Thursday, September 10, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Rising Anger in Russian Villages Leads Moscow to Tighten Its Control of Upcoming Elections There

Paul Goble

Vienna, September 10 – Rural residents in Chelyabinsk oblast are increasingly angry about conditions there and say they are prepared to demonstrate against the powers that be, a trend that may explain why Moscow has moved to tighten control over upcoming municipal elections lest this anger lead to the defeat of the center’s preferred parties and candidates.
The news agency reported today the results of a new poll in Chelyabinsk which showed that since the last such survey in May the percentage of rural residents who say they are ready to take part in demonstrations has risen dramatically, while the share of urban dwellers making that declaration has gone up only slightly.
And as the Urals news portal pointed out, while “it is well-known that revolutions occur in the capitals,” it is precisely in the increasingly angry rural locales of this oblast where potentially revolutionary outcomes could take place when municipal elections take place in March 2010 (
Although this poll have not yet been reported in Moscow, they explain why the Russian government is at the present increasing unconstitutional and illegal administrative pressure on local officials in order to ensure “the total control of the powers that be over elections down to the village level” (
According to the report, the SoPRano polling agency found that “the number of people dissatisfied with life in the region had become greater, but the share prepared to declare that the situation there was only getting worse is not as great as it was only a few months ago,” a finding that suggests, the news outlet said, that “a sense of stability” is returning.
But behind those overall numbers, it continues, there is an important distinction between urban and rural residents. “The cities are quieting down,” it said, “but at the same time, the growth of protest attitudes is evident in the villages [where] already every third resident is ready to go into the street to defend his rights.”
In May, the pollsters said, 46 percent of the region’s populace said it was dissatisfied with the current situation, but in September, that number had risen to 53 percent. But this increase was largely the product of shifts in rural areas where the percentage of people saying they were unhappy with the state of affairs jumped by 15 percent.
While the share of those in Chelyabinsk’s cities prepared to engage in protests rose only four percentage points, the number of people in rural areas prepared to go into the streets because of conditions almost doubled from 19 percent to 35 percent, a remarkable shift given the traditionally greater passivity of rural residents.
On Monday, the “Golos” voting rights organization held a press conference in Moscow at which the group’s director Liliya Shibanova said that “the first stages of the election campaigns in the regions of Russia had been characterized by increasing administrative pressure and the massive violations of constitutional rights of non-party voters.”
For villages like the ones the Chelyabinsk poll surveyed, the powers that be in Moscow have begun “the massive introduction of the party system of elections,” even though in these areas “there were never any sections of the parties.” As a result, it has become “practically impossible” to register opposition candidates on the basis of petitions in single mandate districts.
“Golos” expert Aleksandr Kynyev added that this step, which will prevent most if not all opposition figures from having any chance of being elected was being supplemented by another, the use of the Delitele-Imperiale proportional voting system that will result in what he called “an absolute purge” of opposition figures.
He observed that Kremlin promises offered by “an anonymous source in the Presidential Administration” not to eliminate the representation of the opposition in municipal bodies were welcome, but he suggested that the election procedures Moscow is insisting on may have that effect.
If as a result rural residents decide that their voices are not being heard, then it is entirely possible that Russians in the villages may begin to blame the country’s senior leaders for that and for their problems, something they have not yet done. And that development in turn could spark a political crisis in Russia far greater than any of the company town protests have so far.

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