokhorov comes in with around 5% of the vote, he will have to team up with other politicians in the future. But if he comes closer to 10%, he could start his own political party. Even Prokhorov has spoken about the possibility of building a political party on the basis of his presidential run. "I have a platform, I have supporters and will get even more in the future," Prokhorov said. Whatever party Prokhorov does start, it will certainly be after the presidential elections.

Looking to the future

Prokhorov could be playing the long-term game, and laying the groundwork for the next parliamentary elections, Minchenko says. But if that is his strategy, he will need to concentrate on the areas outside of Moscow and St. Petersburg, which he has not managed to do yet. "And he has not shown himself to be a very sharp public politician, nor a very good organizer," Minchenko adds.

Chesnakov says that if Prokhorov wants to stay in the game for the long-term, he is going to have to transform himself from a lone-ranger type politician to a leader of a team of strong politicians. Prokhorov himself has said that if he wins at least 10% of the vote on March 4, he will start his own party, but if he gets less than that, he will try to integrate himself into a previously existing political party.

Another possible option for Prokhorov would be to work with the current political power. Ex-Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said the wealthy candidate could, at least theoretically, become vice-prime minister. Minchenko agrees, saying that if Prokhorov strictly follows the agreement with Putin, then Putin may name him vice-prime minister, also known as the "minister of unpopular reforms."

If that's the case, "he will lose all of this popularity within a year, "says Minchenko. "Just look at what happened to Sergei Tigipko in Ukraine. He came in third in the presidential elections, and then was given the post of vice prime minister. He oversaw several unpopular reforms, and nothing became of his political party."

Prokhorov insists he will not consider taking a position under Putin, and says there have been no discussions of that nature with the ruling party. And regardless of the election result, the billionaire businessman says he will stick to politics. "After the elections I will be focusing exclusively on politics," says Prokhorov. "I will build a political party. For me, politics is a long-term project."

Read the original article in Russian

Photo - moscowprotest

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In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.

It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park


Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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