Muscovites head to the polls to elect a new city council on Sunday. There is little hope that opposition parties will make substantive gains. But, after a violent crackdown, resentment against the government is growing.
The vote is a relatively muted end to one of the most contentious election campaigns in recent Russian history. In August, an estimated 50,000 people demonstrated against Moscow’s decision to bar dozens of opposition candidates from standing in the election. Frustration was driven to a fever pitch when hard-line elements in the government-backed by armor-clad riot police attempted to suppress the largely unsanctioned protests, injuring several demonstrators and arresting thousands.
Liberal activists and political experts are closely watching the September 8 vote for city council in Moscow, where election officials barred independent candidates from running, sparking weeks of major protests.
Local and regional elections are also taking place in 83 regions and cities across the country, with governors being elected as well.
Ahead of the vote, Putin replaced several regional governors , in a bid to avoid a repeat of last year’s gubernatorial elections, when several Kremlin-backed candidates lost.
For this vote about 20,000 officers of the Federal National Guard Troops Service (FNGTS) will ensure public order on the single voting day in Russia, the service’s spokesman, Valery Gribakin, told TASS.
In Moscow, many members of the ruling United Russia party opted to run as “independent” candidates, to mask their affiliation with the ruling party.
The fractured opposition has the rare opportunity to make use of growing frustration with Russia’s political system. When Moscow’s city election commitee refused to register opposition-back candidates on the grounds that their applications contained thousands of allegedly forged or invalid signatures of support, the opposition quickly called foul and mobilized supporters.
Alexei Navalny, perhaps the most prominent of Russia’s opposition leaders, is hoping to capitalize on the discontent. Using his popular YouTube channel, he is calling on supporters to back his “smart voting” strategy and cast ballots for for the candidate with the best chances of defeating a nominee backed by United Russia in local elections and eventually at the national level. Should Navalny’s plan succeed, the opposition could gain a foothold within the government.