Tuesday, March 26, 2019

As Opposition Wins Mount, Russians Increasingly Believe Their Votes Matter, Analysts Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 26 -- With every victory of opposition figures at the municipal or regional level, the most recent being that of a 28-year-old homemaker in Ust-Ilimsk, Russian experts say, ever more Russians especially outside of major cities like Moscow are realizing that their votes matter and that voting can be both an effective and safe means of dissent.

            Aleksandr Zhelenin of the Rosbalt news agency surveyed three Moscow experts as to the meaning of the recent victories by opposition candidates in municipalities and regions and asked them whether the votes for the opposition reflected a sea change in Russian attitudes about voting or simply was the product of local conditions (rosbalt.ru/russia/2019/03/26/1771855.html).

            Aleksey Makarkin, vice president of the Moscow Center for Political Technologies, said that at present, it is more appropriate to speak about particular failures rather than a country-wide change. Popular unhappiness with the regime is “far from always” translated into negative voting. Indeed, it may lead first of all to people not showing up to vote at all.

            Actual voting for an opposition figure, at least as of now, requires a conjunction of circumstances, he suggests, including an attractive opposition figure and obvious failings and shortcomings of the local representative of the party of power. Consequently, votes against the latter should not be read most of the time as a negative referendum on the powers that be.

            Konstantin Kalachev, head of the Moscow Political Experts Group, agreed; but he said it is becoming easier for Russians to vote against the party of power because of declining ratings for top officials and, in many cases, of regional and municipal leaders of United Russia as well. Many of the “no” votes are a reflection of “a crisis of the system of administration locally.”

                According to Kalachev, there are in present-day Russia “two means of expressing one’s protest” – taking part in demonstrations which is in fact dangerous and voting against representatives of the powers that be. “Elections are again becoming an instrument for the channeling of protest as people understand that something depends on their votes.”

            And Moscow political analyst Dmitry Oreshkin added that these defeats reflect the fact that “the entire [political] organism is sick and its immunity is weakened,” the result of 20 years of attacks on elections and voting as significant actions and a development that has led to the degradation of society.

            The response of Russians to this trend is often the product of where they live. In major cities, people simply don’t take part in elections anymore. But in smaller cities and rural regions, people still feel compelled to vote but vote “no.”   Consequently, it is there that the opposition has made the largest number of breakthroughs.   

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