Staunton, June 25 – United Russia, the party of power, is supporting the candidacies of some opposition figures in municipal and other local races but only where the latter have “practically no chances for victory,” an arrangement that Moscow analysts say is not filtering out “extremism” as is sometimes claimed but rather any “political competition.”
Given that some Russians and many more Western observers see the presence of opposition figures in elections at any level of the Russian system as progress toward democracy, this arrangement makes it clear that the Putin regime is committed to maintaining its authoritarian control rather than opening the country to political pluralism.
In a “Nezavisimaya gazeta” article this week, Aleksandr Samarina, who writes on political issues for that Moscow paper, provides details about this anti-democratic practice from around the Russian Federation, clearly suggesting that it is a concerted policy rather than the actions of specific individuals (ng.ru/politics/2014-06-23/1_opposition.html).
Nikolay Petrov, a Russian political scientist, says that such arrangements give the appearance of competition but ensure that the Kremlin controls the situation. When the center feels strong, it will allow competitors; when it doesn’t in any particular place, it will eliminate them either by appointing opposition figures to new posts or using other forms of pressure.
Moreover, he continues, “the authorities are interested that candidates from the opposition overcome the filter [of such elections] not independently but with the help of ‘the elder brother,’” in this case, United Russia. That gives the Kremlin still more control while providing a Potemkin Village appearance of competition.
Such arrangements, Samarina notes, “demonstrate the absence” of a truly competitive opposition and thus undercut suggestions that the Russian elite is in any way divided. They in fact have become “a mega-regulator of gubernatorial campaigns.” But they do little to add to the legitimacy of the system at least among Russians.