Small success for Russian opposition in unfair local and regional elections

Thu 14 Sep 2017

Small success for Russian opposition in unfair local and regional elections

On 10 September, Russian citizens went to the polls to cast their vote on their favourite candidate. In sixteen regions a new governor was elected. All governors who held office and all elected candidates are member of President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia (ER). In six regions new parliaments were elected. Special elections were in the Leningrad and Bryansk regions for single-mandate seats in the federal State Duma. Municipal council elections took place in Moscow and the Altai Territory. In Moscow, the Russian opposition had some success.

In the build-up to the elections, opposition parties were united in a liberal front, including Yabloko, the People’s Freedom Party (PARNAS) and several independent candidates, in order to combat Putin’s dominating ER. Former State Duma Deputy Dmitry Gudkov, leader of the liberal opposition, won 250 of the 1502 seats in the capital’s district councils (125 in total). The coalition became second overall after ER. In 10 municipal councils the ‘United Democrats’, including independent individuals from the Communist Party, won majorities. The liberal party Yabloko announced it won 180 seats in 61 districts across Russia. Kremlin-backed political parties lost some seats. "There has been a revolution in [the voter's] mind (…) A demand for serious change has appeared", he said. The gain is a little electoral success for the Russian opposition in a country where the ER have a say both in politics and media. Vitaly Shkliarov, Gudkov’s advisor in the campaign, said the success was partly due to the adding of young activists onto the ballot. "For Russia, this is an unheard-of way of challenging the government". Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, said the results in Moscow were "excellent".

Complaints mainly from Moscow
Although the opposition had some success, the elections did not passed by without incidents, including accusations by the Russian opposition leaders of deliberately trying to keep down the turnout. Before the elections even began, coverage of the elections by the media was deliberately reduced in Moscow. A top official in the Novo-Peredelkino (Moscow) district was seen bribing elections monitors on a YouTube-video before polling day, getting the attention of ten thousands. On social media people were complaining polling stations were difficult to find. ‘’Where I live, and in many other Moscow homes, there was no information about the location of polling stations’’, said human rights ombudswoman Tatyana Moskalkova. In Moscow, two activists were arrested for dressing as reindeer and lobster, and holding signs with ‘Fair Elections’ and ‘Everyone’s screwed’. Some people were coerced  to vote for a particular candidate. At least two instances of ballot-stuffing occured in North Ossetia. The social movement Rossiya Vybirayet (Russia Chooses) observed attempts to buy votes in Yaroslavl’s municipal elections.

The election-monitoring NGO Golos reported 700 violations across the country, mainly from Moscow, however. Central Elections Commission’s press spokeswoman Maya Grishina said the commission had not received any reports of violations which could have influence the results. According to some opposition leaders and media, all these actions were deliberately set up to downplay the elections in order to keep down the turnout. The voter turnout was indeed low compared to parliamentary elections. In Moscow, the turnout was around 15 per cent.

Next year: mayoral and presidential elections
The local and regional elections this weekend are six months before the presidential elections. Mayoral elections will also be held in Moscow next year. For a candidate to make it on the ballot, he needs the support of at least one municipal duty in at least 110 out of 125 districts. The municipal filter requirement has been criticized by mainly opposition parties. Yabloko’s press office said the results allow the party to enter the mayoral race. Both Sergey Mitrokhin, head of the Moscow branch, and Gudkov have stated they have intentions to apply as candidate. ‘’The campaign is not over,’’ said Skhliarov. "From today, we're going to define the next step to get the election rules changed and to run for mayor’’. The first step in challenging Moscow’s mayor alongside Putin has been set.

Sources: The Moscow Times RadioFreeEurope Meduza