A Russian mayor running for reelection thought he'd found a "willing patsy" to run against him, a requirement of sorts to ensure at least the appearance of a democratic process. But Marina Udgodskaya—a local mom of two who used to clean Povalikhino's City Hall and says she's not interested in politics, per RFE/RL—turned out to be no patsy: The 35-year-old ended up winning the election in her small town of less than 250 against Kremlin ally Nikolai Loktev, even though she had agreed to run against Loktev only as a favor to him. "He just needed somebody else, anybody at all, so the election could take place," she tells the New York Times, which notes that incumbents in Russia and other ex-Soviet states almost never lose, due to a rigged process in which opposition is muffled to the point where it's now hard at times to find prop candidates.
The paper notes that President Vladimir Putin has run against the same lame opposition candidate for the last three elections, a "humorless man with a droning, wooden voice" that the Communist Party provided. So how did Udgodskaya win nearly 62% of the vote, despite no campaigning or voter meet and greets? Folks in her small village simply liked her. "The people had had enough," one local electoral commission member tells the BBC, noting that Udgodskaya was "flabbergasted" at the outcome. The new mayor has since come around to her new role, with one of her first goals being to bring streetlights to Povalikhino. Loktev's wife tells the Times the affair is a "very painful topic," while Loktev himself seems resigned to what happened. "Clearly the people wanted change," he tells the BBC. (Read more Russia stories.)