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Regional elections signal return of real competition to Russian politics

September 09, 2013, 18:41 UTC+3 Zamyatina Tamara

MOSCOW, September 9 (Itar-Tass) - Importance of regional and local elections that were held Sunday, September 8 in eighty regions of Russia has reached out far beyond the scope of local developments. Experts say the elections have signaled a return of real competition to practical politics and particularly in Moscow City, although far from all the regions were as brave as the capital.

Another noteworthy fact is a much smaller number of infringements on the electoral procedures compared with the parliamentary election in 2011 and the presidential election in 2012. It was those infringements that brought a broad protest movement to life then.

September 8, 2013, the Russians elected regional governors, city mayors, as well as deputies of regional legislatures and agencies of local self-government. The most resounding effect was produced by the election of Moscow Mayor - the first direct election for the mayor’s office in ten years. Sergei Sobyanin, a representative of the United Russia Party who acted as a self-nominee in the election received 51% votes. The second place was taken by the oppositionist Aleksey Navalny, who received 27% votes.

Experts say Navalny’s success is explained for to no small a degree by a low enough turnout of voters at the polling stations - 32%. On the face of it, Navalny’s supporters fully mobilized his electorate while Sobyanin’s associates failed to do the same.

All the same, Sobyanin who had taken some steps to get his main contender into a competition for the office, was apparently satisfied with the results of voting, as the electoral victory in the conditions of a real competition will raise his legitimacy in the eyes of the population. “Any quantity of votes earned decently and received decently means much more than any big percentage,” Sobyanin said, calling his result “a very good figure”.

Representatives of the United Russia Party won the governors’ elections in most Russian regions. There were some exceptions, though, and one of them occurred in Yekaterinburg, the capital of the Sverdlovsk region, which is the industrialized heartland of the Urals. The mayor’s election there was won by Yevgeny Roizman, a nominee of the Civic Platform party led by businessman Mikhail Prokhorov. Sverdlovsk region Vice-Governor Yakov Silin, who had been nominated by the United Russia Party, got to the second position.

Experts of the Committee for Civil Initiatives, whose opinion is cited by the Vedomosti daily, believe that phenomena of variegated nature took place in Russia on Sunday. While genuine elections involving competition among candidates who had their own programs and ideas took place in Moscow, Yekaterinburg and Buryatia. In other places, the Election Day was marked off by the framework of admissible results.

There will be no runoff election in Moscow, although Aleksey Navalny claims that the results of voting were partly falsified and there should be a runoff, in fact. Monday night, Navalny’s supporters are gathering for an authorized public action on Bolotnaya Square, within less than a mile from the Kremlin.

In the meantime, observers and election commissions claim that elections in Moscow were held without serious infringements in contrast to the previous election campaigns. Candidates themselves, too, pointed out the absence of mass violations during Sunday’s voting.

Boris Makarenko, First Deputy Director of the Center for Political Technologies said in an interview with Itar-Tass: “Moscow and Russia do have an ability to hold free and fair elections.” He believes that the Sunday election in Moscow was more transparent than in other parts of Russia.

Why then the authorities did not hold fair elections in the past, Makarenko asked rhetorically and answered his own question: “Until dozens of thousands of Muscovites said ‘no’ to electoral falsifications in 2011 the government didn’t take account of public opinion on the issue.”

Along with it, he believes that “the progress of the election campaign was not at all exemplary,” Makarenko said.

An important result of this election is the arrival at politics of the forces that were isolated for a long time, the formation of new political alliances, which may occupy certain political niches, Mikhail Remizov, the President of the Institute of National Strategy told Itar-Tass.

He singled out another moment, which is “the orientation of the powers that be at a reduction of the use of administrative resources and a reduction of the oppositionist pressure through legal mechanisms.”

“Moscow became the showcase of transparent elections, although far from everything was as transparent in other places,” Remizov said.

He believes the authorities have recognized the importance of winning at elections through reliance on the rapport with voters and on political resources rather than on the administrative ones.

“The officials in Moscow have realized that the ones who make a ploy of the administrative resources in one locality or another are squandering the regime’s political capital for their own petty purposes,” Remizov thinks.

“The very fact of holding an election of the mayor in Moscow after a break of ten years is the main result of voting on September 8,” says Igor Mintusov, the director of the Nikkolo M Center for Political Consulting. As he spoke to Itar-Tass he recalled an initiative that Vladimir Putin put forward in 2001. It was to amend the Constitution in a manner that would lift the direct elections of regional governors. In 2011, the then President, Dmitry Medvedev issued a decree allowing the regions to hold direct elections upon their own reckoning.

“Credit for (a return of) direct elections of the heads of constituent regions goes to the opposition, in the first place, the citizens who occupied Bolotnaya Ploshchad in Moscow in December 2011 and expressed their disdain with the results of election to the State Duma,” Mintusov said.

“Politics is returning to Russia’s everyday reality, albeit slowly,” he said. “Russia made two steps back in 2001 when the direct elections were lifted but as for September 8, 2013, it made a leap forward.”