Top Putin critic takes on Kremlin rival in Moscow polls
MOSCOW (AFP) - Russian protest leader Alexei Navalny on Sunday takes on a Kremlin-backed incumbent in a hotly contested Moscow mayoral poll, the first time the Kremlin has allowed a bitter opponent of President Vladimir Putin to stand in a high-profile election.
Muscovites will go to the polls to elect a mayor for the first time in a decade that has seen Mr Putin scrap regional elections and then reinstate them after huge protests against his rule in winter 2011.
Mr Navalny's participation created the first genuinely competitive choice in a Russian election in years, even if current Moscow mayor Sergei Sobyanin is expected to secure re-election in the first round.
Many observers see the poll in the city of 12 million as a vote of confidence in Mr Putin's top-down power structure as disenchantment with the strongman's 13-year rule grows in the affluent capital and economic trouble looms ahead.