A person who is involved exclusively in economic issues cannot be the mayor of Moscow in today’s Russia. The mayor should be well-versed in these issues – this is a basic requirement – but he must interact with the population and take part in public affairs. Otherwise, he won’t survive because political competition is very acute in Russia.
Valdaiclub.com interview with Ph.D. Olga Kryshtanovskaya (Sociology), founder of the Kryshtanovskaya Laboratory, head of the Center for the Study of Elites at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Sociology and honorable professor of the University of Glasgow.
What can you say about Moscow candidate mayors? What goals do they pursue during the election campaign? Is a second round likely or will the main struggle unfold for the runner-up spot?
Acting Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin is a politician with a long service record and a great deal of experience. He was the speaker of the Khanty-Mansi Duma, the governor of the Tyumen Region and the head of the Presidential Executive Office. He is a highly respected federal official who has already done much for Moscow.
Candidate from the Communist Party Ivan Melnikov is also a well-known politician. He was a State Duma deputy for many years and is the second figure in his party. And, of course, there is Alexei Navalny who has become famous not as a politician but as a blogger promoting his anti-corruption projects (RosPil, RosYama and RosUznik) in social networks. Now he has become even more popular because of the criminal proceedings that have started against him. He has been charged with corruption in the Kirovles case. People are divided on this case. Some think his reputation has been smeared and he cannot be the leader of a united opposition because he is “light-fingered.” Others say that this is a political order with which the authorities want to destroy a strong rival.
Other candidates (Sergei Mitrokhin from the Yabloko Party, Mikhail Degtyaryov from the Liberal-Democratic Party and Nikolai Levichev from A Just Russia) are unimportant – they don’t enjoy strong support. Some people in Russia take part in elections in order to become known and try to talk on TV as much as they can although they know very well that they have no chances for victory, which is confirmed by numerous sociological polls.
Practically all sociological centers without exception, including the Kryshtanovskaya Laboratory, maintain that there will be no second round because Sobyanin will be too far ahead of other competitors (by 52% to 60%). Therefore, the struggle will unfold around second place and that does not mean much politically but it is important for promotion and PR.
So who should be Moscow mayor – a politician, an economic executive or a top manager?
A person who is involved exclusively in economic issues cannot be the mayor of Moscow in today’s Russia. The mayor should be well-versed in these issues – this is a basic requirement – but he must interact with the population and take part in public affairs. Otherwise, he won’t survive because political competition is very acute in Russia and there is a huge demand for feedback from the authorities on behalf of the population. It won’t be enough to deal with housing and utilities issues or road repairs. In the Russian ratings, the position of Moscow mayor is very high – the mayor is one of the top 10 most influential people in Russia and this is why this position has a political component apriori.
What do you think about the election campaign? Are candidates using new political technology?
Navalny is conducting an unusual election campaign. Nobody has used social networks for promoting his program and ideas in the same way. He is very good at this and very inventive. He is largely borrowing methods drafted in the United States and used there, in particular during presidential elections. In this respect Navalny differs from other candidates who are acting in a traditional manner. I think that his methods should be studied and included in textbooks on election technology.
What do you think about television debates and Sobyanin’s refusal to take part in them?
A politician from the ruling party with a high level of support does not want to condescend to debates with people who are not important and who are taking part in the campaign just to promote themselves rather than struggle for power. This happens practically in all elections. Vladimir Putin also refused to take part in the debates. So, Sobyanin’s decision not to participate in them is no surprise, all the more so since Navalny is an uncomfortable sparring partner who is conducting an aggressive campaign and lashing out at the authorities.
Participation in television debates is not a key factor for voters in Russia. First, they consider it a boring show and few are watching it. Second, Sobyanin’s supporters will vote for him anyway, like Navalny’s advocates will vote for him. Debates cannot change the position of voters because the split in our political environment is so huge. People are so angry towards the opposing party that no arguments can make them change their mind. The effect of television debates in Russia is close to zero. They look buffoonish.
So, you agree that Russian democracy is not yet ripe enough to conduct serious large-scale election debates and that they can be only viewed as a PR show?
I wouldn’t say that this is about democracy. We are dealing with a deeper layer that may be described as “political culture.” Democratic institutions can be established and procedures adopted but people have no idea about a “tolerant discussion” where arguments are quoted instead of insults. This culture can only be developed by education, starting from school and university.
What do you think about the proposal of some candidates to create a coalition government in Moscow?
I’m against a coalition government. People always think that things are bad as they are. Nobody thinks about the gist of the matter. A coalition government is established as a forced measure when not a single party can get a majority vote. Every coalition government has a lot of drawbacks. Decision-making is very complicated because people from different political forces cannot reach a consensus. Every decision is made with great difficulty. Coalition governments have never been very effective. They are not about logic but about confrontation and non-conformism.