Though they have received little attention in the Western media, regional and local elections took place across Russia on Sunday.
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 of PARNAS, the liberal party of Navalny, Kasyanov and of the late Boris Nemtsov. where it only managed to win 2% of the vote, in some respects distorts the picture. 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 Kostroma, was obliged to admit widespread support for United Russia there.
Given that this is so, it is baffling that in his report he continues to give 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 BBCdid in its report of the elections.
Russia’s real opposition parties are not the liberal parties, but the three parties (the Communist Party, the misnamed Liberal Democratic Party of Vladimir Zhirinovsky, and the social democratic A Just Russia) that Russians typically vote for when they vote for their parliament.
Politics do exist in Russia. In Kemerovo turnout on Sunday was over 80%, and in one gubernational election there will be a run-off. It’s just that the liberals aren’t part of them.