Three Myths of the Opposition

Recently the conversation in the country turned from politics to the economy. The president’s annual address and press conference focused primarily on the economy. The reason is clear enough: the sanctions and a sharp decline in economic growth have shifted attention to new economic policies.

The economy needs new solutions and ideas. However, the political system remains stable. Not even the current economic turbulence poses a threat to it. So, there will be no restructuring in the political system. Rather, the already functioning political mechanisms will be fine- tuned.

The system is a living thing, it cannot remain frozen for years. However, if it’s healthy, it also doesn’t need to undergo surgery every year and have parts cut off or sewn on.

Three years have passed since the 2011 shakeup. What has been done since then? First, gubernatorial elections were restored, thereby expanding the electoral playing field in the country. The authorities have deliberately adopted a policy of enhancing the legitimacy of elections. No more blatant efforts to block opposition candidates from running. Even the opposition was forced to admit following the Moscow City Duma elections in 2014 that it made a lot of mistakes that kept many aspiring politicians off the ballot for legal, rather than political, reasons. You’re welcome to participate if you can follow the rules. If not, you need to get your act together and come prepared next time.

It turns out that the authorities are not afraid of the opposition winning regional elections. There were high-profile successes in Yekaterinburg and Petrozavodsk, and a spirited campaign for mayor of Moscow in 2013. If you win in a fair competition, no one will take your seat away from you.

However, no one is going to drag the opposition by the scruff of the neck into governing bodies. Although, of course, this is exactly what it wants. Alas, politics is a competitive business in every democratic country.

The opposition, of course, is never satisfied, because they continue to believe in three destructive myths.

Myth 1: The opposition believes that the government should roll out the red carpet and greet it with open arms. This doesn’t happen in any country. There’s political competition everywhere. The government is not supposed to ensure the victory of the opposition, but to ensure equal opportunities and fair competition.

The opposition in Russia defines a system as democratic only if the opposition consistently wins elections. But this is nonsense. To meet this criterium, the government in a hypothetical democratic country must constantly disappoint the people and make them want someone new in power. Such a country is doomed to never-ending political crisis, and will collapse sooner or later.

By the way, if we accept this definition, then the United States is an absolutely undemocratic country, because a first-term president almost always wins reelection. Exceptions are rare. The last three presidents – Obama, G.W. Bush and Clinton – each served two consecutive terms.

However, the opposition insists that elections will be recognized as democratic by the West only if they do well. In fact, the head of the Azerbaijani presidential administration, Ramiz Mekhdiyev, said that the United States promised to recognize the 2013 presidential election as free and fair if 25 percent was added to the result of the opposition candidate. Clearly, external recognition will not be a central factor in how elections are run in Russia. Nobody will step aside for the opposition just to prove the legitimacy of the elections to the West. Legitimacy comes not from the mandatory victory of the opposition, but fair competition.

The opposition believes that if it’s not winning, then the system is not democratic. But in reality, if the opposition is not winning, it’s because the opposition is ineffective.

There are also grounds to believe that as soon as the Russian opposition comes to power, it will immediately shed its ideology and monopolize power much more than the autocrats. After all, in the early 1990s, liberals supported the dissolution of the parliament. They called for the Communist party and all organizations and media opposing liberal reforms to be banned, wrote open letters about "crushing the red-brown viper", and dreamed of a "Russian Pinochet " who could take tough action against political opponents in order to promote liberal economic reforms.

Again, the mission of government is not to ensure that the opposition always wins, but to create an equal playing field for everyone, transparency and fair competition.

Myth 2: The opposition believes it can go straight to the Kremlin, winning federal elections without first winning local ones. It wants the top spot in the country right away. Regional elections are beneath reputable politicians, in their view.

It really is astounding. Federal politicians normally get their start at the local level. It seems logical to go through all stages of politics, winning at the municipal, district and then regional levels. That would be a good springboard for running in federal elections. If you shoot for the presidency the first time you run, why be surprised when you don’t win?

Our opposition is like the character Mario in the old cartoon The Italian Job. As soon as he decides to rob a bank, he immediately becomes a hero in his town. People lend him money, and the bank opens its doors and vault to him. But life is not a cartoon.

The authorities have deliberately increased the number of single-member constituencies at the local and federal levels to give new politicians a chance. Clearly, they need to start at the local level and consistently prove their competence to the voters. If the opposition had paid closer attention to local elections, it would now have a good choice of candidates to run in single-member constituencies for the State Duma elections. Moreover, they would have no problems collecting signatures of municipal deputies for gubernatorial election.

Myth 3: Asphalt is the opposition’s best weapon. There are politicians who believe that the opposition should always take to the streets, provoke clashes with the authorities and get carted off in police vans.

The opposition feeds the idea that protesting is romantic. However, this is not the best way to do politics, to put it mildly. Every system in the world tries to control its revolutionaries. In fact, they try to get rid of them like a malignant tumour. Russia is not Ukraine, and a street revolution has no chance of succeeding here. Of course, the government will fight street rebels and other forms of activity outside the political system.

If the opposition continues to be guided by the myths it has created, it can hardly expect to achieve success. However, it has a great chance to make progress. It just needs to abandon its underground lifestyle, get over its squeamishness about local elections and not expect power to come to it automatically just to please other countries. Federal elections are just around the corner, so you need to make up your mind now.

This article was originally published in Russian on

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