Staunton, March 20 – Like any much-ballyhooed event, the March 18 elections in Russia have already given rise to a variety of myths, Sergey Shelin says; but in fact, they were “completely predictable and did not change our lives either for the worse or the better. They only reminded us in what difficult times” Russia now lives.
The Rosbalt commentator points out that this fundamental reality has been obscured because “almost everything that it was easy to predict has come to be viewed as a surprise, while anything genuinely unexpected is being interpreted in a pessimistic spirit” (rosbalt.ru/blogs/2018/03/19/1689738.html ).
According to Shelin, four notions now dominate public discussion of the elections: that “Putin is popular as never before,” that “the people gave Putin a mandate for war, including a world war,” that the leaders of the progressive forces suffered a crushing defeat, and that “’the voters’ strike’ also completely failed.”
All four of these ideas, he says, are either wrong or dramatically overstated.
“Let us begin with the last one,” Shelin says. In 2012, participation was 65.3 percent; this year, it was 67.4 percent, a remarkably small increase given all the efforts the regime made this year to boost participation, efforts that recall Soviet times when voting was obligatory. But despite the Kremlin’s moves, 35 million Russians didn’t go to vote.
Not all of them were Navalny supporters, but some were and some were also convinced that the nominal opposition candidates were controlled by the powers that be and didn’t want to support them or Putin either. But what all this means is that the regime couldn’t boost participation much from six years ago even with all the means at its disposal.
The notion that this election gave Putin a mandate for anything, including war, ignores the fact that this campaign was not about ideas or programs but about ratifying his presence in power and, even more important, that “the main decisions of Vladimir Putin have never been linked to election campaigns,” not YUKOS, not Crimea and not Syria.
Only in 1991 and partially in 1996 were presidential votes in Russia “really acts of a struggle for power” and policy. The other elections were about a personality who could and did change without regard to what Russians may think they voted for, Shelin argues. “They were not a real struggle for power or for ideas.”
As for the progressive candidates, they did less well in the presidential vote than their predecessors; but those who support their ideas should recognize that the allies of these people have done far better in regional and local elections now than they did a decade or more ago. That should tell such progressives where to focus their efforts now.
But one area where the March 18 vote may have mattered in a significant way, the Rosbalt commentator says, is in reordering the so-called “systemic” opposition. The vote may have “knocked down” Navalny but he can rise again. As for Yavlinsky, he should recognize reality and “take a political pension.”
Sobchak, given her showbusiness approach, could continue in politics, Shelin says; “but this would be a career in the style of Zhirinovsky.” And it is certainly possible that a liberal could play a role in the future like the national great power chauvinist has played “already for thirty years.”
And as for the KPRF, it too has been further marginalized, leaving it unclear whether people like Grudinin will hang on or disappear with the party itself.