Russia expert Prof Richard Sakwa on Putin's election losses

Richard Sakwa, Professor of Russian and European Politics at the School of Politics & International Relations, and an expert on democratic development in Russia, has responded to the news that Russia’s ruling party has suffered major losses in Sunday’s Moscow election.

He said: ‘After a summer of discontent and widespread demonstrations protesting against the exclusion of independent candidates in the Moscow Duma elections accompanied by severe repression, the results of the voting on 8 September are now in. One of the leading oppositionists, Alexei Navalny, had urged voters to ‘vote smartly’ and they clearly took heed. On a turnout of 22% (about par for this sort of election), 20 independent opposition candidates won seats to the 45-member body. The Communists won 13 seats, the social liberal party Yabloko won four seats (and thus returned to the Duma where it was last represented in 2005), and three seats were won by Just Russia. Even the pro-regime candidates did not fight under the discredited United Russia banner but stood as independents.

‘However, before we start talking of the end of the Putin system, every single acting or incumbent governor won in the first round in the regional elections held at the same time, including a hotly contested mayoral election in St Petersburg.

‘While the Moscow elections do not signal a turning point like the victory earlier in the year of the opposition candidate to the Istanbul mayoralty, they are nevertheless important. This new wave of contentious politics demonstrates that old methods of managed democracy are no longer as effective as they once were. Already in September 2013 Navalny had won 27% cent of the vote in the mayoral election against the incumbent Sergei Sobyanin, showing that when oppositionists can get on the ballot, they will give the old elite a run for their money. Recent events in the capital also demonstrate that, as in Hong Kong, repression may work in the short-term but it is counter-productive and alienating in the long-run.

‘This August Vladimir Putin celebrated 20 years at the country’s helm, and it is clear that changes are coming. The events in Moscow this summer demonstrated that a new generation of courageous civic activists are demanding to have a voice in the changes.’

Professor Sakwa is also an Associate Fellow of the Russia and Eurasia Programme at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House, and an Honorary Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Russian, European and Eurasian Studies (CREES) at the University of Birmingham. He has published extensively on democracy in Russia and the global challenges facing the former communist countries.