Staunton, September 10 – Even as Russians debate whether Aleksey Navalny won by losing, it is already clear that three groups lost the Russian revolution: the KPRF which suffered its worst defeat ever, the Russian people whose political alienation led to an extraordinarily low turnout, and the Kremlin itself which demonstrated its incapacity to mobilize the population.
Given the focus on Navalny, relatively few people have noticed that the September 8 voting delivered a crushing defeat to the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) which, outside of the North Caucasus, did far worse than it has ever done since the end of Soviet times (forum-msk.org/material/politic/10038839.html).
Gennady Zyuganov’s party, the Forum-MSK.org site pointed out, failed “even in those regions which until relatively recently had been considered its base,” a development likely to lead to new challenges to Zyuganov’s team, possible splits in the party more generally, and a new political alignment altogether.
That is especially likely, the site continued, because in Moscow, Navalny won more votes than those from the KPRF, Just Russia, Yabloko and LDPR taken together. And it notes that “an organization committee of a new (united) communist party has already been registered” and is preparing to hold a congress.
Zyuganov, who has often proved tone deaf to political realities, appears to be unintentionally hastening that day with a series of outrageous comments that only underscore how out of touch he and his comrades are with those such a party might attract (nakanune.ru/news/2013/9/9/22323151/ and nakanune.ru/news/2013/9/9/22323142/).
The second big loser in these elections was the Russian people, most of whom showed their alienation from politics as such by choosing not to vote at all. Had participation been higher and had those additional voters backed opposition figures, there are very few places in the country where United Russia, the party of power, would have won.
The most charitable reading of such high levels of non-participation is that the ordinary people are not unhappy with what the incumbents are doing, but a more honest one, several commentators suggest, is that large numbers of Russians do not yet view elections as a means to express their views (specletter.com/vybory/2013-09-09/chisto-ili-chisto-konkretno.html).
Such widespread attitudes, of course, provide a real opening for opponents of the regime, but to win over such Russians, opposition figures – and it will be individuals more than parties which are largely discredited – will have to demonstrate that they can deliver the goods in those places where they did win and ensure that other Russians learn about that.
That struggle, one that is likely to center on places far from Moscow like Yekaterinburg and Petrozavodsk where the opposition did win, will not be an easy one. The powers that be can be expected to try to torpedo efforts by the new victors and even more to ensure that few beyond those two cities can see what victorious opposition figures can do.
And the third loser in this week’s Russian elections was the Kremlin itself. Despite its deployment of all its political resources, legal and otherwise, the party of power was not able to ensure that its preferred mayoral candidate won big in Moscow or that its candidates and the party won convincing victories everywhere.
United Russia’s “victory” was thus a hollow one because it showed that even those millions of Russians not attracted to the current opposition figures are no longer backers of the regime. Valery Morozov, a commentator for Snob.ru, says they want “new alternatives,” something the opposition might be able to supply but the Kremlin almost by definition cannot (snob.ru/profile/23916/blog/64929).
In the absence of a new opposition leader, the Kremlin may be able to coast for a time, but its energy is dissipating. And Sunday’s elections show if nothing else that “Russia is waiting for a new force, a new alternative to power.” What that in turn means is that the Kremlin at best won a Pyrrhic victory this time around.