Russia: regional elections in a delicate climate for the Kremlin

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Between the rise of a climate of protest, a sling in the Far East, an economic crisis and the alleged poisoning of the opponent Alexeï Navalny, the local elections in Russia from Friday onwards will be more difficult than usual for the Kremlin Party.

In 41 regions, the Russians are called upon to elect 20 governors, regional or municipal assemblies as well as four deputies of Parliament.

The vote takes place from Friday to Sunday to limit the risks of the spread of the coronavirus, but opponents fear this will facilitate fraud.

Usually, these local elections arouse little interest, as the stranglehold of Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party seems inevitable over the overwhelming majority of regions.

But some races can end in snub to the Kremlin electoral machine.

“Totally in crisis”

Faced with economic problems accentuated by the pandemic and a reputation for clientelism, training is in decline in the polls, one year before the Russian legislative elections.

Added to this is the path traced by the city of Khabarovsk (Far East). Elections are not planned there, but for two months Moscow has not been able to curb major demonstrations denouncing the arrest of the regional governor elected two years earlier against a favorite of the Kremlin.

“This party (United Russia) is totally in crisis and is not proposing the slightest new idea,” said political scientist Alexandre Kynev.

According to him, he therefore relies on a low general voter turnout, while maximizing that of officials who may be forced to vote in favor of power.

The Kremlin would also have favored the emergence of four parties “spoilers” founded to “divide the vote” protest, according to Mr. Kynev.

The opposition wants to take advantage of the context to score points, particularly in remote regions where there is mistrust of Moscow, suspected of being interested only in the natural resources of the periphery.

Alexeï Navalny, an alleged victim of poisoning in August, was also in the campaign at that time in Siberia.

He was filming two investigations into the corruption of the elites in Tomsk and Novosibirsk, and had come to support candidates hired in these cities.

The Novosibirsk region and its eponymous capital are emblematic of the current regional elections.

Suspense in Novosibirsk

“Usually the ballots are decided in advance. But not this time and I love it! ”Enthuses Sergei Boïko.

At 37, this well-known political figure in Novosibirsk, the third city of the country, united the opposition to counter United Russia and the Communist Party, associated formations to share power in the city and its region.

The “Novosibirsk 2020” coalition presents around thirty candidates for deputation to the municipal assembly, and during the campaign, it was able to count on the volunteers and activists of the Anti-Corruption Fund of Alexey Navalny.

The opponent’s organization also published a survey just before the elections into how loyal members of parliament and officials profit from public procurement.

Mr. Boïko, a businessman who stopped everything in 2015 to get into politics, hopes that another factor plays in his favor: “There is historically a stronger freedom in Siberia, far from power and from Moscow. “.

But these ambitions are not without danger. Members of his alliance have been assaulted and an attack has targeted his campaign headquarters.

A representative of Mr. Navalny was beaten up by strangers in Chelyabinsk, between the Urals and Siberia.

Not enough to give up Khelga Pirogova, 31, member of “Novosibirsk 2020”. She hopes for a victory which will be “a model for all of Russia”.

These opponents aspire to form a group in the municipal assembly to be able to influence through a program focused on access to transport and ecology in this highly polluted city and exposed to the disastrous consequences of climate change for Siberia.

“They say that everything is bad, they are against the snow in winter and the rain in summer,” sweeps Renat Souleïmanov, 54, a communist veteran that Mr Boïko faces in his constituency.

For him, it is “impossible” that opponents united in “an alliance of circumstance” can put in difficulty the power in place.

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