Do Russians need the “non-systemic opposition”?

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June 8, 2016 – 

Mariya Lisitskaya, PolitRussia – 

Translated by J. Arnoldski

When people speak about the opposition, they usually have in mind the scandalous “white-ribboners” who are aching to be in government but aren’t let in. Such a statement can safely be called an illusion. Three major opposition parties are represented in parliament, and this raises some questions: What distinguishes the systemic opposition from the non-systemic opposition? Does the electorate need both? What are the prospects for them in the upcoming elections to the State Duma?

Perhaps it would be better to right off the bat reveal the intrigue by responding to the last question. And it doesn’t need to be sugar-coated. Although the main test for future people’s deputies still lies ahead, the general rehearsal took place in September last year. A single day of voting held in 84 regions of the country revealed more than a few patterns and gave good food for thought for political analysts and the parties involved in various polls. Some learned their lessons from this large-scale campaign, while others chose to turn a blind eye and ignore obvious things.

Nevertheless, the main result was that United Russia, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, “A Just Russia,” and the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia will undoubtedly take the lower house of parliament in 2016. The non-systemic opposition, besides perhaps a few characters, will not appear in the parliament under any circumstances. 

At first glance, such a categorization may seem surprising. After all, almost all experts who analyzed the results of the vote in 2015 and the political situation in the country as a whole noted that the public demands a change in government in the country. The natural result was thus the victory of certain representatives of the systemic opposition which achieved convincing victories on the regional level. 

The head of the Center for Economic and Political Reforms, Nikolay Mironov, explained this thus:

“Society is concerned about the  economic crisis and does not fully trust the anti-crisis measures of the authorities. If the economic situation in the country does not improve by 2016 – and this is unlikely – then the demand for the system opposition to be in power, including on a coalition basis, will fully manifest itself in the State Duma elections in 2016.”

The general director of the Center of Political Information, Aleksey Mukhin, for example, praised the Communist Party of the Russian Federation:

“It should be recognized that the second winner in these elections were the communists. They almost completely utilized the protest potential that voters now have.”

The head of the board of the Foundation for the Development of Civil Society, Konstantin Kostin, noted the “stabile result” of the Zhirinovskites (supporters of the LDP) and praised “A Just Russia” which “in previous years took part in elections  extremely vaguely, but is now confirming its status as a parliamentary party.”

Experts were not divided over assessments of the non-systemic opposition. This opposition, in their opinion, “failed to show any significant results in the regions.” 

In regards to this, Nikolai Mironov emphasized:

“Despite the fact that voters are looking for a political alternative, for a number of reasons they only trust the systemic opposition.”

The general directory of the Moscow Region Analytical Center, the political scientist Aleksey Chadaev, pointed out one of the reasons for such. Studies conducted on behalf of the All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion revealed a sad picture for the non-systemic opposition: outside of Moscow, the population of Russia knows nothing about it. As evidenced by the results of the study, 88% of Russians do not know what the non-systemic opposition is; 72% have never heard the expression, while only 4% were able to name one of its representatives without any prompting. Based on this, the Moscow Region Analytical Center concluded that the political capital of the non-systemic opposition is today zero. Voters lack awareness of its leaders, trust, and a positive assessment of its activities.

What conclusions have been drawn by parties based on all of this? Astonishingly enough, the greatest tension was felt in United Russia. Despite the victories it seized in the majority of regions, the ruling part has very well understood that the opposition is coming on its heels and is ready to take advantage of any of its mistakes. Political analysts have said the same.

Political analyst Aleksey Mukhin in particular believes:

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“If after the Sunday vote the ruling party does not draw conclusions for itself, then its representation will certainly decline. This is first and foremost linked with the economic situation in the country. And the parliamentary opposition, I’m afraid, will be in the State Duma in significantly greater numbers than before.” 

The ruling party, however, has drawn conclusions for itself. Responding to public demand, it has begun to update a third of the leadership of United Russia and conducted a large-scale preliminary vote. It should be noted that in many regions the voting lists included not only the party’s own representatives, but also non-party figures including the independent representatives of the People’s Front for Russia. This is a win-win situation. The People’s Front has gathered a number of not only recognizable, but also authoritative people who care about affairs and are able to work. Most likely, the electorate will vote not so much for the party as for these concrete people.

The parliamentary opposition parties, receiving decent dividends from last year’s September elections, have not rested on their laurels. Grubbing over the administrative resources which prevent them from achieved better results, they have nevertheless actively participated in the election processes in the regions. The public perception of all parties is now wide open and the popular arena has not been overfilled. 

Frankly speaking, the systemic opposition has complained about administrative resources more with an eye and warning for the future. Hence the leader of “A Just Russia” Sergey Mironov’s immediate recognition that:

“We have noted a certain trend in regards to the feeling that more attention should be paid to the observance of the law: on the level of the Central Electoral Commission and on the level of, in fact, the administration of the president, very clear lessons have been given and very clear guidelines have been set so that elections are transparent.” 

If only the non-systemic opposition would hear the words of Sergey Mironov! But no. He who has not drawn any conclusion for himself from last year’s electoral failures has not learned anything. Or maybe the non-systemic opposition has quite different goals. Commenting on the situation on Kostroma, where police found a large sum in the HQ of the “Open Elections” observers, the political analyst Konstantin Kostin noted:

“Participating in elections was plan “B” for PARNAS, while plan “A” was organizing as many scandals it could imagine in order to present itself as a victim persecution. All these actions bordered on provocations.” 

Here and now perfectly understanding that they will not shine at all in the State Duma elections, the non-systemic opposition are merely biting each other, decrying the “bloody regime,” and are being despised by 85% of Russians who are increasingly registering the non-systemic opposition under the category of “morons.”

Recent events related to the classes between Aleksey Navally and Maksim Katz once again illustrate the inability of certain non-systemic opposition figures to cooperate even with their own like-minded peers. On the other hand, their ability to delve into someone else’s private life and expose it for everyone to see appears to be amazing.

The journalist Igor Maltsev, calling the non-systemic opposition “a box of spiders” expressed this in coarse form, but reflected the essence correctly.

In regards to verbal forms, the general director of the Council on National Strategy, Valery Khomyakov, was more correct. He also had no illusions as to the prospects for someone from the non-systemic opposition to get into the State Duma in a majority district. According to the political analyst, we still have to wait to see whether Yabloko and PARNAS will agree to supporting single candidates. He says:

“If there will be no such agreements, then speaking about the chances of one of them is absolutely senseless.”

What will a failure of the non-systemic opposition in elections to the State Duma mean? Most likely, nothing. They will “honestly” continue to fulfill their task which the political analyst Aleksey Mukhin has aptly described:

“This is a quite developed and sophisticated business system which allows Aleksey Navalny, Mikhail Kasyanov, and other characters of the non-systemic opposition to comfortably exist and continue their activities.”

Another thing is that the large scale of scandals and provocations will grow shallow. After all the dirty links and self-exposures, the sincere democrats are unlikely to go out to Bolotnaya Square. Hence why the director of the Center for Political Studies of the Russian Federation government’s Financial University, Pavel Selin, does not expect any recurrence of large-scale opposition protests after the elections. In his words, “this political agenda is not relevant” and socio-economic process needed for this “has not yet crystallized.” 

Let’s hope that it will be the representatives of the four parliamentary factions in the updated State Duma who will successfully “crystallize” this process in thinking first of all about the fate of the country and its population before their own political ambitions. 

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