Election 2020: Novosibirsk, the key to the future of Russia?
The one thing we know for sure about the Alexander Navalny incident (alleged poisoning of Russian opposition leader) is that we will perhaps never know anything for sure about what actually happened. However, this Sunday there will be a chance to test at least one of the links in the chain that is used to lead to Putin as assassin, Navalny as an existential threat to his regime. The best place to look for this evidence is Novosibirsk and the Novosibirsk City Council Election. Novosibirsk is always a worthwhile election focus because it is the third largest city in Russia and known as a region without a “system” for controlling election outcomes. This is demonstrated by the election of a Communist Mayor although he subsequently entered into an alliance with the United Russia Governor. In a recent video Sergey Boyko, Navalny’s representative and a candidate for City Council in Novosibirsk, ascribed an even greater significance to Novosibirsk elections this year,
“Elections in Novosibirsk are elections for all of Russia. Today in Novosibirsk, we will decide how the electoral landscape in general will look next year. We have the capital cities Moscow and St. Petersburg, they have their electoral behavior, and we have villages with their electoral behavior. Novosibirsk is the golden middle, how people vote in Novosibirsk, plus or minus, is how the rest of the country votes. This is also important for the people in power because it is the first election with low ratings for Putin, economic crisis, epidemia, people unhappy with the regime and the zeroing out (of Putin’s served terms) that many people do not like. 140,000 people in Novosibirsk were against, did not support the changes in the Constitution”.
Boyko went on to say that is why so many volunteers are coming from other regions to help the opposition and why there is so much international interest with journalists coming to cover the Novosibirsk elections from around the world including Switzerland, Sweden, Germany, France, and Canada.
Boyko speaks as the man who came in second in the 2019 Mayoral race, losing to the sitting Communist by a 32 point spread. Second place was considered the real competition so his victory would be more impressive than those numbers indicate but for one thing, the turnout was a record-breaking low, 20.68%. Despite all the noise, the Communist and the opposition of all stripes generated surprisingly little voting enthusiasm. That is the real elephant in the room and election organizers are doing everything they can this year to get the numbers up. People with legitimate out of town excuses are encouraged to take advantage of early voting from Sept. 2–10, people who are homebound are invited to sign up for home voting, and even though Sunday September 13 is the official “unified day of voting”, you can also vote on Friday and Saturday, September 11 and 12 from 8am until 8PM.
There are two components to Navalny’s campaign in Novosibirsk. The first is the “Novosibirsk Coalition 2020” that consist of 31 candidates running for the City Council. Boyko is one of those candidates and he is taking on the Communist Vice President of the City Council and will have to cope with a young, independent union activist ambulance doctor that he is referring to as a spoiler. Other Coalition candidates range from youth activists to well-known journalists.
The second component is the Smart Voting strategy to get rid of United Russia representatives on the City and Regional governing councils. That means the Navalny team will identify and promote whatever candidate has the best chance of beating the United Russia candidate regardless of ideology or biography. At least one Communist candidate for the Novosibirsk Oblast Legislative Council that is being supported by Smart Voting does not appreciate the help and has asked them to stop, “I do not need that kind of help”.
The Navalny/Boyko Novosibirsk corruption video was posted on August 31 and has 4,905,783 views. The usual electoral dirty tricks are happening but the Coalition and Smart Voting are well funded and visible. Boyko may be overstating the case for Novosibirsk as the gateway for understanding the electoral landscape for future Russian elections. What is certain is the significance of Novosibirsk 2020 as an accurate measure of support for Navalny and his strength as an opposition force to Putin. Stay tuned….