Monday, September 28, 2020

Tomsk Set to Become ‘New Capital of Russian Opposition,’ Polorotov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 27 – Two weeks ago, as a result of “intelligent voting,” the residents of the Siberian city of Tomsk deprived United Russia of its majority in the city duma, setting the stage for political struggles there that could lead the city to become “the new capital of the Russian opposition,” the next Khabarovsk, Aleksey Polorotov says.

            “The elections have passed, but political in Tomsk is only beginning,” the Daily Storm journalist observes. The new duma needs to elect a chairman and it needs to come up with a budget. No party in contrast to the past can determine the results of either (

            That sets the stage for negotiations about coalitions or, in the cases of parties that don’t want to enter into them, deadlock, with either outcome having the potential to destabilize the situation by increasing uncertainty into what will happen in Tomsk and what will happen more generally in next year’s State Duma elections.

            According to Polorotov, the deputies will likely agree on some compromise candidate for the speakership; but they are more likely to remain divided on the budget. The compromise in the first case will cast a shadow on the second, not only by highlighting the next importance of opposition parties but also the importance of the votes of individual Russians.

            In the past, the journalist says, most Tomsk residents did not think their votes would matter very much. The party of power would win regardless, and so they did not think much about politics. But now it is obvious that how they voted will drive much of the decision making in the coming months or even years – the city Duma has a five-year term.

            Several things worked against United Russia, Polotorov says. It counted on officials and bureaucrats to carry the day; but they clearly did not vote in the numbers for the party that party leaders had expected. The opposition parties were much more active during the campaign. And the New People Party, that United Russia had organized, took many votes away from it.

            Many people expected New People to simply ally itself with United Russia, but that looks like a mistake because to make NP effective, the organizers had to reach out to people with their own independent reputations – and they are less likely to fall in line with what United Russia wants than many had expected.

            That gives an opening to other parties and opens the door to real politics at all stages in the city duma’s deliberations. Moreover, the strategies that worked for the opposition across the board are likely to be continued in the State Duma vote, and those that failed for United Russia are going to have to be adjusted, possibly by changes in the leadership.

            In addition to intelligent voting, the opposition is convinced that it did better because it fielded 150 poll observers which made falsification of results more difficult. It seems likely that this success too will play into the strategies of opposition groups of various kinds next year, Polotorov continues.

            But because those changes are more likely to be orchestrated from above rather than from below, they could easily backfire on the ruling party, highlighting the fact that it is simply a tool in the hands of the powers that be in Moscow rather than a force reflecting the views of the residents of Tomsk.

            At present, many in United Russia are inclined to view the Tomsk results as a one-time thing. They point to the anger about the Navalny poisoning and the fact that just before the election, a film he made about corruption in Tomsk was shown on regional television. That may explain some of the results but hardly all of them.

            Consequently, what is happening in Tomsk may set the stage for real politics not only there but elsewhere and not only in local elections but in the federal ones as well. To the extent that is the case, Tomsk may truly become “the new capital of the Russian opposition” right alongside Khabarovsk.         


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