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Experts see regional elections in Russia as referendum on support for government

September 09, 2014, 16:40 UTC+3 Zamyatina Tamara
© ITAR-TASS/Yevgeny Kurskov

MOSCOW, September 09. /ITAR-TASS/. Regional elections across Russia scheduled for September 14, will be a political test for the government, given difficult geopolitical circumstances that face the country.

“Elections will be an indirect referendum on the domestic and foreign policy of Russia's leadership,” director of the Institute for Political Studies Sergei Markov told ITAR-TASS.

Heads of 30 of 85 Russian regions are to be elected alongside new parliaments in 14 regions. Russia’s new entity, Crimea, will hold elections for the first State Council. Local elections will be held in practically all regions of the country, with 50 million Russian nationals expected to cast their vote.

“Regional elections are important for Russia as they form еру state authorities in federal subjects and legitimiяe these authorities,” said Markov, a member of the Civic Chamber. He believes the government in place has nothing to worry about, “Consolidation of society around Putin and the parliamentary parties actively supporting the president is higher than ever before.”

Patriotic mood has been visibly on the rise and Vladimir Putin’s rating has reached an unprecedented 87% after Crimea’s accession to Russia on March 18, according to an opinion poll carried out in August by Levada-Center, an independent, non-governmental polling and sociological research organization.

But the rating of the ruling United Russia Party is trailing behind, at 56%, according to the WCIOM All-Russia Public Opinion Research Center. The party must achieve at least this percentage at the elections to save face.

Apart from United Russia, voters are aware of the parties of systemic opposition such as the Communist Party of Russia, A Just Russia Party and the Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR). Among liberal opposition parties, sounding familiar are Yabloko with its 20-year political standing and a comparatively young party, Civic Platform, set up by tycoon Mikhail Prokhorov. Candidates of most of the other parties, including the Party of Gardeners, have few chances to qualify.

The election campaign has not been marked by political activity among its participants. Despite several traditional scandals around the removal of some candidates, there have been no protest meetings in any of the regions. Central Election Commission chairman Vladimir Churov said it had received only 650 complaints.

According to Levada-Center, only 7% of polled Russian nationals expressed readiness to take part in protest actions. The director general of Levada-Center, Lev Gudkov, said the recent polls had shown the lowest-ever figures of protest activity. He believes this demonstrates a general weakening of the opposition against the background of consolidation of society amid the crisis in Ukraine.

“A plunge in protest activity is caused by sharp growth in protective moods in society in connection with bloodshed in Ukraine. People say straightforwardly to us, political analysts, that they have a lot of claims on the authorities as to the housing and utilities sector, healthcare and pensions but they support the regime as it protects them against violence like that taking place in Ukraine,” deputy director of the Center for Political Technologies Alexei Makarkin told ITAR-TASS. “At the September 14 elections, voters will support the government on a massive scale, including at the Moscow city Duma election. This is the reality,” the expert said.

“On the other hand, economic factors at the moment are not playing into the hands of the authorities. Economic expectations went down in August. After anti-Russian sanctions had been imposed and Moscow retaliated, inflation grew and people immediately felt it,” Levada's Gudkov told Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily.

But as long as regional authorities are not responsible for the economic welfare of the population (is is the prerogative of the federal center), observers don’t expect massive protest voting at the elections. But what is dangerous is citizens’ indifference to politics, which entails a low voter turnout that may challenge the legitimacy of the elections. In order to bring more people to the polling stations, the Russian Civic Chamber supported LDPR leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky by initiating fines for failure to turn up.

Experts believe it is erroneous to hold regional elections in early autumn when the active part of voters - pensioners and working people - enjoy Indian summer weekends at their country houses (dachas). “Dachas are the main enemy of the elections,” Political Technologies' Makarkin says.

“One more specific feature of the regional elections is that candidates from opposition parties are not fighting to defeat the acting governor but just seek to come second and get certain political dividends from the winners,” the political analyst believes.

According to his forecast, all 30 incumbent heads of the regions where elections are taking place will retain their seats. “The only intrigue is that runoffs may be needed in three or four regions. For example in the (Far Eastern) Krasnoyarsk region, where the recently appointed acting Governor Viktor Tolokonsky is a newcomer, unfamiliar to local voters. Nothing is threatening the positions of such renowned people as St. Petersburg Governor Georgy Poltavchenko and the head of the (Volga River) Nizny Novgorod region, Valery Shantsev,” he said.

“There won’t be major protest actions against the election results. The parliamentary opposition acts in accordance with coordinated rules and within consensus with the government. There is nobody else to organize protest action,” Makarkin said.

“September 14 elections will be a catastrophe for the liberal opposition, which will destruct itself. The rating of those political forces that did not support Crimea’s accession to Russia has simply collapsed. The opposition will call no protest actions on the election results, as noone will go,” Political Studies' Markov believes.


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