25.10.22 Review

Municipal Cleansing: the Kremlin has crushed the remains of the opposition onslaught of the late 2010s

A minor breakthrough happened in Russian politics in 2017: representatives of the opposition and independent candidates were massively elected to municipal deputies. This breakthrough was the first sign of the second wave of politicization and recovery of the Russian opposition after the 2011-2012 protests and the "Crimean syndrome" period. However, the Kremlin has now succeeded in regaining complete control over this level of elections in Russia as well. Almost none of the 267 Moscow independent municipal deputies who won elections in 2017 were able to be re-elected for a second term due to administrative and criminal charges and pressure from the authorities, a report prepared by IAB-info shows.

Municipal deputies are very limited in their capabilities compared to regional or federal deputies; nevertheless, they can actively influence local agendas — adopt a district budget, counteract corruption, and solve local problems. In addition, the candidates who want to run in gubernatorial or mayoral elections require the signatures of the municipal deputies, so they also partially influence big regional politics. They often become the organizational core of local protests. For example, they organize protests against renovation, park de-construction, paid parking lots, and the construction of new subway lines.

The previous municipal elections in Moscow were held in 2017 and became one of the most successful for the opposition. For example, in 62 of Moscow's 125 districts, independent deputies were elected, and in eight districts, there was not a single candidate from "United Russia", while in 24, the opposition had a majority. Candidates from "The Communist Party of the Russian Federation", "A Just Russia", "Yabloko" (11.7 percent of the vote, second place after "United Russia"), "The People's Freedom Party" and other parties succeeded in getting seats in the municipal councils. This became possible mainly due to the "United Democrats"' project of Maxim Kats and Dmitry Gudkov — the so-called political Uber

The platform they created simplified the registration process and helped candidates with campaigning. In total, 1,046 people from "Uber" were nominated, 267 of whom managed to get elected (17.7% of all municipal deputies). Among the most famous candidates were politicians Ilya Yashin and Yulia Galyamina, journalist Ilya Azar and many others.

It was impossible to repeat such success in 2022: the opposition forces had the majority of mandates in only one district and took enough seats to block some council decisions in another district. OVD-info has analyzed how the government's attitude toward opposition municipal deputies has changed over the past five years. The report's authors say that while five years ago deputies were prosecuted under Articles 20.2 of the Administrative Code, now they are being charged for displaying extremist symbols (Article 20.3 of the Administrative Code), depriving them of an opportunity to be elected for a year. There were also cases of "discrediting" the army (Article 20.3.3 CAO RF) and "fakes" (Article 207.3 of the RF Criminal Code), for which Ilya Yashin, Alexey Gorinov, and Elena Kotenochkina were prosecuted. In total, 178 candidates were charged with administrative offenses and 11 more with criminal charges. 

Of all 1,502 Moscow municipal deputies elected in 2017, almost half (721) did not run in the new elections, about the same number (682) were registered as candidates, 49 lost the elections, 34 were denied registration, and 16 more left the country. From the Katz-Gudkov list (267 people), only 55 registered, and another 76 could not become candidates for various reasons. The main reason for the rejection was a paperwork problem. The commission believed the candidates didn't bring the whole package of papers or fill out some forms with mistakes. Also, many could not participate due to emigration (12), "connection with an extremist organization" (7), criminal cases (6), or having a residence permit or citizenship of another state (2). According to OVD-info's calculations, at least 99 candidates were planning to run for re-election, but they could not do so due to various state repressions.

"United Russia" candidates were also denied, but ten times fewer. One was under criminal investigation for embezzlement (Article 160 of the RF Criminal Code); the rest were denied registration mainly due to problems with their paperwork or voters' signatures (7 people). 

OVD-info compiled its list of "openly oppositional" candidates who spoke out in support of Alexei Navalny and against the war in Ukraine and participated in protests; 95 people were included. 66 of them failed to register, 29 registered, and nine more won the election ( 4 candidates managed to be re-elected for a second term).

Overall, due to the administrative resource and repression, the authorities managed to secure almost complete control over all Moscow councils of municipal deputies. However, even in the current situation, a small percentage of opposition-minded people remain in the councils, which can attract the attention of the disgruntled public and become the centers of protest activity.