The recent State Duma elections in Russia concluded with United Russia crushing the opposition in terms of popularity. Experts interviewed by De Facto programme of LTV believe the consequences will be even worse for the opposition – stricter policy against differently-minded people and fractured society.
Opposition deputy Konstantin Yankausks lost in these elections. He is an opposition deputy with considerable experience – he is one of the associates of the assassinated Boris Nemtsov and supporter of Alexey Navalny. For taking part in Navalny’s campaign during mayor elections in Moscow, a criminal process was launched against Yankausks. He was later sentenced to one year under house arrest.
Yankausks told De Facto: «The entire municipal structure worker system worked in favour of my competitor from United Russia. They would put up his posters on walls and would rip off mine. He was regularly shown on federal channels; even once meeting with Putin. On Friday, when no political campaigning was allowed, he was even put in Comedy Club show».
Yankasks does not blame government institutions alone for the opposition’s defeat. He admits that liberal parties simply failed to convince voters not to cast their votes for United Russia. Opposition parties divided, some even called for a full boycott of the elections. «When I was in first grade, we have Zhirinovsky, Zyuganov, Yavlinsky. They were deputies and presidential candidates. Now I’m 30, I have graduated from university and I am a municipal deputy. But these people remain on stage. Yavlinsky still claims he has some moral duty to be a presidential candidate,» – says Yankausks.
Experts advise liberals to self-cleanse their parties – liquidate old parties, dismiss old leaders and join forces. No one believes this will ever happen. At the same time, the popularity of United Russia gradually reduces. In spite of 54% victory, independent estimates suggest the number of actual voters has decreased by one-tenth. This means the number of residents who do not have any worthwhile candidates to vote for gradually increases.
Karnegi Centre expert Aleksandr Baunov says: «There are some people, perhaps a majority, who want something, but do not know what. They are not interested in the opposition, communists and Putin. This is rather troubling.»
Researchers of Levada Centre believe Russia will find out what those people want two years from now. Sociologist Denis Volkov says: «There is still some money in reserve, but they will end after 2018. Trust in those in power will continue to decline. And when that happens, it will no longer be possible to predict the behaviour of this portion of society».
Volunteers of politologist Dmitry Oreshkin’s ‘people’s elections’ project observed the vote-counting process. They concluded – there were next to no falsifications in Russia’s large cities. In many far-away regions, however, United Russia was simply given the required result – approximately one-third of United Russia’s votes come from those, lesser-known election regions.
Dmitry Oreshkin notes: «Most of Russia stands in favour of a European development approach. So let’s count votes honestly, okay? Far-away regions have a different approach. The government there tell voters – look, your duty is to support the existing government, show your loyalty. They think elections are not an exam for the government, but rather a loyalty test for the people. And I believe there is a major gap between two cultures in Russia. It threatens the unity of the entire country. If Moscow ever does decide to follow a democratic path, the elite of ‘special’ regions will decide that honest elections will not bring them anything and they may decide to separate, form their own little kingdoms».
Things remain quiet in the meantime. Experts believe Kremlin will consider the outcome of elections as good will to continue its plans – to turn against freedom of speech and independent NGOs.
Oreshkin told LTV: «It all seems similar to the Soviet era, when good results would be sent to the political bureau. No milk or butter in stores, but at least the government has the numbers. The situation is the same with election results – support seems to grow, but no one really considers the opinion of the people. What’s important is that everything should remain quiet and no one protests, right? This is why those in power have to put pressure on independent media that report news about economic decline.»