Yesterday Russia went through another one of its time-honored traditions of organized elections under sovereign democracy, and as may well be expected, United Russia swept 76 of 83 regions – helped no doubt by the strictly controlled lack of competition (unless you count the sanitized communist party’s 13%). Accusations of fraud were rife and likely pretty well founded, and, although this certainly not anything new, I am continually surprised by how many candidates were banned and blocked from competing. It’s just that we are so often told that opposition politicians like Nemtsov, Milov, and others are “so unpopular with average Russian voters,” yet are blocked from candidacy. Why not just let Milov lose if he’s so unpopular?
At any rate, this discussion of Russia’s barely passable imitation of an electoral process deserves its own space (not even the President could properly vote), but for now, I noticed an interesting bit at the bottom of one Financial Times piece, which elaborates on the speculation that the only change that may have come with this vote would be with Yuri Luzkhov: the thrilling possibility that there could be a change of leadership after having one man in control of the country’s biggest city for 18 years. Turns out all the scandals surrounding the Cherkizovsky market closing seemed the best chance Muscovites have had in seeing a change – but not yet at least.
Speculation on the subject began in June after the Cherkizovsky Market, one of the largest commercial operations in Moscow, was closed, seemingly at the behest of Mr Putin. This was widely interpreted as a blow against Mr Luzhkov. Local press attention has recently focused on Mr Luzhkov’s wife, Yelena Baturina, whom Forbes magazine regularly rates as the richest woman in Russia.
“Technically speaking, the Kremlin can replace Luzhkov at any moment and of course there is no shortage of people who would love his job,” said Masha Lipman, a political expert at the Carnegie Moscow Center, a think-tank. Ms Lipman added that Mr Luzhkov had seen off many challenges to his authority over the 18 years he had held his post.