The victory of Sergei Sobyanin at the early Moscow mayoral elections, which the Russian authorities call “the most competitive,” did not become a sensation or a surprise. Way back during the election campaign, Sobyanin, a Kremlin protege, was tipped to win 60 percent of the votes in the first round. There was a minor mistake – 51.37 percent of the voters supported the acting mayor of Moscow.
His closest rival, lawyer and blogger Alexei Navalny, who ran on the RPR-PARNAS ticket, secured 27.24 percent of the votes. This result rules out a runoff which Navalny’s election team pinned their hopes on. Yet Moscow journalist Aleksandr Timofeevsky notes on his Facebook page: “It is Sobyanin, not at all Navalny, who should be interested in the second round. The 51 percent which the acting mayor has barely garnered is not much of a result. The guys don’t understand. Sobyanin went bust as low as he could, and if the election ends now, this will mean he was elected by a tiny margin.” According to the Moscow City Election Commission, the turnout in the Moscow mayor elections was a low 32.07 percent.
In addition to Moscow, several regions also elected their governors. Yet observers and experts focus their attention on the Moscow elections – the first in the past 10 years. Before that, Moscow had been run for 18 years by Yury Luzhkov who gave way to Sobyanin in 2010 “in connection with the loss of the president’s confidence.”
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin told the press on the day of voting that Moscow needs a professionally-minded mayor. “We need businesslike, concrete, I would even say depoliticized and technologically-minded people who know how to work and what to do, and can assume responsibility. And a very important quality for a person who holds this office is a goodhearted attitude to people. One must feel people and be always concerned with the solution of problems. One must love people,” the president pointed out.
Sobyanin kept a low profile during the election race, dodging radio and TV debates with the other candidates. But what really caused a stir was his withdrawal from the ruling party United Russia and the decision to run for mayor as a self-nominee.
The Day requested Russian journalist Semen NOVOPRUDSKY to comment on the results of the Moscow mayoral election.
“It is quite obvious that it is, above all, the Kremlin that needed this election for a certain purpose. The president’s team thus tried – on the example of Moscow – to quell all protests for the next five years of Putin’s term. It was important to prove that the opposition is unable to show force even in Moscow, admittedly the center of protests.
“Moscow has come up with a remarkable definition of these elections: they were ‘competitive but not fair.’ The chief method of rigging elections in Russia is the final count of votes, in which observers do not take part, and the so-called stay-at-home vote. The Moscow election, which may have been fairer than the ones Luzhkov had held, saw a record percentage (about seven percent) of people who voted at home. These are usually old people who vote, as a rule, for a government-backed candidate.
“It also looks very strange that the vote count was announced completed well in advance. Many observers, including those from Navalny’s team, said they were only checking the vote count records at the time.
“Many were saying that the very fact of calling an early election was an attempt to make Sobyanin the ‘heir.’ But his voting result in fact contradicts this version. The elections showed that he is not a very popular politician.
“The percentage that Sobyanin gained and the way these results were announced raise doubts about a fair vote. In addition, what caused an all-time low turnout was the fact that there was no total mobilization of people, as before, when the military and public-sector employees were bussed in droves [to polling stations]. This distinguishes this election from the previous ones.”
What do you think caused a low turnout?
“On the whole, the turnout in the September 8 elections proved to be lower than expected everywhere in Russia. And the number of voters should arouse concern among the government rather than among the opposition. The main factor is that a part of the populace considers September 8 the day when the summer season is still in full swing. People preferred to go to their dachas. But, as far as Muscovites are concerned, this percentage is a clear sign that people are disappointed with politics and politicians.”
What trends in these elections should arouse the Kremlin’s concern?
“The government lost elections in Yekaterinburg, one of Russia’s largest cities. Yevgeny Roizman has already written that he received congratulations from the city’s electoral commission. Earlier, he had been officially declared enemy of the president’s administration and obstacles were put on his way.
“Secondly, Sobyanin, who headed United Russia’s regional branch as recently as six months ago, has ceased to do so and took part in the Moscow early elections as a self-nominee. The Kremlin can no longer rely on United Russia as a party that wields power all over Russia and particularly in Moscow.
“It would be a gross exaggeration to say that the government won these elections. After these elections, Putin will not feel safer than he did before them. The early elections in Moscow city and region did not stabilize the situation in the country or finally solve the problem of power.”
Can we assume that Navalny will be harassed again after the elections?
“We can only say for sure that the Kremlin has no well-thought-out strategic plan of actions. Navalny may not necessarily be put behind bars but given a suspended sentence, in which case he will not be entitled to run for the presidency. For, under the current law, even a suspended conviction rules out participation in elections.
“This setup precludes any actions that are favorable for the authorities. What is going on in Russia obviously shows that people are tired of the authorities.
“The main problem is not so much in the growth of opposition activities or the protest mood as in a steeply deteriorating economic situation in Russia. In terms of the economy, Russia is now going through its worst years in the whole period of Putin’s presidency, excluding a brief crisis in late 2008-early 2009.”
And who do you think would be better for Moscow – the Soviet-minded Sobyanin or the young nationalist Navalny?
“From the angle of the city economy, nobody knows what Navalny is capable of. One can only imagine what kind of a mayor he would make. He waged a political campaign – perhaps to escape from being put behind bars. He sincerely believes that a high percentage of support is a guarantee that he won’t have to do time. On the other hand, he campaigned to become a federal-scale politician. He just used the Moscow mayor election as a political steppingstone. Sobyanin may have also used this election [for his own purposes]. It is no secret that he was extremely reluctant to be the mayor of Moscow. He has far more serious ambitions, and he used to hold offices that are higher than that of Moscow mayor. What Sobyanin has been doing in Moscow, in terms of management, transparency, and honesty, does not differ much from what Luzhkov did. Unfortunately, city economy problems were not high on this campaign’s agenda at all. Paradoxically, candidates for Moscow mayor did not care much about Moscow and its economy. Moscow was a political symbol of Russia for them. When Putin was voting, he said the mayor should be a person who loves his job. It is not bad if a person sincerely loves the city and is doing his best to manage it on the basis of common sense. The trouble is that Sobyanin undoubtedly does not love Moscow. For him, it is quite an alien city.”