The poisoning of opposition leader Alexei Navalny overshadows elections in Russia’s regions. Does that affect the result? Much is at stake for President Putin.
Amid a growing protest vote in Russia, new governors and regional parliaments will be elected next Sunday. The vote is considered an important voting test – also in view of the poisoning of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, one of Russia’s well-known opposition politicians. Millions of people are called to vote on the most important voting day in almost all areas of the largest country in the world by area. There are over 9,000 different options. It is eagerly awaited how the United Russia Kremlin party will fare against President Vladimir Putin.
Although this election involves decision-makers at the local or regional level, the outcome could have an impact on future policy in Moscow. The new governors, elected in 18 regions, are of particular importance to the Kremlin. A new composition of local parliaments is being voted on in eleven other regions. Municipal elections are planned in 22 cities. Duma deputies have been elected in other areas.
Corona and the economy – discontent is great
The Kremlin party lost a year ago in the regional elections, but managed to defend its majority of seats in most regions. The election to the city parliament in Moscow was fiercely contested. There were massive protests in the run.
A woman casts her vote: The elections are overshadowed by the poisoning of Navalny. He had worked out an election campaign strategy for the opposition. (Source: ZUMA Wire / dpa)
Experts are deeply dissatisfied with serious economic problems, such as rising unemployment as a result of the Corona crisis. In eastern Russia, thousands of people from Moscow have been taking to the streets against paternalism for weeks. In other regions, for example, there is great dissatisfaction with environmental problems.
The election is also seen as a test of next year’s general election. It is the first vote since the controversial referendum on the new constitution in June, which gives Putin significantly more powers and allows him to remain in power until 2036, should he run for presidential elections in 2024 and 2030.
It cannot be ruled out that there will be a second election in some regions – because people either vote for the opposition in protest or the Kremlin candidate is seen as weak. In the election of the governor for the Irkutsk region on Lake Baikal, the Kremlin itself does not consider a second vote out of the question. “There is nothing wrong with that,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov.
Critics fear manipulation
The vote started on Friday. According to its own statements, the election committee wanted to reduce the risk of infection with the corona virus. However, critics again fear manipulation as it is difficult to monitor the elections for three days. Polling stations, for example, were set up in bus stops or in the trunk of cars, as pictures on social networks showed.
The choice is strongly influenced by Navalny poisoning. The internationally renowned Putin critic was treated for three weeks at the Berlin University Hospital Charité. After examination in a special laboratory, it is clear to the federal government that the 44-year-old has been poisoned with a neurotoxin from the Novitschok group that has been affected by the international ban on chemical weapons. On the other hand, Russian doctors have not seen any evidence of poisoning so far, Moscow said.
Alexej Navalny: Woke up from a coma and the Russian police wants to question him in Germany. (Source: ITAR-TASS / image images)
Before collapsing on a domestic flight to Moscow, Navalny had been in Siberia preparing for the elections. His team wants to break the Kremlin Party’s dominance with the strategy of a “smart vote”. Voters should vote for someone, but by no means United Russia. This method has recently been successful.
But the government critic’s team firmly believes that Putin’s party will defend its dominance “with forgeries”: “The crooks are aware of the danger that the protest vote poses to them,” he said. Nawalny staff said they had made recommendations for more than 1,100 candidates. Opposition opponents have recently been the victim of several attacks.