Wind of Political Change in Russia

The party in power may start pondering whether it should replace a weak candidate with a stronger and more promising one. They could respond with a campaign strategy of their own.

Vitaly Tretyakov, editor-in-chief of Political Class magazine, professor of the Foreign Ministry’s MGIMO University, shared his thoughts with Valdai International Discussion Club’s web—site about recent political reforms in Russia and the current political climate inside the country.

On April 4, a candidate from the United Russia party was defeated in the mayoral elections in Yaroslavl. How would you comment on this?

This was a very rare case where all the opposition parties united to support a single candidate and defeated United Russia. The problem is that not all parties in all regions are willing to cooperate like this, to put aside their disagreements long enough to rally as a single unit. It is possible that the opposition could have changed the pattern of the presidential campaign as well if they had combined efforts to support a single candidate, for example, Gennady Zyuganov, who was running second after Putin before the election. We could have seen a second round then. However, this situation cannot be extended to the federal level for many objective reasons.

The coalition of registered opposition parties and non-registered groups promoting a candidate known as a public leader during the Yaroslavl campaign was viewed by many as a unique phenomenon. Is there a chance that it will become a new and promising campaign strategy, especially if gubernatorial elections are reinstated?

This strategy may work for some regions where a highly popular public leader can be identified, even if that leader does not belong to a single opposition party or group. Politicians could try to use these situations if they can arrange them. But again, this is only possible in rare cases because opposition candidates not only compete with the ruling party, but also between themselves.
There are several variables that, together, could make this scenario possible:

1) The ruling party has discredited itself; 

2) There is a prominent leader among the opposition, capable of rallying popular support; 

3) There should be no grudges between the opposition groups, which could prevent them from uniting to win an election. 

At the same time, the party in power may start pondering whether it should replace a weak candidate with a stronger and more promising one. In other words, they could respond with a campaign strategy of their own. But in any case, this cannot happen simultaneously throughout Russia, and I see no trends that point to that possibility.

Do you think the Kremlin could act fast enough and replace a number of weaker governors during the interval between Vladimir Putin’s inauguration and the partial reinstating of direct elections of regional governors? In that case, they would not have to hold elections for another five years in the regions where opposition sentiments prevail.

There is very little time left. I would say that the new government will not be able to replace all the governors that “want” replacement in such a short time. It is a costly and effort-consuming business. They could replace a few, in some of the most strategically important regions, but definitely not across the country. 

Some say that the federal government could refuse to reinstate election blocs during parliamentary campaigns if a single candidate proves capable of unifying the opposition and winning. Is that so?

I do not know what the federal government thinks about this. In my opinion, the opposition is incapable of uniting against the ruling party in the coming years, and therefore cannot pose a serious threat to United Russia.

What role will the People’s Front play after the recent presidential election? Will it continue to be promoted, maybe for the sake of supporting pro-Kremlin candidates at the future regional elections?

This may be an option. From a campaign perspective, the People’s Front partly consists of opposition parties rallied by the government. This is a possible scenario, and it may be employed in some regions, but how successful will it be? Regional branches of opposition groups cooperating with each other and the ruling party are not quite the same as their leaders sitting at a round table with Putin, representing their organizations.

The People’s Front issue has not yet been resolved at the federal level. It is not yet clear whether it will be brought to the forefront at the next parliamentary elections, to some extent pushing United Russia to the back burner. All of the possible scenarios will be thoroughly revised after the president’s inauguration on May 7. The People’s Front’s future has not been decided so far. 

Will nationalist parties be able to climb closer to the top as a result of recent reform?

As is known, parties where membership is based on ethnicity or religion are prohibited in Russia. At the same time, nationalist parties in the better sense – where this word bears no negative connotation but means that they take into account the sentiments of a large part of Russia’s population – stand a chance of rising to new political heights. They can take some of the votes from United Russia or from Zhirinovsky’s party. I am referring, for the most part, to LDPR’s voters who vote for that party for lack of a better option. It will all depend on a specific leader and his personal qualities. If it is someone like Dmitry Rogozin, this party would have a good chance of ranking with the country’s top political parties. The question is whether he will agree to go into politics in this format; at least he doesn’t seem to be willing if he remains in Putin’s team. At this point, there is no alternative figure of his caliber.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.