Tuesday, September 02, 2014

The Power Vertical

All Power To The Soviets! A Little Revolution Stirs In Moscow Councils

Journalism student Vera Kichanova, who won a seat in one of Moscow's district councils
Journalism student Vera Kichanova, who won a seat in one of Moscow's district councils
Fresh rumblings of dissent are erupting in the power vertical's increasingly soft underbelly.
According to recent reports in "Gazeta.ru" and "Novaya gazeta," newly elected opposition deputies in Moscow's district councils are already wreaking havoc -- blocking the election of council chairs supported by United Russia, creating alternative legislatures, and seeking to increase the power of municipal authorities.
When most eyes (and administrative resources) were focused on the March 4 presidential elections, a quiet rebellion was mounting below the decks. Opposition candidates of various stripes -- including members of the Communist Party, Yabloko, A Just Russia, and a handful of independents -- managed to win a third of the 1,500 or so district council seats in Moscow alone.
And united by the common enemy of the ruling party, they are showing an unusual inclination to cooperate with each other.
In about two dozen councils, the opposition control enough seats to block the election of a speaker and paralyze the local legislative process. In some councils, they actually hold an outright majority.
Mikhael Velmakin, a deputy in the Otrodnoe District Council, told "Novaya gazeta" that the result -- real politics -- is something that hasn't been seen in over a decade:
Over the past ten years, nothing like this has happened. The election of the chairman was strictly a formality and took ten minutes. It was conducted by open vote rather than by a secret ballot as the regulations stipulate.  Now in many districts we are trying to truly elect a chairman rather than just appointing one. Independent and opposition deputies are agreeing among themselves to do everything possible to prevent United Russia-supported chairs from being elected.
Aleksei Gusev, a member of the Cheremushky District Council, described to "Gazeta.ru" how United Russia tried -- without success -- to cajole them into supporting their preferred candidate:
We refuse to elect Yekaterina Minayeva -- who is supported by United Russia and by the city government -- as chair of the municipal council. This doesn't suit us. We have been pressured and attempts have been made to get us to agree to electing her in exchange for some vague favors in the future. But if we agree, they will clearly never take us into account again.
Opposition and independent deputies across Moscow have also decided to form a group called the Council of Deputies to coordinate their work city wide. The first item on the agenda, according to Velmakin, is to restore to the district councils some of the authority that was curtailed by city authorities back in 2002.

They currently only have authority over sports, leisure, and youth policy.
And, as "Gazeta.ru" reports, the upcoming expansion of Moscow to include parts of the surrounding region, will also entail changes in legislation governing district councils. Unlike in districts currently part of Moscow, councils in the soon-to-be-incorporated suburbs enjoy broader powers.

Legislation currently being considered in the Moscow City Duma envisions allowing them to keep their authority. If this is the case, the city will be pressured to increase the powers of councils in old Moscow districts.
The authorities were clearly caught off guard by the little revolution in the councils. But there are fears that they will soon take steps to reassert their authority before the situation gets out of control.

A number of stealth United Russia candidates -- who ran as independents -- also managed to win seats in the councils, for example.
There is also speculation that United Russia deputies may resign en masse, forcing new elections in which the authorities' administrative resources can be used more effectively.

As I have blogged here and here, the battle between the power vertical and the fledgling power horizontal has gone local. The authorities can clearly stifle this rebellion in its tracks, but in today's environment they risk a backlash by doing so.
-- Brian Whitmore

Tags: moscow,local politics

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: La Russophobe from: USA
March 22, 2012 22:12
You're late with this, and very wide of the mark. Here's the real story:

In Response

by: Mark from: Victoria, Canada
March 23, 2012 02:01
I have to go with you on this one; not only is your story better researched, it is starkly realistic. Nice work.

by: Mark from: Victoria, Canada
March 23, 2012 01:56
My, yes; that's something to shout about. Opposition deputies find themselves in a position to block legislation and paralyze local government. Gridlock!! Real western-style government!! Great God Amighty, free at last!!!

Tactics like that will certainly make the electorate sorry it did not elect an opposition government. History shows that when the potholes in the road do not get fixed because the appointment of the appropriate municipal posts cannot be executed, because an opposition figure will not allow it to come to a vote, the electorate quickly rewards such behavior. Not.

It's good to see you are doing your part by making sure everyone in the Russian electorate who speaks English knows where the fault lies. In real western-style democracies that is usually concealed for as long as possible, in the hope the electorate will blame (and punish) the government. I can't see United Russia letting that happen. Is it too early to get my money down on the opposition losing seats next time around?

by: Vakhtang from: Moscow
March 23, 2012 03:24
Sir! I advise you to look again and attentively at Mr. Putin and his team....They swallow man alive,including you,if you're a bad conduct...

If Putin has allowed people with damaged brains (look on the photo) to play a little, about what revolution, then we can talk..

Do not you think Mr.Whitmore that you are exhausted.Maybe you relax at the seaside?..
But I beg you not to rest in Abkhazia..There аbkhaz gunmen rob you and cripple...Putin recognized them for that...

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
March 23, 2012 07:03
And here we go: this is the end of the bloody regime of the cannibal Vladimir Putin that the Senator McCain has been promising (for some time already :-).

by: Idrian from: Surrey
March 24, 2012 04:50
I, for one, am looking forward to where all of this is going to. To those who might reply that all of these would go to a dead end, I could only say we haven't yet seen the end.

About This Blog

The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It covers emerging and developing trends in Russian politics, shining a spotlight on the high-stakes power struggles, machinations, and clashing interests that shape Kremlin policy today. Check out The Power Vertical Facebook page or

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