In Digest, Russia

Face it: Liberals in Russia are just a fringe

By Alexander Mercouris, Russia Insider, Sept 18, 2015

Though they have received little attention in the Western media, regional and local elections took place across Russia on September 13. Voters in 83 of 85 Russian regions cast ballots variously for governors and regional and municipal parliaments.

Regional elections took place in Russia on Sept 13, 2015

Regional elections took place in Russia on Sept 13, 2015

The elections were the first test of the government’s popularity since last December’s ruble crisis and since the start of the recession this year. Turnout appears to have risen, and with few complaints of irregularities, there is no reason to think that the elections do not provide a fair gauge of the state of the government’s support.

In the event, the results were very much in line with the opinion polls, showing that support for the government and for its party, United Russia, remains firm.

Of the three main opposition parties, the Communist Party once again confirmed that it is by some distance the strongest. There is no reason to think this will change any time soon, which means that the Communist Party will once again be United Russia’s main opponent in the parliamentary elections next year.

The single most interesting aspect of the elections was however the failure of the non-parliamentary “liberal” parties, even in central Russian regions where they once might have been expected to do well.

The heavy focus on the disastrous showing in Kostroma [west central Russia] of PARNAS, the liberal party of Alexei Navalny, Maikhail Kasyanov and the late Boris Nemtsov, in some respects distorts the picture. In Kostrama, PARNAS won only two per cent of the vote. Of much greater importance is that the far bigger and much older ‘establishment’ liberal party, Yabloko, which in the 1990s was considered a major political force, also did poorly across the board.

In aggregate, all the liberal parties taken together failed to poll more than single figures.

Whether one likes the fact or not, liberal parties are not a significant element in modern Russian society or political life. Even The Guardian’s Alec Luhn, wandering around the region of Kostroma, was obliged to admit widespread support for United Russia there. And given that this is so, it is baffling that in his report he gave so much emphasis to the doings of PARNAS, which on the basis of its results is quite obviously not a real political party at all but just a fringe protest group.

Certainly there is no justification for referring to the liberal parties as Russia’s “main opposition forces” as the BBC did in its report of the elections.

Russia’s real opposition parties are not the liberal parties but the three parties that Russians typically vote for when they vote for their parliament–the Communist Party, the misnamed Liberal Democratic Party of Vladimir Zhirinovsky, and the social-democratic A Just Russia.

Politics do exist in Russia.  In Kemerovo, turnout on Sunday was over 80 per cent, and in one gubernational election there will be a runoff.  It’s just that the liberals aren’t part of them.

[The web page of the Central Electoral Commission of the Russian Federation is here.]

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