Tuesday 20 October 2009

Window on Eurasia: Moscow Won’t Achieve Stability in North Caucasus without Competitive Elections, Markedonov Says‏

Paul Goble

Vienna, October 20 – The local and regional elections on October 11 in the North Caucasus show confront Moscow with a choice: it can insist on “a 100-percent harvest of votes for the ruling party” with “a parallel growth of extremism,” or it could allow competitive politics so that people there will be able to influence the authorities and have a stake in their survival.

That is the judgment of Sergey Markedonov, perhaps Moscow’s most thoughtful commentator on the North Caucasus, in an essay on the various elections last Sunday across a region infamous in the past for the way in which regional officials engaged in Soviet-style manipulation of the results (www.politcom.ru/8981.html).

Because of that history, few analysts have looked at the recent results there with care, but that is a mistake, Markedonov insists, because “given the actual lack of public politics (at both the regional and federal level), the election campaigns at the local level” become “a most important source of information about the situation and internal dynamics” of that region.

At the very least, he continues, today they represent an important supplement to “the main source” of information the central Russian government has about the region: “analytic reports or communiqués of the law-enforcement structures and special services,” none of which are entirely disinterested or reliable.

Although over all, the party of power “celebrated is latest triumph” across the region as a whole, Markedonov notes, it did not win everywhere – indeed, in some places, no victors have been declared because of problems with the voting – but the pattern of electoral outcomes is extremely instructive, he argues.

In his essay, the Moscow specialist draws five major conclusions from the October 11 voting in the North Caucasus. First, he says, “the results show that a significant part of the population is dissatisfied with the current power and there where there is a chance, this dissatisfaction is converted into votes.

That is important, he argues, because it highlights something outside observers frequently miss: “the internal situation in the North Caucasus does not reduce itself to a choice between ‘terrorist/extremism’ and United Russia,” but rather involves “a broader spectrum” of opinion, one that could undercut the extremists if the party of power were more tolerant of opposition.

Second, those candidates who did defeat United Russia were generally independent of any exist party, an indication that “the current party structures [of the Russian Federation as a whole] are not terribly attractive for residents of the region,” something that highlights “the mistaken quality” of Moscow’s decision to ban regional parties.

Were Moscow to reverse itself on this, such regional parties would, Markedonov suggests, both attract many who might otherwise turn to radical separatism and help ensure that voters in the region would not “swell the ranks” of all-Russian parties that United Russia sees as its opponents.

Third, the elections showed that where local officials used administrative resources as was the case in Chechnya, they could achieve “Soviet-style” outcomes but that this in no way enhanced either stability or security. And where the authorities did not employ such resources, United Russia often won but by a far smaller margin.

Fourth, the protest voting, Markedonov continues, “frequently masks the frustration” residents of the North Caucasus have in their dealings with the power structures but which, except for voting they have no attractive and within-system way of manifesting. Consequently, the powers that be should welcome this rather than see it as a threat.

And fifth, the Moscow analyst argues, United Russia and its supporters need to recognize that electoral “triumphs” achieved by administrative means “have little in common with real stabilization of the situation in the North Caucasus.” Indeed, the way in which these triumphs are achieved may make the path toward stabilization even longer.

By orchestrating electoral outcomes, United Russia and the powers that be are effectively closing “official channels for the expression of opposition and protest energy (through elections and then through the activity of deputies and mayors)” and that in turn “leads opposition people to the path of radicalism.”

“In no other region of Russia,” Markedonov concludes, “are the problems of security so closely connected with the issues of democracy and the development of intra-political competition.” By closing down this feedback loop from the population, he adds, Moscow “risks struggling for the North Caucasus people without this people itself.”

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