Staunton, April 7 – In yet another indication that public support for Vladimir Putin is not as deep as many think and that he might not win re-election in a free and fair vote, his United Russia Party candidate for mayor of Novosibirsk lost to an opposition figure when, as has seldom been the case, the opposition parties united behind a single candidate.
Yesterday, communist Anatoly Lokot defeated Vladimir Znatok, the United Russia candidate and acting mayor, in a special election in Novosibirsk. Lokot got 43.75 percent of the vote, while Znatok received 39.57 percent, the result of a decision of other opposition figures to withdraw in Lokot’s favor (ej.ru/?a=note&id=24868).
In an article in today’s “Yezhdnevny zhurnal” entitled “The Opposition has Learned to Defeat the Party of Power,” Ivan Starikov says that on January 20th, he, Ilya Ponomaryev, Lokot and a number of other candidates signed an agreement which required them to withdraw in favor of whoever among the opposition was in the lead a week before the vote.
While many journalists treated this agreement as something unlikely to be fulfilled, it was, Starikov says, and the result was the defeat of the Kremlin’s man and a victory for the opposition. This outcome reflects some highly specific local conditions in Novosibirsk, he acknowledges, but it carries with it a lesson for the opposition across the Russian Federation.
Starikov himself had successfully challenged Znatkov’s status as a candidate in court, creating “an unprecedented situation” in which someone fulfilling the duties of mayor and a member of the ruling United Russia party “was removed from the elections by a decision of a court.” He added that if Znatkov had been returned by the voters, he would have continued to pursue this case “to the end.”
He notes that the opposition in Novosibirsk renewed their agreement on March 28 and on March 31, that is “a week before the election,” those who trailed Lokot in the polls withdrew their candidacies, united their staffs and resources, “human, organizational, and financial,” and thus gave him the best chance to win.
Lokot for his part has “promised” that he will not seek “to replace the monopoly of one party,” that of United Russia, “with a monopoly of another,” his own, and that “the composition of the executive authorities in the city will be a coalition.” That promise, Starikov says, has “confirmed [his] conviction that I, a person of liberal convictions made the right choice.”
“If they follow our example in other regions,” Starikov said, “then we really will have begun to achieve victory” in the face of the enormous “administrative measures” that Putin and his regime always deploy against their opponents.