Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Declining Voter Participation, Not Rising Support for Opposition, Greater Threat to the Kremlin, Moscow Analyst Suggests

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 18 – Ever fewer Russians are taking part in elections, a trend that one Moscow analyst has suggested is a greater threat to the Kremlin than any increase in support for opposition figures because it sets the stage of “either a ‘cold’ civil war” with real elections “or an ordinary civil war” that could prove to be “hot.”

            In an essay posted on yesterday, Aleksey Roshchin argues that declining participation in Russian elections is “a tendency already visible to the unaided eye,” with figures in many places lower than they have ever been, especially in elections for mayors and local councils (

            Moscow and Yekaterinburg were exceptions but only partially so with participation rates suggesting that two out of every three registered voters chose to cast a ballot in two high profile races.  Had Aleksey Navalny not been running in the Russian capital, Roshchin says, the rat there would not have been even 20 percent.

            Numerous explanations have been offered. Some draw parallels with the West where participation is often low and say that it reflects increasing satisfaction among Russians with their current situation.  That is difficult to believe, “especially in the case of provincial cities,” where incomes remain low and conditions hard.

            Others have suggested that the population has “’an undemocratic consciousness’” or that it is Stalinist or ignorant, Roshchin continues, while others have suggested that the government did not choose an opportune moment for the voting.  All such assertions collapse on close examination.

            In fact, the real explanation, one Russians themselves regularly and correctly give, is that they are not taking part in tem because “they consider our elections something completely and absolutely meaningless.” 

            “A state is above all an apparatus of force” because “force is the basis of state power and by the way of power in general,” Roshchin argues. “But all these mayors, governors and deputies have absolutely no relationship to the real organs of force.” And consequently, they are largely irrelevant to the fates of the Russian people.

            Russians understand this implicitly even if few of them could put it in these stark terms, he suggests.  They know that under the terms of “Russian ‘sovereign democracy’ … the entire electoral system is a fiction, a mirage and a deception.”  The only vote that matters and that they are permitted to cast is for the president.

            Participation is thus likely to continue to fall, something that is a matter of concern regarding “stability in society.”  When 80 percent of the population is convinced that elections don’t matter, how can those who want change get them to act?  “Terror? A revolt? The choice isn’t large: either a ‘cold’ civil war -- that is REAL elections -- or an ordinary and hot one.”

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