UNITED STATES, WASHINGTON (OBSERVATORY) — On September 8, Russians go to vote in municipal and regional elections – and the authorities are afraid. No, not the interference of any foreign power – Russia has not seen fair elections for decades – but of its own people and opposition candidates, who are much more popular than the regime’s proteges.
Moscow has the same set of tricks and tricks: for example, the elections were moved from December to early September, so that applicants had less time to prepare because of the summer holidays. However, new tricks came into play: the election system was flooded with false candidates, and the loyal subjects of the party members were launched under the guise of independents.
In the elections of this year, a new mobile digital voting system will be launched for the first time, which will allow voters to cast their vote anywhere. Critics believe this is another ploy to help the authorities.
Not wishing to rely on the will of chance, the Moscow election commission found far-fetched reasons to exclude all unapproved candidates from participating. And in order to instill fear in them, their apartments were searched, and they themselves were detained and subjected to night interrogations at the headquarters of the Moscow police.
But none of this worked: since July 28, in protest of the decisions of the election commission, thousands of people took to the streets. The authorities put forward superior police forces against them, both federal and local. Most opposition leaders and nearly 1,400 demonstrators were detained.
Two weeks later, when the Moscow authorities nevertheless allowed the rally to be held, about 60,000 people took to the streets – and this despite all the warnings and intimidation. Despite the fact that the rally was officially authorized, the police used force to disperse the demonstrators and arrested hundreds of people. Since then, all opposition requests for rallies have been denied.
The Kremlin’s message is clear: there will be neither large-scale protests, as in Hong Kong, nor fair elections, as in Istanbul, when the opposition won. And to achieve this, the Kremlin is determined to use even more power. There is nothing to be surprised at. This is the natural evolution of the autocracy – when the whole community slowly rebels against the regime, it remains only brute force.
In any case, the decline of Putinism is undeniable. The May opinion poll of VTsIOM witnessed it most clearly – it showed that the level of public confidence in President Vladimir Putin fell to 25%. The Kremlin, accustomed to relying on the center’s data, was furious and demanded a new poll. A few days later, it turned out that 72% of Russians trust the president. The Kremlin calmed down, and at VTsIOM they promised to “work on a methodology.”
In June, the broadcast of Putin’s annual direct line — a marathon of questions and answers where he appears as an omnipotent leader — collected 12,000 likes and 170 dislikes on YouTube. Some experts estimate that Putin’s rating among this audience is around 7%.
As long as the tradition of Hong Kong and Istanbul is fresh, Putin and his friends will probably remember how 30 years ago Mikhail Gorbachev started an experiment with limited-free elections.
Prior to this, national and regional elections in the USSR were staged, and candidates from the Communist Party invariably won – there were no competitors.
Mr. Gorbachev wanted to revitalize the Soviet system, making it more competitive and allowing some non-partisan members to enter its legislative body.
To do this, he convened a new legislative body: the Congress of People’s Deputies, which included 2,250 delegates. A third of the seats were reserved for members of the CPSU, the remaining two thirds were determined by voting. Of course, even in this case, the party’s proteges had a lot of advantages.
Nevertheless, the elections held in March 1989 brought big surprises: 300 deputies (approximately 16% of the new legislative body) defeated party candidates. The election lost as many as five members of the Central Committee, one member of the Politburo and 35 small-town bonzes.
Gorbachev was pleased to call the election results a victory for his reforms and a successful attempt to democratize the political system of the USSR. The reactionaries, who are afraid of all freedom and the political opposition, became nervous – as, indeed, even now.
Vladislav Surkov, the architect of the Putin regime, his man in the Kremlin, recently said that Russia can only survive as a military-police state, and that Putin is the only leader whom the Russian people can trust. He called Putinism a new political system that – like Marxism or Leninism – will live forever.
But, despite self-deception – or posturing – at the highest levels of government, Putinism is steadily losing ground: government-controlled media are struggling to keep the president’s rating from falling. Russian regions have become impoverished, a frail economy depends on oil and gas exports. Elites are biting over a constantly melting piece of cake, and the younger generation has been less susceptible to propaganda than their ancestors.
So it seems that Putinism is destined to end much faster than even Marxism or Leninism. He was conceived as a kind of hybrid autocracy, where the lion’s share of the economy and the media on behalf of the state is controlled by the ruling elite.
At the same time, a limited number of independent enterprises and the media are allowed under careful supervision. Unlike the Chinese Communist Party, whose control over society is comprehensive, the Putin Kremlin has decided to leave a drain valve for dissidents – at least as long as they remain marginalized and pose no threat to the authorities.
Now this model has begun to become obsolete. The opposition was far less marginal than the Kremlin had expected. And with the growth of public discontent, the Kremlin decided: it’s pointless to pretend that democracy reigns. The irony is that Moscow appeared to be ready to act in a tougher Chinese way because of how seriously Russians took previous handouts of freedoms, no matter how limited they were.
In truth, Russia has again become a military-police state in which Putin’s regime rests on cruelty and intimidation. Since police alone is no longer enough, the Kremlin in 2016 created the National Guard of 340 thousand people.
Their task is to “protect public order.” In addition, the government is steadily dismantling the remnants of a market economy, transferring all assets to the treasury and hastily investing in the growth of the military-industrial complex.
Recent mass arrests and police brutality against opposition members eloquently testify that the regime will not flinch to use violence, just to stay in power.
The Kremlin is aware that genuine democracy will be the end of Putinism, and therefore leaves no chance for proponents of democratic change. But is Putin ready to turn Red Square into Russian Tiananmen?
This article is written and prepared by our foreign editors writing for OBSERVATORY NEWS from different countries around the world – material edited and published by OBSERVATORY staff in our newsroom.
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