Irina Prokhorova, the elder sister and designated representative of defeated presidential candidate Mikhail Prokhorov, is emerging as an increasingly influential figure on Russia's political scene.
A prominent literary critic and cultural historian, Prokhorova says her new political career has opened her eyes to what she calls an "incredible rift" between ordinary Russians and the ruling elite. She spoke to Andrei Shary of RFE/RL's Russian Service:
RFE/RL: The Communist Party's defeated presidential candidate, Gennady Zyuganov, says he does not recognize Vladimir Putin's election on March 4 due to the high level of reported fraud. Will Mikhail Prokhorov also declare the election illegitimate?
Irina Prokhorova: He said that he didn't consider the election fair because the initial conditions for opposition candidates and for the main contender were not equal. He will draw conclusions about the election's legitimacy, to quote his words, "after all the alleged violations are investigated and a recount is conducted, if necessary."
We received as many as 8,000 calls at our [campaign] headquarters and, as a result, 4,000 electoral violations were reported.
There were massive irregularities in St. Petersburg, where fake observers' certificates were distributed. Some bogus observers turned up on behalf of Mikhail [Prokhorov], but in fact they were working for Putin.
There were huge numbers of alarming phone calls. Now we need to study all this and wait for information from other parties and candidates. Only then will we be able to make concrete decisions.
RFE/RL: What are your general impressions of the March 4 vote? Do you think it was cleaner than the parliamentary elections in December?
Prokhorova: It's hard to judge. Many of my colleagues who were observers or simply drove through the city on election day said they saw huge numbers of "carousel" voters -- people who came from different cities and voted with absentee ballots.
When all the information is processed, we will find out how many there were and the extent to which they influenced the vote.
I think the positive feature of this election was the determination of many voters and observers, the involvement of a huge army of young people in this process. Civil society was incomparably more active than it had been in December, and this gives us hope that we are witnessing a surge in civil society's self-awareness.
RFE/RL: You played an active role in your brother's presidential campaign. This election was your first foray into politics. What have you learned from it?
Prokhorova: For a historian of culture, studying how society functions is always interesting. I used to do this as a person involved in cultural politics; after all, founding a publishing house, magazines, and carrying out charitable work, all this is also part of politics.
On the other hand, studying the mechanisms of power is also fascinating. It gives you a better idea of the scale of difficulties that ordinary citizens, institutions, and society as a whole run into when they are confronted with inefficient government. It gives you a rich life experience and perhaps forces you to better articulate your civil stance.
RFE/RL: Would you call it a negative experience? How do you see Russia now, with "political eyes"?
Prokhorova: I'm a mature person and I have lived under the Soviet regime, which was far more brutal than the current regime.
I can't say that I made absolutely new discoveries. I simply got an even better glimpse of the incredible rift between Russia's dynamic, modern society and its archaic government.
At the risk of simplifying things a little, I would say that this is Russia's main problem. Our society learns very fast, it's unbelievably adaptable and resilient. But our governments are traditionally utopist and archaic. They remain stuck in the 17th or 18th century.
I think that it's very important for my brother to make authorities better meet the needs of a contemporary society and a contemporary world.
RFE/RL: Would you agree to become deputy head of the party that Mikhail Prokhorov has announced he will form?
Prokhorova: If I'm offered this position, I will seriously consider it. But there's no talk of this yet, we've only just finished the campaign.