Staunton, October 22 – Most commentators accept that Vladimir Putin will easily win re-election as president but suggest that both the level of participation and the number of votes cast for him and his opponent will reflect a division between those who support the Kremlin leader and his system and those who oppose both.
But Russian blogger Aleksandr Morozov suggests there is a third group that is going to play a major role in determining the level of participation and the mix of votes: Russians who generally support the existing system in Russia but fear that Putin is taking too many risks to maintain it (ixtc.org/2017/10/blog-aleksandr-morozova-problema-yavki/#more-16157).
The democratic opposition will vote for the opposition candidates because no boycott can or will be organized, the blogger says. But any significantly low turnout would necessarily reflect something besides their opposition. It would reflect a decision by those loyal to the system but afraid of Putin’s actions to not take part in supporting him despite knowing he’ll win.
That won’t “inflict any serious harm on t eh so-called legitimation of the regime because it is legitimated in other ways than via elections,” Morozov says. But it would have consequences because it would signal how many loyalists actually feel and point to their desire for a change in Putin’s policies in the future.
Such people aren’t going to want to vote for Putin’s opponents – no one will remember them or the tiny percentages they will gain from the voters, he says – but they may not want to remain unquestioning backers of the incumbent Kremlin leader even if they broadly support the existing Russian system to which they owe their well-being.
And there are a lot of such people: “Without any sociology but simply on the basis of personal experience, we know that there exist many people who consider that ‘the system on the whole is good’ but that the policies of Putin personally have become too risky.”
Such Russians, he continues, “are not supporters of ‘normative democracy,’ they consider that ‘Crimea is Russian’ and that the conflict with the West has its own deep roots. Precisely they are the basis of Putinism for the entire period between 2000 and 2014,” the Russian blogger continues.
That system “continues to provide them with significant economic benefits, and they are grateful to Putin for the entire period of his rule, during which they have achieved a standard of living which allows them ‘to live in a worthy fashion,’” Morozov argues. And these people, many paid by the state directly, form “no less than 20 million voters.”
But if they had no questions for the powers earlier, now they do, he says. Why does Russia need to continue to fight in Ukraine and Syria? Why does it have to set itself against the West in all things? And so on. For them, “the risks are becoming too great and there is no sense of a secure future.”
That is why some of them may not want to vote for Putin even if they won’t vote for his opponents, Morozov says. For personal and corporate reasons, they aren’t going to become oppositionists; but at least some of them are going to be less willing to sing on as continuing supporters of someone whose actions they fear will hurt them.
Such people, the blogger argues, simultaneously “continue to support Putin (so to speak, the Putin of their youth), but understand that they must not ‘invest’ in him in the future. That reflects the fact that “Putin has not created a comfortable ‘Brezhnevistm’ in which ever more of the masses could over 10 to 15 years become successful.”
“On the contrary,” Morozov says. Putin is undermining the basis of his earlier contract with the population – non-participation in politics in exchange for a better life – and taking actions that in the minds of many Russians point to the inevitability of a catastrophe in which they will suffer.
Such people mostly can’t emigrate or quick their jobs, but they very much “would like to return to the old social contract of ‘loyalty in exchange for stability’” and an agreement by the powers that be – Putin in particular – not to rock the board and threaten what they have achieved since 2000.
They have only a single good option, Morozov says. They know they must “accept the further common fate” of living with Putin but at the same time they want to send a signal that the risk taking must end. And they can do that only by not voting and thus driving down the level of participation in the March 2018 elections.