Sunday, February 18, 2018

Kremlin’s Unnecessary Obsession with Boycott Calls Attention to Its Real Fears, Shelin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 17 – The Kremlin has no good reason to fear a boycott: polls show that only four or five percent of Russian voters are prepared to take that step, but Sergey Shelin says the polls also show that the share of Russians who want real change is far larger and something the Russian leadership is increasingly uncomfortable with.

            A month before the presidential elections, the Rosbalt commentator says, only a tiny proportion of the population says it favors a boycott; but despite that, the Kremlin is worried by what it views as a growing share of the population desirous of real change and thus directly challenges the incumbent regime (

                Polls suggest, Shelin continues, that only about nine percent of the electorate favors a boycott or plans to take part in it, while more than half (51 percent) say they are opposed, some because they support the current president but also a smaller number who think that it is useless. At the same time, 35 percent are “neutral” as far as any boycott effort is concerned.

            Why then are the bosses so worried about this possibility? Shelin asks rhetorically. Obviously, things could change in the coming weeks, but that is unlikely. Instead, the reason lies in the nature of Russian voters and how they view elections.

            “A great deal becomes clear if one conditionally divides [Russians] into two groups,” he suggests, “those who relate to March 18 approximately as they did at one time to Soviet elections, as a boring and insignificant but required ritual, and those who take [this election] seriously.”

            Within the second group, of course, are some who “intend to go to the polls not at the order of the bosses but with sincere joy that with a pure heart they can give their vote to Vladimir Putin. Unfortunately, how many of these there are is unknown.” That isn’t something that any Russian pollster wants to find out.

            But Shelin suggests that even this mass of loyalists “isn’t burning with such enthusiasm.” But one can say how many want a change in direction at the top: At a minimum, the 15 percent who say they will vote for systemic opposition candidates, and the nine or ten percent “who approve a boycott or who have already decided to take part in it.

            In the Kremlin, they equate the boycotters with Navalny supporters, and that means that if he were allowed to take part and if things changed only slightly, Aleksey Navalny would receive more votes than all the “opposition” candidates put together, a remarkable indication of the desire for change.

            And that in turn undermines what has been the chief goal of the Kremlin: that “the main anti-systemic politician will be marginalized.”  That clearly has not happened, and thus the regime is worried.  That emboldens the systemic opposition candidates and creates a situation in which the idea of a boycott has begun to “dictate” the actions of the powers that be.”

            That is, Shelin suggests, “the main surprise of the current campaign,” a surprise that the Kremlin clearly doesn’t welcome.

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