Staunton, September 13 – The just-completed elections show “the colossal indifference of the majority of Russian citizens to the electoral procedures the authorities organize” and thus cast serious doubt on the practical meaning of the 86 percent that the regime assumes support Vladimir Putin and the regime, according to Fyodor Krasheninnikov.
The Yekaterinburg political commentary notes that the Putin regime invariably quotes that sociological studies show that “86 percent” of Russians support Putin, “but does this majority exist in any practical sense” and “do the authorities have real influence over such a colossal mass of residents of Russia and thus are capable of mobilizing this into support?”
The answer, Krasheninnikov says, is not so simple; and the results of last Sunday’s voting are “much more interesting than the results of even the largest polls” (snob.ru/selected/entry/128866).
Polls are “a very good instrument for tracking the opinions of people in democratic societies,” he suggests, but in Russia, they are less useful because those taking part “say what they have heard or read in the media or what they think the authorities would like to hear from them.”
Elections in Russia “time and again demonstrate that one cannot speak about such a majority in the population which the authorities are capable of successfully manipulating.” They are different than sociological polls in that they “require from a citizen not just to say something but to complete a number of actions – going to the polling station, getting a bulletin, and voting.”
If it were the case that the results of sociological polls showing “the unbelievable popularity” of the government “reflected the real distribution of forces, then elections and their results should coincide.” They don’t. Instead, as Krasheninnnikov points out, most Russians “ignore the elections – and the authorities time after time are chosen by a controlled minority.”
Some might argue and do that this indifference of the population about politics represents “passive support of the existing powers that be, but in a practical sense, it does not give them anything. More than that, it raises some uncomfortable questions about the true nature of their legitimacy.”
If the Russian government presented itself as an ordinary Western-style democracy, participation wouldn’t matter. In the West, elections are decided by minorities who are capable of mobilizing. But the Russian regime constantly presents itself as something else, as a government that enjoys the support of the overwhelming majority of the population.
If that were true, it should be able to mobilize them to vote for its candidates, but Sunday’s elections again showed that it is unable to do so. As a result, this popular indifference to the regime is not a prop for the regime as some imagine, but rather “its main headache and a potential milieu for the political work of the opponents of the existing regime.”
That is all the more so now because the regime is losing control of the media environment to the Internet which allows ever more Russians to gain information from sources the regime doesn’t control, the Yekaterinburg analyst continues.
None of this is a secret to the bureaucrats in the power vertical. They know that if there are no real opponents to their candidates, they can win with low participation; but they also know that if real opponents do appear, they may not be able to control the situation and ensure that their minority will carry the day. That is what happened in Moscow.
“Of course,” Krasheninnikov says, “the indifferent citizens most likely aren’t going to become voters for opposition figures and won’t take part in protest actions; but there is another side to this coin: they will not at a critical moment come to the defense of the regime which all these years has ruled in their name and claiming to have their support.”
The current Russian powers that be continue to “rule by operating on a comparatively small percent of citizens whom it is able to mobilize in its support and to bring to the voting booths. But as the municipal elections in Moscow showed, it is entirely possible that an organized opposition minority can do this as well.”
If the regime’s support is genuinely small, he concludes, then the support the opposition will need to topple it is relatively small as well.