Here for anyone interested are my views on the Moscow mayoral election. I have posted up essentially the same comments on Kremlin Stooge and on the Russia Debate. I basically made the same points in the debate on RT earlier today upon which I appeared with Dmitri Babich, with whose views incidentally I find myself in wholehearted agreement.
The final result was that Sobyanin got 51.3% and Navalny 27.2%, so there’s no first round. Navalny’s total is slightly below what most of the exit polls gave him except bizarrely the exit poll by Golos, which I believe gave him 26%.
Here are my comments:
1. The turnout at 33% was way below expectations. Before anyone starts criticising the polling agencies, Levada gave Navalny 10% of its total respondents, VTsIOM 11% of its total respondents and Ipsos 13% of its total respondents. Navalny’s final result was around 9% of the total Moscow electorate. This is actually in line with or slightly below the figures the polling agencies were giving him. The fact that his final figure was slightly below his polling figures is as one would expect since even amongst the most motivated body of voters there will always be some who fail to turn up and vote on election day. What the result nonetheless shows is that Navalny’s supporters were highly motivated and came out to vote for him in a way that no other group of voters did for any other candidate. The reason Navalny’s percentage of the vote was so much higher than anyone expected is because his voters were more motivated than the others, which had a big impact in an election with a low turnout. The forecasts the polling agencies were giving for the final result were based on an expected 50% turnout. It’s clear that it was disproportionately Sobyanin’s supporters who remained at home whilst it was Navalny’s supporters who turned up. Had more of Sobyanin’s voters turned up bringing turnout up to the expected range of 50% Navalny’s final vote would have been in the region of 18-20% that most of the opinion pollsters were giving him before the vote.
2. The reason so many of Sobyanin’s supporters remained at home is because of Sobyanin’s lack of skill as an electoral candidate, which meant that his supporters were simply not motivated enough to come out to vote for him in their full numbers. I have discussed Sobyanin’s limitations as a candidate previously during the election on the Russia Debate and Kremlin Stooge. Sobyanin’s problem is that he is a functionary not a politician. Since he is not a politician in this election he barely campaigned at all. Bluntly I don’t think he knows how to. Certainly he has entirely failed to create the sort of formidable political machine that Luzhkov his predecessor did. As far as I can see the only things Sobyanin actually did during the election was intervene repeatedly to keep Navalny in it. That of course automatically negated any criticisms of Navalny he might have made. Why take seriously such criticisms if the person making them repeatedly goes out of his way to help the person he is criticising? On election day Putin said that cities should be run not by politicians but by apolitical technicians. That’s all very well but elections are politics and politics needs politicians. If Putin thinks cities should be run by technical specialists then he should simply appoint them and not expect them to run for office or stand for election.
3. That Navalny failed to force a run off in this situation despite the low turnout and despite Sobyanin’s limitations as a candidate confirms that the liberals in Moscow inhabit a political ghetto. Yavlinsky in the Presidential election of 2000 and Prokhorov in the Presidential election of 2013 both got the votes of around 12% of Moscow’s registered electorate. Navalny got less than this in an election where his support was mobilised and that of his opponents wasn’t. An indicator of the problem liberal candidates face even in Moscow is that probably because he is a liberal Navalny consistently got the most negative responses of any candidate in the election, even more than the LPDR candidate Degtyarev who came across to me as an intelligent clown. In the discussion programme on RT I have just appeared on, Dmitri Babich put Moscow’s liberal electorate at 15-20%. Based on actual votes it is rather less than this, probably in a range of 12-15%. The fact that it makes more noise and is more motivated than the remaining 85-90% of the Moscow electorate should not mislead as to its size and electoral limitations.
4. This means that no effective challenge to this result or colour revolution in Moscow will take place. Quite apart from the fact that this was a conspicuously clean election as almost everyone apart from Navalny admits, with the support of just 9% of the Moscow electorate (around 630,000 votes) Navalny simply lacks the numbers for that. Navalny may be able to bring out a couple of thousand supporters but the core of any protests will probably remain the 20,000 or so who form Moscow’s regular protest community. Navalny is nonetheless obliged to challenge the result not because it is politically sensible for him to do so (it isn’t) but because a failure to do so would dismay his supporters. A failure to challenge the result would be tantamount to admitting that he has the support of only 9% of Moscow’s electorate. That might suffice for a conventional politician but for the Messianic figure that Navalny sets out to be that simply will not do.
5. I doubt this result is anywhere near good enough to enable Navalny to force the authorities to modify the Judgment or the sentence in the KirovLes case. As I said in my long post on the subject, I believe Navalny was properly convicted after a fair trial which the authorities were extremely careful to conduct by the book. I don’t think they will now intervene in a way that would jeopardise all that by appearing to confirm that his was a politically motivated case after all. On the basis of this result I don’t think they will feel under any real pressure to do so.
6. Further afield, I don’t think the Roizman result in Yekaterinburg has any wider political significance despite such claims made about it in the Guardian today. I have always spoken against restoring direct elections for mayors and governors in Russia. I think doing so was a regressive step rushed out as a panicked and unnecessary response to the 2011 protests by Medvedev who like Sobyanin is also less a politician than a functionary. The low turnout even in Moscow (the most politicised city in the country) shows how little actual demand for such direct elections there really is. I have always felt that the combination of low turnouts typical in regional elections everywhere together with a poorly developed party system risked throwing up eccentrics and mavericks that Russia can ill afford whilst draining political and electoral energy out of local councils, which in a well functioning parliamentary system should work as the building blocks and training areas for political parties. I am afraid the result in Yekaterinburg is just what I feared Having said this I don’t see Roizman in far away Yekaterinburg as any sort of threat or challenge to Putin or the government even if he wants to be, which I am sure he doesn’t. As for Roizman’s political and economic views, I doubt he has any and to the extent he does I doubt they were the reasons anyone voted for him.
7. Lastly, for Russia, these elections have been a good thing. They refute the claim that Putin has “lost” Moscow. On the contrary in a conspicuously clean election against the best candidate the liberal opposition has to offer in what is by a long distance Russia’s most politically liberal city, Putin’s candidate won in the first round despite his all too obvious limitations. At the same time the fact that in Moscow and elsewhere there have been properly contested and conspicuously clean and fair elections ought to refute the claim that Russia is any kind of dictatorship or sham democracy.