How should Russia's so-called non-systemic opposition approach the December State Duma elections, which they will not have the opportunity to contest?
Should they encourage their supporters to just boycott it? Or spoil their ballot papers in symbolic protest?
In a commentary earlier this week in "Vedomosti
," Vladimir Milov, leader of the Russia's Democratic Choice movement, took a stab at this question. Unlike many in the opposition, Milov believes that "despite the widespread opinion that 'the result is predetermined,' this is by no means the case. For the first time in a long while there is a chance of exerting a real influence on changing the situation in the country through elections."
The reason for Milov's surprising optimism is the unprecedented weakness of the ruling United Russia party's standing with the electorate, which has dropped so low that even falsification will not save the two-thirds majority that allows it to act unilaterally:
There is no hope of these elections being honest, of course; the real opposition is not being allowed to participate. But there is also good news. The polls are recording a record decline in the United Russia rating, and even pro-Kremlin centers for the study of public opinion are predicting that it will lose its constitutional majority. And independent experts are convincingly proving with figures at their fingertips that the scale of possible fraud will not exceed the demand for a protest vote.
And should United Russia lose its constitutional majority, even if -- as is highly likely -- it maintains its simple majority, Milov argues that this would be a cataclysmic event that would send tremors through the body politic:
We will see many new things -- coaches will begin to turn into pumpkins in the blink of an eye. A poor United Russia showing will have a fundamental impact on the political situation. The party of power's vote percentage has long been the main indicator of the political temperature in Russia. But just imagine: Three months before the presidential elections, Vladimir Putin's main political project has received a slap in the face. The authorities are very well aware that United Russia is today their weakest link. Putin's current political galvanization is linked precisely with this, with a desire to pull the drowning behemoth out of the mire -- in no way with presidential plans for 2012.
And Milov's suggestion about how opposition minded voters should approach the election?
Voting for any viable party apart from United Russia is an idea that could rally the most diverse responsible political and civil forces this fall. It is not necessary to choose anyone in particular, but we are not in a 24-hour supermarket; from the viewpoint of the state of the political system we are, rather, in a late-1980s Soviet food store with empty shelves.
If Milov is correct that United Russia's true poll numbers are in a ditch(which I suspect that he is) and that falsification can't pull them out (which I'm less sure about), then such a strategy, if the opposition is disciplined enough to follow it, could produce interesting results indeed.
And the wider implications of a weak United Russia? They are already evident from the rise of Mikhail Prokhorov's Right Cause
to the formation of Vladimir Putin's Popular Front.
And as I blogged
" cited a Kremlin official as saying that having Medvedev as the ruling elite's presidential candidate could boost United Russia's vote total by as much as 10 percent because it could give the party both his and Putin's natural electorate. (I'm not sure if this is actually true, but what is significant is that at least some members of the elite seem to believe it.)
Medvedev of course will address the United Russia congress on September 23-24 and is widely expected to make an announcement about his 2012 plans. The headline for a story today in "Nezavisimaya gazeta
" about a possible second term for Medvedev reads: Apparently They Have Begun To Reach An Agreement."
The hot autumn everybody has been forecasting has apparently begun.
-- Brian Whitmore
NOTE TO READERS:
I will be taking a much needed vacation for the next two weeks and will be posting very lightly. The Power Vertical will return in earnest on September 19, just as things heat up. Have a nice weekend everybody!