Leonid Volkov, a member of Russia’s Central Council of the Party of Progress, gave an insider’s perspective on the future of the Russian Opposition within the context of today’s challenges and in the lead up to the 2016 Parliamentary elections.
Volkov was joined in conversation by Vladimir Ashurkov, Executive Director of The Anti-Corruption Foundation and also a member of the Party of Progress.
Speaking of the challenges facing the coalition against Putin, Volkov hoped its members would be united by values as well as for political benefit. Their platform is pro-European, pro-democracy and anti-corruption, core values that are in contrast to Kremlin propaganda.
He spoke about lessons learned from previous elections and proposed that “the rules of Russian elections are changing”. Navalny’s performance in the 2013 Moscow mayoral elections and the declining approval ratings for United Russia (despite Putin’s high approval ratings) show that the Opposition, when allowed to run, can make an impact – despite the roadblocks. He remained optimistic about the 2016 Duma elections, particularly now that the Opposition has united in a wide coalition. Putin has learnt from 2011 that rigged elections can and will result in protests, so the regime will need to strike a balance between electoral legitimacy and maintaining semi-authoritarian control. Putin is more likely to ‘move the goalposts’ in the run up to the election, than he is to postpone the elections themselves.
The first hurdle for the new coalition is the regional election scheduled for this Autumn, and Volkov explained that the coalition hopes to use this as a springboard for 2016. He believes that their ability to get on the ballot, and their performance, will indicate their chances for success in the Duma elections. The coalition is aiming to win 10 per cent of the vote in three regions: Novosibirsk, Kostroma and Kaluga.
Vladimir Ashurkov spoke about the coalition’s strategy for gaining support in the regional elections. The democratic opposition has previously been criticised for an inability to win votes beyond the larger cities. This is partly due to the government monopoly on television broadcasting, which means that the internet has to be the main communications resource for the Opposition. By showing the impact foreign policy, economics and corruption have on the infrastructure of these different regions, the coalition hopes to appeal to the Russian people. Volkov added that the public are ready to voice that corruption and cronyism are not acceptable. He agreed that there is no “silver bullet” that can construct a unifying national idea, but argued that basic European values are not foreign to Russians.
The discussion was moderated by Anne Applebaum, Director of the Transitions Forum, Legatum Institute.
Video Interview with Leonid Volkov
About the Speaker
Leonid Volkov is a member of the Russian opposition, a democracy activist and political blogger based in Moscow. He served as the campaign manager for Alexei Navalny, who came in second in the 2013 Moscow mayoral election with 27% of the vote. He is a founding member of the People’s Alliance Party (now Progress Party) which has an anti-corruption platform. From 2009—2013 he sat on Yekaterinburg’s city council. In 2011 he co-authored a book Cloud Democracy looking at how IT can help promote democracy in Russia. He blogs regularly at www.leonwolf.livejournal.com.
About the Discussant
Vladimir Ashurkov, is the Executive Director of The Anti-Corruption Foundation led by Alexei Navalny and a member of the Party of Progress. He is a former banker and served as the campaign fund manager for Navalny in the 2013 Moscow mayoral election. He was a political and civic activist in Russia until he fled in April 2014. He was recently granted asylum in the UK.
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The Transitions Forum is a series of projects dedicated to the challenges and possibilities of radical political and economic change.