MOSCOW, December 20 (RIA Novosti) – The older sister of Russian billionaire-turned-politician Mikhail Prokhorov will replace him as head of his opposition party, the siblings announced Friday.
Irina Prokhorova, the billionaire’s only sibling who worked closely alongside Prokhorov in his failed bid for the presidency in 2012, will now lead the Civic Platform party ahead of elections for the Moscow city legislature next year.
She expressed excitement about the new posting on Friday, saying she believed the “family tandem” would be successful.
Prokhorov, one of the country’s richest men at age 48 and owner of the US Brooklyn Nets basketball team, claimed the move did not signal his departure from the political arena.
“Russian politics is very cruel and sometimes beside itself,” he said. “I think politics needs a woman’s face right now.”
A source in the Civic Platform party told RIA Novosti Friday that the switch had been planned for some time as part of an annual leadership rotation proposed by Prokhorov in October.
Prokhorov said that changing leaders would make the party agenda less predictable for the Kremlin.
The move may have other motives, however - the Russian parliament passed a bill in May banning state officials, their spouses, and their underage children from owning foreign bank accounts and assets abroad. Prokhorov, estimated to be the tenth-richest man in Russia with $13 billion by Forbes Magazine this year, would be ineligible to run for office under the ban unless he surrendered his foreign holdings.
Numerous officials, including five senators included on Forbes’ 2013 list of the world’s richest people, resigned after the ban, widely seen as a bid by President Vladimir Putin to consolidate loyalty among the elite.
The Civic Platform leadership switch is likely a move to bide time until Prokhorov can decide how to balance his holdings abroad with continued involvement in politics, analyst Vladimir Slatinov of the Humanitarian and Political Studies Institute told RIA Novosti.
"He is probably not yet ready to give up business activities and abandon his foreign assets, and [so] he is taking this pause," Slatinov said.
The Civic Platform source also told RIA Novosti that the decision was likely to improve the party's prospects because Prokhorova was more popular with voters than her brother, whose image in the media has been the epitome of the post-Soviet playboy oligarch.
Prokhorov founded the Civic Platform party in June 2012 while running, ultimately unsuccessfully, against Vladimir Putin for president.