The Russian city that will host the 2014 Winter Olympics is getting ready for a controversial ballot for a new mayor.
Government critics claim the election on Sunday in the Black Sea resort of Sochi is far from free and fair, and the Kremlin is doing all it can to make sure its candidate, Anatoly Pakhomov, wins.
One of the highest profile opposition candidates, Boris Nemtsov, has slammed the poll as a total violation of the constitution.
The Russian president has shrugged off the criticism, praising the election as a fully-fledged political struggle, which is good for democracy.
But former chess champion and opposition leader Garry Kasparov disagrees.
“It’s a dirty campaign even by very low Russian standards, because there’s too much at stake,” he said. “It is not an election of Boris Nemtsov versus unknown acting mayor appointed by Governor (Alexander) Tkachyov, the governor of this region, it is a fight literally against (Russian Prime Minister) Vladimir Putin, because Sochi is Putin’s unofficial capital.”
The bid for Sochi to hold the 2014 Winter Olympics was a pet project of Vladimir Putin.
Whoever wins the election will hold sway over a budget worth 4.5 billion euros.
Sochi is dubbed Russia’s third capital and is the summer residence of the prime minister and president.