The year of the political outsider has reached its scruffy apex. When asked who should be their next mayor, the residents of Barnaul, a city in the Altai region of West Siberia, overwhelmingly chose a cat named Barsik.
A survey posted on the Altai community’s Vkontakte page—Vkontakte is Russia’s most popular social network—found that 91 percent of respondents chose Barsik over the six human candidates. Although it was a thoroughly unofficial poll that drew only 5,400 votes, a small fraction of Barnaul 700,000 residents, its results have brought international attention to the city. Because a cat mayor is the world’s business.
Barsik has five more days to campaign before the December 22 decision, and supporters have been hitting the pavement, posting supportive photos on Altai Online, crowdfunding for a Barsik billboard, and soliciting endorsements from regional officials. These higher-ups have found various reasons to approve—one politician called the candidacy an “effective protest,” while the Altai governor says the cat is “a nice image” that suggests “well-being and warmth.”
This fuzziness would be a welcome departure from Barnaul’s mayoral track record. The last human to hold the position, Igor Savintsev, was corrupt enough that he was forced to resign this past August. Savintsey was the first mayor to be appointed by commission rather than elected by the people.
As this appointment strategy is still in place, there’s little hope the populist Barsik will claw his way to the post. Still, the undercat’s supporters hope Barsik’s presence pushes the other candidates to clarify their positions. ”We don’t know their programs, motives, or what they want for the city,” Barsik’s anonymous human companion told IBTimes UK. To rectify this problem, Barsik’s team has used his growing platform to pose five questions to the cat’s human rivals, on topics ranging from the future of Barnaul to the city’s stray animal problem, to attempt to suss out how they would use their power. (Barsik’s own motives and intentions have been made clear by several popular videos of him yawning and batting at a small feathery toy.)
Regardless of next week’s outcome, Barsik is “not giving up on his political ambitions,” says his human companion. With such success straight out of the gate, a long career seems assured. The cat may even develop a cowboy strut.
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