Anti-Putin Opposition, Especially Communists, Make Major Gains in Moscow Elections

By Dimitri Simes | September 10, 2019 | 12:51am EDT
Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny and his daughter Daria cast their votes during the Moscow City Duma election on Sunday. (Photo by Vasily Maximov/AFP/Getty Images)

Moscow ( – Opposition parties won close to half of the available seats in the Moscow City Duma elections, which came after two months of protests over electoral authorities’ decision to bar numerous opposition candidates from running. The bulk of the opposition’s gains favored the Communist Party.

While the pro-Kremlin United Russia party narrowly maintained its majority, it lost one-third of its seats in the Moscow legislature.

According to official results released on Monday morning, opposition candidates secured 20 seats of the 45 that were up for election. Communists captured 13 seats, the liberal Yabloko party won four, and the center-left A Just Russia party won three seats.

The remaining 25 seats went to purportedly “ independent” candidates aligned with United Russia. The Kremlin-backed party itself did not formally nominate candidates for the MCD due to its widespread unpopularity.

Among the seats United Russia lost was one held by the local party head Andrey Metelsky, who was defeated by Communist challenger Sergey Savostyanov.

The opposition and the Kremlin both claimed the results as a victory.

“We showed that the state-patriotic forces led by the Communist Party have a real program to bring the country out of the crisis,” tweeted Communist party leader Gennady Zyuganov.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov accused critics of inflating the opposition’s success.

“The election results indicate that all the deliberations of political analysts about ‘protest voting’ have proved to be untrue,” he told the state-run TASS news agency.

United Russia, Peskov added, “has won the overwhelming majority of seats and lost some of them.”

Moscow’s local election captured international attention when mass demonstrations broke out on July 14, after dozens of opposition candidates were declared ineligible to run. The electoral commission asserted that they had failed to collect the required number of valid signatures, a claim which the opposition has disputed.

In response, the opposition began holding rallies almost every weekend, denouncing Moscow’s local authorities and President Vladimir Putin. At the peak of the protests, nearly 50,000 Muscovites took to the streets, in the largest anti-government demonstration since 2011-12.

Prominent opposition activist Alexei Navalny called on voters to pursue a “smart voting” strategy, compiling a list of the candidates best positioned to defeat government backed candidates in each precinct. He urged his supporters to vote for the most electable opposition candidates, regardless of whether they shared their political views or not.

All 20 of the opposition candidates who won their races on Sunday had been endorsed by Navalny’s “smart vote” initiative.

In a blog post on Monday, Navalny wrote, “Congratulations to all. Ready to just walk around Moscow and kiss everyone.”

He touted the strategic voting initiative as the “first experience of a large and complex collective action on the part of voters.”

Despite the protests and the Kremlin’s efforts to mobilize its supporters, voter turnout was low, with only 21.77 percent of registered voters going to the polls.

That marked a slight improvement over the 21.04 percent voter turnout in the 2014 MCD elections.

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