Thursday, January 19, 2012

Window on Eurasia: Local Elections across Russia Give Opposition Chance for Gains, Moscow Paper Suggests

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 19 – In addition to the presidential election, Russians in numerous cities including six regional capitals on March 4 will select mayors and city council members, a process that has attracted much less attention but one that represents both “yet another difficult test” for Vladimir Putin’s United Russia and an opportunity for the political opposition.

            In “Novyye izvestiya” yesterday, Yuiya Savina argues that United Russia may do so poorly in such elections that its officials in Moscow have decided not to advertise the membership of candidates to municipal assemblies” so as not to call attention to its decline (

            The journalist makes her point by surveying some of the key votes.  In Omsk, for example, deputies of the city council decided to hold elections to that body simultaneously with those for the Russian presidency, something the acting mayor, Tatyana Vizhevitova has strongly objected to, apparently because it gives other parties “a chance to take power” locally.

            At least six other cities who have kept the direct election of mayors are likely to have new chiefs, Savina says.  “No surprises” are expected in Astrakhan where United Russia has done well, but in Yaroslavl, there may be a turnover given recent shifts. Moreover, it is clear that United Russia mayors who do poorly “simply cannot continue to work.”

            Indeed, Rostislav Turovsky, head of the regional research department of the Moscow Center of Political Technologies, told the “Novyye izvestiya” writer that this wasn’t something that the individuals directly involved in were going to get to decide but rather was the result of “a directive from the center.”

            One communist deputy in the Yaroslav oblast duma said that combining the elections meant that participation would be higher – voters often don’t turn out for local races iin Russia as is true elsewhere – and “the situation will therefore be more objective than if the voting was carried out separately,” as at least some in United Russia had wanted.

            In some places, Savina writes, there won’t be much of a struggle, but in others, including Pskov, Kirov, Nalchik, Ufa, and Gorno-Altaysk, the competition among candidates may be intense. Some United Russia candidates in these places will benefit from stressing their attachment to Vladimir Putin rather than United Russia, but others will suffer from either link.

            If candidates do try to distance themselves from United Russia, such a tactic “will not convince everyone.” As several experts say, many voters who know is linked with what party however much and perhaps even especially if candidates try to hide their affiliation or conduct “an underground” campaign.

            Valery Khomyakov, a political scientist, told “Novyye izvestiya” that  the efforts of some United Russia candidates to hide their membership “yet again confirms that the December voting in Moscow were falsified and that the rating of United Russia’ in [Moscow] was hardly the 46 percent that was announced.” Instead, it is “significantly lower.”

            Savina concludes her article with the observation that “now, the opposition has the chance to get involved in lower-level politics,” now that a link “with United Russia or with the powers that be as such, especially in Moscow,” is no longer something that will help them. Rather the reverse.

And she quotes Khomyakov as saying that “if the opposition tries to take power at the municipal level … this could be a very good base for the further development of pressure, including on the federal authorities.”

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