Fed up with corruption and nepotism among local officials, residents of a far-flung Siberian city are yearning for a different kind of political representation.
Barsik the cat has been propelled to stardom after finishing far ahead of his human rivals for the post of mayor of Barnaul in an unofficial poll run by a popular regional social media page.
Political apathy and resentment over corruption scandals at city hall helped the 18-month-old Scottish Fold claw nearly 91% of more than 5,400 votes cast by Tuesday.
The poll, launched earlier this month by the Altai Online page on Russian social network Vk, has become the talk of the town in the city of 700,000 people located some 2,250 miles (3,600km) east of Moscow.
“People don’t know who to trust any more,” local pensioner Yevgeny Kuznetsov said, explaining Barsik’s popularity. “They have come to the conclusion that they can’t trust the authorities.”
Barnaul, a city close to the picturesque Altai mountains, has been rocked by a series of high-profile corruption cases.
A commission made up of the city council and regional governor Alexander Karlin will convene next week to appoint a new city administrator after the incumbent, Igor Savintsev, resigned in August following abuse of power allegations.
Savintsev, who ran the city from 2010 until his resignation, is accused of selling off municipally owned land to organisations affiliated with family members, costing the city more than 11 million rubles ($157,000, 144,000 euros).
His son Maxim is meanwhile awaiting trial on fraud and embezzlement charges after having fled to Thailand, according to local media reports.
“Residents doubt their competence and professionalism. And they have a right to do so,” said one of the poll’s administrators, who goes by the pseudonym “Altai Farmer” as he fears his surveys could have repercussions on his offline life.
“Altai Farmer” has launched a crowd-funding initiative to raise a billboard in the city centre depicting the feline candidate with the slogan “Only mice don’t vote for Barsik!”
He said the initiative had so far collected 1,400 rubles (£13.20, US$20).