Staunton, September 12 – The Kremlin’s effort to keep opposition figures and parties from competing in elections at all levels has played an evil joke on the regime, Andrey Pertsev says. Now that Russians are prevented from voting for specific opposition figures and parties, many of them are voting against the regime, thereby intensifying anti-Kremlin attitudes.
Sunday’s election were the first in which the regime had largely eliminated strong opposition figures from the balloting. Thus, votes against candidates preferred by the center were protest votes, making the need for second rounds and even defeats more painful, the Moscow journalist says ( reposted at ).
Moreover, the Kommersant writer says, the preferred candidates do not appear to have been helped even by meetings with Vladimir Putin, who met with and voiced his support for all four gubernatorial candidates who now face the indignity of a second round against weaker and less-well-known candidates.
“It is one thing to lose – and the second round for a candidate from the powers is a defeat – in a hard, competitive struggle,” Pertsev continues; “and quite another not to obtain the necessary result in a maximally comfortable situation which you yourself arranged.”
The campaigns in the regions showed a problem that the powers that be face there and in Moscow as well: “the power vertical is fighting already not with particular opponents but with citizens who are inclined to protest.” Russians will vote for anyone, even the most marginal, as long as he or she is not associated with the powers that be.
Earlier, Pertsev says, regional officials had “a simple task – not to allow the victory of opposition candidates, even if they were completely systemic and loyal to the federal but not to the local authorities.” “Now, this rule no longer applies.” Instead, the regional heads must arrange things so that people do not feel they have a choice but to vote for the party of power.
But the pursuit of that goal when the population is angry as it now is about pensions, the decline in the standard of living and rising taxes can backfire: Now Russians can be “pure “protest voters,” people who will vote for anybody but candidates approved by Moscow because they have been deprived of the chance to vote for any particular opposition figure or party.
This development creates a serious problem for the powers that be, Pertsev says. “If in gubernatorial elections, a strong opposition figure who is completely part of the system wins out, that is unpleasant for the vertical, but it isn’t a death blow. The system will work.” But if someone from the outside comes in, the system can’t effectively function.
Another problem from this arises at the level of legislatures. There is now a chance for coalitions of systemic opposition figures “where United Russia figures were not able to achieve a majority.” And that means, the journalist says, that “politician may be able to learn to agree among themselves and not with the powers that be.”
In sum, Pertsev says, “by cleansing and simplifying the political field to the maximum extent possible, the center has led the country to a situation in which this simplicity has begun to break down. Instead of alternative structures, the authorities are now encountering chaotic protest.”
And “fighting that with ordinary methods won’t work: instead, it will only multiply the chaos” the regime will have to face.